Lindsay is a working actress and honors graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre: Film/TV.
Who Was Rock Hudson?
Rock Hudson was the quintessential leading man of the 1950s and '60s. Standing at an imposing 6'4", he often played characters who appeared to be the ultimate masculine ideal. Classically handsome with an easygoing personality, Rock specialized in romantic melodramas, comedies, and even Westerns.
But he is probably best remembered for the hugely successful string of romantic comedies he starred in opposite Doris Day. The onscreen team of Doris Day and Rock Hudson is still considered one of film history's great romantic pairings. Rock even found success on television in his later years as one of the stars of the long-running detective series McMillan & Wife. Extremely private by nature, Rock was well-liked by many, but very few people felt like they knew the "real" Rock Hudson.
In 1985, Rock Hudson rocked the world by publicly announcing that he had been diagnosed with AIDS, becoming one of the first public faces of the AIDS crisis. Initially fearing that the announcement (along with its implied revelation that he was gay) would face public backlash, Hudson instead received thousands of messages of support from both fans and colleagues.
Rock's diagnosis and subsequent death have been credited with helping to shift public perception of AIDS and bringing much-needed attention to the highly stigmatized disease. Shortly before he passed at the age of 59, Rock sent a message to be read at an AIDS fundraiser that said: "I am not happy that I am sick. I am not happy that I have AIDS. But if that is helping others, I can at least know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth."
A Note on This List's Order
I chose the order of my Rock Hudson top 10 by considering each film's importance in Rock's overall career, the size/importance of his role in them, and their overall popularity today, as evidenced by their ratings on sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.
Naturally, feel free to watch them in any order you like (this is merely a recommended top ten). You might watch them in the order listed here, chronologically (like I did), or in a way that corresponds with your movie tastes.
Top 10 Rock Hudson Films
- All That Heaven Allows
- Pillow Talk
- Man's Favorite Sport?
- Has Anybody Seen My Gal
- Magnificent Obsession
- Come September
- The Last Sunset
- The Undefeated
1. Giant (1956)
Based on the novel by Edna Ferber, this epic family drama stars Rock in his first and only Oscar-nominated role. Giant tells the story of Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock), a wealthy Texas rancher who travels to Maryland to buy a horse and ends up returning home with a wife, as well. When Bick’s new wife, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), arrives in Texas for the first time, she’s hit with a bit of a culture shock, to say the least.
However, the strong-willed Leslie manages to adjust to ranch life fairly quickly and soon asserts complete control of the household’s daily workings. This development does not sit well with Bick’s sister, Luz, who has been running the Benedict family home for years and immediately feels threatened by an outsider taking over her duties.
Leslie also makes a big impression on ranch worker Jett Rink (played by James Dean in his last film role). Although close with Luz, Jett has never gotten along very well with Bick and Leslie’s arrival only gives him new reasons to resent him.
The complete story of Giant spans multiple decades in the lives of Bick and Leslie, following them through marital problems, children, and changing times. Across all of those years, the thing that remains most important to Bick is his family’s legacy. But, the definition of what the Benedict legacy means might change as the years go on.
Directed by the Oscar-winning George Stevens, Giant serves as an iconic cinematic tribute to the Lone Star State. The book’s original author, Edna Ferber, based the Benedict ranch, Reata, on the massive King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas, which spans over 800,000 acres (the ranch is now a National Historic Landmark).
Although Rock became lifelong friends with Elizabeth Taylor while shooting Giant, he did not get along as well with the legendary James Dean. He found Dean’s Method process self-indulgent and unprofessional, while Dean likewise held little respect for Rock as an actor.
Read More From Reelrundown
2. Seconds (1966)
After becoming widely known for roles in romantic comedies, this chilling sci-fi drama marked a huge departure for Rock. Based on the novel by David Ely, Seconds tells the story of Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), a middle-aged man who has lost his sense of purpose. Married with a family and a good job, Arthur still doesn’t feel fulfilled or happy, despite his stable life and good fortune.
Suddenly, Arthur is contacted by a secret organization known as The Company through his old friend Charlie (whom Arthur believed dead). Arthur is told that The Company can give him a fresh start with a new happier life. So, through extensive plastic surgery and body conditioning, Arthur is unrecognizably transformed into a handsome younger-looking man and given the new name, Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson).
As Tony Wilson, he will live a whole new ideal life as a young bachelor, working as a successful artist and living in a beach house in Malibu, CA. But even though this new carefree lifestyle sounds like everything “Tony” could ever want, is it really enough to make him happy? Can anyone really remake themselves from scratch?
Directed by John Frankenheimer, Seconds was heavily influenced by the films of Federico Fellini, like La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2. This film, The Manchurian Candidate, and Seven Days in May are occasionally referred to as part of Frankenheimer’s “paranoia trilogy.” Although not popular during its original release, Seconds has developed a cult following over the years and is now widely considered to be one of Rock’s strongest performances.
Originally, the dual roles of Arthur Hamilton and Tony were intended to both be played by Lawrence Olivier. It wasn’t until Olivier fell through and Rock was suggested that Frankenheimer realized that he could cast two separate actors.
3. All That Heaven Allows (1955)
A romantic melodrama elevated by exquisite cinematography and a poetic artistic style, All That Heaven Allows is often considered director Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor masterpiece. The film stars Jane Wyman as Cary Scott, a widow with two college-aged children living in an affluent suburban neighborhood. Rock plays the role of Ron Kirby, an arborist who comes to the Scotts’ house twice a year to trim the trees in their yard, just as his father had before him.
As Cary and Ron speak more frequently, their relationship soon becomes romantic. However, Ron is a bit younger than Cary and people in the neighborhood, including Cary’s children, are quick to judge her relationship with this strange young man who cares little for wealth or status. This leaves Cary to decide whether she should follow their desires or her own.
A simple story raised to artistic heights by gorgeous visuals and evocative imagery, All That Heaven Allows was made to capitalize on the success of Rock’s earlier collaboration with Sirk and Wyman, Magnificent Obsession.
Based on the novel by Harry and Edna L. Lee, the movie is now often mentioned in relation to the 2002 film Far From Heaven. Although that film was not a straightforward remake, it was intended to be an homage to the films of Douglas Sirk and borrowed heavily from All That Heaven Allows, in particular.
4. Pillow Talk (1959)
Featuring Rock in one of his most iconic roles, this light sex comedy was the very first to pair Rock with Doris Day and Tony Randall. The trio would eventually appear in 3 films together, solidifying Doris and Rock’s status as one of film history’s most iconic screen couples.
Pillow Talk centers around the relationship between Brad Allen (Rock) and Jan Morrow (Day), two New Yorkers who have the misfortune of sharing a party line. Interior decorator Jan can’t stand Brad constantly tying up their phone line to chat up the many women he’s dating, and womanizer Brad is annoyed by Jan’s habit of interrupting his phone conversations to scold him.
But, when Brad hears a more flattering description of Jan from their mutual acquaintance, Jonathan (Randall), he becomes curious about what she actually looks like. When he finally does see the very attractive Jan in person, he immediately decides to pursue her romantically. Knowing full well that she would never date “Brad Allen,” Brad instead introduces himself as Rex Stetson, a naive Texan tourist. But Jan is not an easy conquest, and the longer Brad keeps up the “Rex Stetson” persona, the more likely it is for him to get caught.
Featuring an Oscar-winning screenplay laden with double-entendres, Pillow Talk set off a career renaissance for Rock after experiencing a string of box office failures. After appearing in dramas for years, this film finally showcased Rock’s previously unknown comedic talents, forever changing the trajectory of his career and his onscreen image.
A sequel for the film was planned in 1980, set 20 years after the original. Both Rock and Doris were very interested in reprising their roles, but, unfortunately, the project never happened.
5. Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964)
Directed by Howard Hawks, this broad screwball comedy stars Rock as Roger Willoughby, a salesman at Abercrombie & Fitch who has become renowned as a local fishing expert (even writing a successful book on the subject). But, when publicists Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss) and Isolde “Easy” Miller convince Roger’s boss to enter him in an upcoming fishing tournament, Roger is forced to let the girls in on his secret: he’s never been fishing in his life.
All of the fishing advice he gives to Abercrombie & Fitch customers has been entirely gleaned from listening to other fishermen talk and reading books. In fact, Roger hates the idea of even touching a fish. Since backing out of the tournament would mean losing his job, Abigail and Easy agree to help teach Roger how to fish before the tournament starts. But, Roger may be even more incompetent than they anticipate.
Originally, Man’s Favorite Sport? was intended to serve as a tribute to one of Hawks’ earlier films, Bringing Up Baby. Hawks had even hoped to reunite that film’s original stars, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, in the lead roles. However, Cary Grant turned down the role to film the thriller Charade, giving Rock the unenviable task of stepping into Grant’s shoes.
Although Hawks was very disappointed by Grant’s absence (and made that obvious during filming), he was ultimately happy with the finished film and appreciated Rock’s work ethic. Stepping into Katharine Hepburn’s role, Paula Prentiss is extremely funny and charming as Abigail, prompting Hawks to state later that he always marveled over the mystery of why she didn’t become a bigger comedy star.
6. Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)
A nostalgic love letter to the Roaring ’20s, Has Anybody Seen My Gal is the first of 8 films Rock would eventually make with director Douglas Sirk. Although not officially a musical, the movie is peppered with 1920s period songs.
The film’s story is told from the point of view of aging millionaire Samuel Fulton (Charles Coburn), who, as a lifelong bachelor, has no family to inherit his fortune. So, he decides he’d like to leave his estate to the family of his former sweetheart, Millicent Blaisdell. Although Millicent passed away some time ago, her family still lives nearby. But, Fulton has never actually met them.
So, at the urging of his lawyer, Fulton decides to covertly meet the family before making the inheritance official, showing up at their door under the guise of John Smith, a prospective boarder. In need of the extra income, the family decides to take in “Mr. Smith,” and Fulton is charmed by them almost immediately. Seeing that they have money concerns, he decides to send them $100,000.
That amount of money is certainly enough to change the Blaisdell’s lives, but it’s not guaranteed that it will change it for the better. Rock plays the role of Dan Stebbins, the boyfriend of Millie (Piper Laurie), Millicent’s namesake and oldest granddaughter. Dan works as a soda jerk at Blaisdell’s family drugstore, but Millie’s mother would prefer her daughter marry “up” to help the family’s finances.
Behind the scenes, Rock was already good friends with Piper Laurie by the time they were cast in this light comedy together, making this shoot a very enjoyable experience. Also, keep an eye out for a very young James Dean in a quick cameo during one of the soda fountain scenes.
7. Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsession stars Rock as spoiled playboy Robert “Bob” Merrick, who is badly injured after recklessly playing around with his speedboat. Rescuers need to use the only working resuscitator nearby to save his life, borrowing it from the beloved Dr. Phillips. But, while rescuers are using the resuscitator on Bob, Dr. Phillips has a sudden heart attack, and without access to his resuscitator, doctors are unable to save him.
Dr. Phillips’ young wife, Helen (Jane Wyman), is understandably heartbroken and blames the irresponsible Bob for her husband’s death. It turns out that Helen is not alone in her resentment. Most of the hospital staff believe that the selfless doctor should’ve been the one to survive, rather than Bob.
Haunted by guilt, Bob speaks to Dr. Phillip’s old friend, Randolph, and learns about the doctor’s personal philosophy of life. In an attempt to atone for his selfish ways and turn his life around, Bob decides to try following the same philosophy as the good doctor: to live life through good deeds that are only to be performed in secret and without expectation of ever being repaid. The late Dr. Phillips believed such acts would strengthen a person’s connection to “The Source of Infinite Power” and, in doing so, a person would fulfill their destiny.
Now Bob must put this spiritual theory to the test as he attempts to help the grieving Helen any way he knows how. Often considered to be Rock’s breakout film, this classic Douglas Sirk melodrama is actually a remake of the lesser-known 1935 Robert Taylor movie of the same name.
Since Magnificent Obsession was one of Rock’s first starring roles, he was intimidated to be working opposite Jane Wyman (who was already an Oscar-winner). However, Wyman was ever gracious, even when some of Rock’s scenes ended up needing almost 40 takes. Rock would later tell her that he was forever grateful for her kindness and patience.
8. Come September (1961)
This fun romantic comedy stars Rock as Robert Talbot, a wealthy American businessman who has made a tradition out of staying at his Italian villa every September to spend time with his Italian girlfriend, Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida). Unfortunately, these September visits are the only time Robert ever sees Lisa or his villa and Lisa is getting tired of being a part-time girlfriend.
But, suddenly, Robert changes up his usual routine and calls up Lisa in July to tell her he’s coming to Italy early. It turns out that Lisa had given up on waiting since Robert last saw her and has already become engaged to another man. However, she succumbs to Robert’s charms over the phone and agrees to meet him at his villa as usual, anyway. But, unbeknownst to Robert, his unexpected early arrival at the villa sends his villa’s staff into an absolute panic.
Since Robert only stays at his villa once a year, his majordomo, Maurice, had taken it upon himself to rent the villa out as a hotel in his absence. The staff has successfully run the “hotel” for years, merely leaving it empty for Robert’s usual return in September. So when Robert arrives at his villa, he is shocked to discover a tour group of teenage girls staying in his house, a development that is bound to ruin his romantic plans with Lisa. Things only get worse when an annoying group of vacationing American boys set their sights on the girls and camp out nearby to win them over.
Filmed on location in Italy, Come September is notable for featuring Bobby Darin in his film debut as Tony, the unofficial ringleader of the boys. Darin and Sandra Dee (who plays Tony’s love interest, Sandy) famously met during filming and married shortly after production wrapped. Also, keep an eye out for a very young Joel Grey as Beagle, another one of the lovestruck boys.
The first film to be shown on transcontinental and intercontinental flights, Come September became extremely popular in India during its initial release. Within the next five years, there were no less than 3 Indian films based on it.
9. The Last Sunset (1961)
Surprising, tragic, and morally complex, this nontraditional Western was tailor-made for the provocative 1960s. Based on the novel Sundown at Crazy Horse by Howard Rigsby and adapted for the screen by Dalton Trumbo, The Last Sunset stars Rock alongside Kirk Douglas and Dorothy Malone. Kirk plays the role of Brendon “Bren” O’Malley, a wanted murderer who has escaped into Mexico, both to avoid capture and reunite with his old flame, Belle (Malone).
Belle hasn’t seen Bren in years and now has a husband and a teenage daughter, yet this fact doesn’t seem to discourage Bren at all. He even offers to help Belle and her family herd their cattle up to Texas. But, before Bren can get too far in his planning for the drive, American Sheriff Dana Stribling (Rock) catches up to him. Dana has no jurisdiction in Mexico, but for personal reasons, he’s determined that O’Malley be brought to justice for his crimes and has been obsessively following the outlaw since before he even crossed the border.
Bren agrees to go quietly so long as Dana agrees to help with the Breckenridges’ cattle drive. Once they all cross the border onto U.S. soil, Dana will have full authority to arrest him. Dana reluctantly agrees to Bren’s terms, but, over time, he too becomes enamored with the lovely Belle, creating another romantic rival that O’Malley did not anticipate.
Filmed on location in Mexico and produced by Kirk Douglas’ production company, Bryna, The Last Sunset was a troubled production. Director Robert Aldrich and Douglas had some fairly spectacular clashes that their professional relationship never really recovered from. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo also left the project halfway through to work with Otto Preminger on Exodus, leaving a script that both Aldrich and Douglas believed Trumbo had hurried.
Despite the frustrations, the one person Aldrich knew he could count on was Rock. Aldrich would later describe him as the most hardworking, dedicated professional of the entire production and wished that everyone on the film had approached it with the same level of dedication.
10. The Undefeated (1969)
Set at the very end of the Civil War, The Undefeated stars Rock opposite the King of Westerns, John Wayne. The film follows two groups of former soldiers: one Union and the other Confederate. The former Union soldiers are led by Colonel John Henry Thomas (Wayne).
After leaving military service, John Henry and his loyal band of veterans travel west intending to sell wild horses for profit. Meanwhile, a group of former Confederate soldiers led by Colonel James Langdon (Rock) is refusing to accept the Confederacy’s loss. Rather than live in the newly reformed United States, Langdon has chosen to lead his men and their families to Mexico to make a fresh start there.
These two groups become destined to converge when John Henry and his men are given a generous offer from Emperor Maximillian of Mexico. The Emperor will buy the entire herd of 3,000 wild horses they’ve rounded up if they will deliver them to Durango, Mexico. But, Mexico is going through a big political upheaval, making the country dangerous for both groups of former soldiers.
Blinded by his pride and stubbornness, Colonel Langdon may have just inadvertently traded one Civil War for another. Filmed on location in Mexico, The Undefeated was partially inspired by the real-life Confederate General Joseph Orville Shelby and his own escape into Mexico after the Civil War.
Originally, James Arness was meant to play the role of Langdon, but when he became unavailable, John Wayne was the one who suggested Rock. This was partially due to Rock’s height since the 6’4” Wayne often preferred working alongside actors of a similar height (or taller). Wayne also loved playing bridge and had heard that Rock was a good player.
It turned out he made the right choice, for the two men ended up becoming good friends during filming and the shoot was one that Rock always looked back on fondly.
Honorable Mention: Written On The Wind (1956)
I decided to choose this classic Douglas Sirk melodrama (Rock’s 6th collaboration with the director) for my honorable mention. Based on the novel by Robert Wilder, the story was inspired by the real-life of singer Libby Holman and her relationship with her husband, Zachary Smith Reynolds (the heir to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company).
The film centers around wealthy siblings Marylee (Dorothy Malone) and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). Both suffering from internal demons, the siblings often struggle with personal relationships. Marylee has long held a torch for Kyle’s best friend, Mitch Wayne (Rock), but their relationship has never progressed to anything serious. Marylee’s advances are hampered even more by Mitch’s romantic feelings for Lucy (Lauren Bacall), Kyle’s new wife.
Kyle and Lucy had a whirlwind courtship, and for a year, they seemed to enjoy a happy marriage. But, when they hit a rough patch, Kyle quickly begins to spiral, which has the potential of pushing Lucy straight into Mitch’s arms. Featuring Sirk’s iconic Technicolor cinematography, Written on the Wind marks Rock’s first time working opposite the lovely Dorothy Malone.
Malone would later credit Rock with helping to translate some of Sirk’s more confusing directions during filming. Since he had worked with Sirk so often, Rock could explain what the director meant in terms an actor would better understand (Malone would go on to win the Oscar for her performance as Marylee). Robert Stack also believed he owed a debt to Rock for his success in the film.
Since Rock was the bigger star at the time and Kyle Hadley was the showier role, Stack knew that Rock could have easily used his influence to lessen Kyle’s screen time or even take the role for himself. Stack always appreciated that Rock gave him room to shine in the role of Kyle, allowing him to earn an Oscar nomination in the process.
If you would like to learn more about the enigmatic Rock Hudson, I highly recommend you check out All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson (2019) by Mark Griffin and Rock Hudson: His Story (1986), written by Sara Davidson with some help from Rock, himself, shortly before his death.
© 2020 Lindsay Blenkarn