All That Heaven Allows: Review

All that Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson
by Mark Griffin

Reviewed by Hank Trout

The title of Mark Griffin’s biography of Rock Hudson—All that Heaven Allows—is taken from one of Hudson’s most memorable movies, the 1955 tearjerker co-starring Jane Wyman and directed by frequent Hudson collaborator Douglas Sirk. Like its namesake, Griffin’s book is full of the kinds of melodrama that marked Sirk’s work.

At times as I read this book, I thought, this could have been called The Men in Rock Hudson’s Life, as it details the star’s relationships with dozens of men—the father who abandoned his family early in Rock’s life; Henry Willson, the notorious agent and pimp who accumulated, polished, and trotted out dozens of Physique Pictorial-ready muscular young movie-star-wannabes (including Tab Hunter), almost always in exchange for sexual favors; Raoul Walsh, one of the first directors to sense more in Hudson than just beefcake (a word that was first used to describe Hudson); and most importantly, perhaps, Douglas Sirk, the German-born director responsible for eight of Hudson’s films, including All that Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession.

Sirk was the perfect director for Hudson. Well aware of the double life that Hudson lived, going to incredible lengths to hide his homosexuality at a time when gay actors lived in constant terror of being outed by Confidential or other movie magazines, Sirk understood that Hudson would have a special affinity for “characters in the throes of an identity crisis.” It is no surprise that those two films contain some of Hudson’s finest screen work.

Hudson’s relationships with many lovers are also detailed here, including Marc Christian who, after Hudson lost his battle with AIDS, sued Hudson’s estate for “palimony” and for Hudson’s having knowingly exposed him to HIV . Although Christian won the suit, the $21-million award was reduced to $5-million once Christian’s dishonesty was revealed.

Griffin renders the actor’s sad struggle with and death from AIDS in respectful tones, trying to avoid the sensationalism that characterized media coverage at the time. But this section struck me as too short—it begins on page 372 of this 410-page book and seems to skim the surface of details we are all already familiar with.

All that Heaven Allows is thoroughly researched and entertaining. Neither sugary hagiography nor a salacious kiss-and-tell hatchet-job, this book should please any movie buff with an interest in Hudson’s life and work.

Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.