New Documentary Examines Rock Hudson's Hollywood Legacy ― And His Queer Truth

To mid-century moviegoers, Rock Hudson was the ultimate heartthrob. But behind the scenes, the star of such films as 1956’s “Giant” and 1959’s “Pillow Talk” was a closeted gay man whose sexuality was ― by many accounts ― an open secret.

A new documentary attempts to reconcile Hudson’s big-screen persona with the challenges of the actor’s private life. “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed,” which premieres Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival ahead of a June 28 release on HBO, showcases Hudson’s rich cinematic legacy. It also examines how the actor helped shift the public perception of AIDS in 1985 when he announced that he was HIV positive just months before his death at age 59.

A trailer for “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed” was unveiled Thursday. In it, Hudson is described as “the last of those manufactured stars, where every aspect of what we think to be their private life has been built by other people.”

Among those interviewed is one of Hudson’s former romantic partners, who explains: “We were ordered never to have our picture taken together, because somebody would know that we were gay.”

Watch the trailer for “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed” below. 

“Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed” is directed by Stephen Kijak, who delved into the “great second act” of another Hollywood legend, Judy Garland, for the 2019 documentary, “Sid & Judy.”

Speaking to The New York Times in an interview published Thursday, Kijak said Hudson ended up “being culturally, politically and socially a catalyst” in ways that are often overlooked today.

“It wasn’t that long ago when it was really hard to be gay,” he explained. “Publicly, your life would be ruined.”

That said, the filmmaker went to great lengths not to frame the actor’s life as a tragedy in any aspect: “He was having this kind of great rampant, randy gay sex life right there under everyone’s noses, but seemingly living without a care. There wasn’t the kind of angsty, oh-I-wish-I-could-just-be-an-out-gay-man. It was a generation that I don’t think considered that to be an option, or even something that they would want.”

Rock Hudson in 1955.
Rock Hudson in 1955.

Rock Hudson in 1955.

Although LGBTQ people have become more broadly accepted in Hollywood in the years since Hudson’s death, Kijak believes there are modern stars who keep their queer identities private for many of the same reasons ― and, in some respects, the stakes are even higher given the ubiquity of social media.

“I’m not going to name names,” he told the Times, “but you know there’s a handful of Rock Hudsons out there right now who have to be even more careful given the fact that everyone has a little camera in their phone.”