Rock Hudson

BFI Publishing, 2014

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Tall, dark and handsome, during the 1950s and 1960s Rock Hudson was the quintessential Hollywood ideal of American masculinity; an ideal that was to be questioned and ultimately undermined during the years to follow. The often lurid posthumous accounts of his private life and the circumstances surrounding his death from AIDS related illness have tended to overshadow consideration of his career as an actor. Consequently Hudson has eluded the critical attention afforded to many of his contemporaries.

This book aims to reassess Rock Hudson and to identify the specific iconographic qualities and the nature of his performances that together made him one of the most popular and successful film stars of his generation. Hudson is not usually regarded as a 'great actor' in the generally understood sense, i.e. that he conspicuously demonstrated a virtuoso technique (even though he received an Oscar nomination for Giant in 1956.) He is however an important figure in cinema history for several reasons principally that his construction as a star, his performances and his career reveal a great deal about the nature of American popular culture and attitudes towards gender and sexuality during the 1950s, 60s and beyond.

It is certainly true to say that Hudson more than almost any other actor of his generation was presented as the paradigmatic example of the all American heterosexual male; handsome, athletic, impeccably groomed, solid and dependable, a strong deep voice and a performance style that embodies stoicism, he was all things that men were expected to aspire to and women it was assumed adored. The perceived disparity between his public persona and what was later revealed to be his 'true' nature as a promiscuous homosexual male and the first Hollywood star to succumb to AIDS is a subject that this book tackles and the extent to which Hudson's radically altered signification and the process by which he was claimed as a text for analysis by queer theorists offers new understandings of his meaning and the construction of masculinity.