Rock Hudson


Ice Station Zebra

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American actor

    Roy Harold Scherer Jr.
    b. Winnetka, Illinois

    When he came out of the navy in 1946, Roy Scherer was taken up by talent scout Henry Willson and offered to David Selznick. Selznick saw only a truck-driver hunk with the unlikely new name of "Rock Hudson.Willson got the kid installed at Universal as prime potential movie meat, something like a sincere Victor Mature, a soft rock. We have to marvel now about who knew what when. Henry Willson was a known homosexual. And Hudson, for all his physique, was already possessed of comedic talent and more intelligence than his first films had time for.

Rock Hudson
    Although he made his debut at Warners, in Raoul Walsh's Fighter Squardon (48). he was really the product of Universal. He begun with bit parts and supports: Undertow (49, William Castle); an Indian in Mann's Winchester 73 (50); The Desert Hawk (50, Frederick de Cordova); Fregonese's One Way Street (50); in 1951• Air Cadet and Iron Mask for Joseph Pevney and Bright Victory for Mark Robson. He grew into longer parts in a series of adventure and B pictures. In the space ot three years, he worked as often as possible in Hollywood's last great profusion of adventure excitement: 1952—Bend of the River (Mann); Scarlet Angel (Sidney Salkow); Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (Douglas Sirk); and Horizons West (Budd Boetticher); 1953—Seminole (Boetticher); Sea Devils (Walsh); Back to God's Country (Pevney); Gun Fury (Walsh); and Bengal Brigade (Laslo Benedek); 1954-55—four films for his perceptive patron, Douglas Sirk: Taza, Son of Cochise; Captain Lightfoot; Magnificent Obsession; and All That Heaven Allows.

    Sirk had seen that, despite so many escapades, Hudson was innately gentle and sympathetic. Thus he began a new career as a sustaining figure in women's pictures. He sur- j prised many people with his quiet authority in George Stevens's Giant (56) and worked three more times for Sirk: in Battle Hymn (57) conventionally, but in Written on the Wind (56) and The Tarnished Angels (57) exceptionally. In the latter, the drunken reporter is one of his better performances and a sign of depths that were never fully explored.

    After Richard Brooks's worthy Something of Value (57) and a respectable Frederick Henry in the Selznick-Charles Vidor A Farewell to Arms (57), he became embroiled with Ross Hunter and usually Doris Day or Gina Lollobrigida in a number of comedies that bridged the gap between gaiety and permissiveness, largely through innuendo. They were uneasy films, but they were very successful, and at last Hudson was proved in comedy: Pillow Talk (59, Michael Gordon); Come September (61, Robert Mulligan); Lover Come Back (61, Delbert Mann); Send Me No Flowers (64, Norman Jewison); Strange Bedfellows (65, Panama/Frank); and A Very Special Favor (65, Gordon). Between times, he made a few offbeat failures: The Last Sunset (61) for Aldrich, The Spiral Road (62) for Mulligan, and A Gathering of Eagles (63) for Delbert Mann. His best comedy by far is Hawks's Man's Favorite Sport (64), as memorably beset by Paula Prentiss as ever Grant was by Hepburn, and admirably clutching at the flawed calm of the angling authority who has never caught a fish.

    After that, Hudson made no worthwhile films: he was uneasy as the hero in Frankenheimer's pretentious Seconds (66); unable to do better than some slack war films and tame comedies: Tobruk (67, Arthur Hiller); John Sturgess Ice Station Zebra (68); The Undefeated (69, Andrew V. McLaglen) with mustache and John Wayne; the dreadful Darling Lili (69) with Blake Edwards and darling Julie; Phil Karlson's Hornet's Nest (69); mustachioed and portly in Vadim's Pretty Maids All in a Row (71), in which he seemed placidly amused at the chance of grappling with so many naked adolescents. In fact, Vadim neglected the comic potential of Hudson as a cool, campus Bluebeard.

    In 1975, at fifty, Hudson faced a crisis: without good comedies he might dwindle into such TV series as MacMillan and Wife. The crisis proved much greater. MacMillan was a hit on TV, and Hudson made few worthwhile films: Showdown (73, George Seaton); Embryo (76, Ralph Nelson); Avalanche (78, Corey Allen); The Mirror Crack'd (80, Guy Hamilton); as a movie director in The Star Maker (81, Lou Antonio) bedding all the starlets; as the President in World War III (82, David Greene); The Ambassador (84, J. Lee Thompson); and as a casino owner in The Vegas Strip Wars (84, George Englund).

    Hudson was reluctant to admit that he had AIDS—who could blame him? Hollywood remains in conflict over any admission of homosexuality. But Hudson became the first famous victim of AIDS in movies, and everything he ever did became recast or reappraised in the light of the tragedy. Books said his marriage had been arranged to avert scandal. At the very least, the vaunted, rocklike masculinity of great male stars moved closer to the light. The rocks, sometimes, are cardboard shapes moved around by props people.

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