An especially distinguished Hollywood name will soon be the subject of a biographical drama. The Hollywood Reporter has announced that Universal Pictures is working on a movie about the life and career of Rock Hudson. The studio has attained the film rights to Mark Griffin‘s Hudson biography, All That Heaven Allows. And up for the challenge of translating the tome for the big screen is none other than Greg Berlanti, the superproducer and director who seemingly never stops adding stuff to his busy slate. (Just how many projects has he got going on right now?)
This adaptation of Griffin’s book, which is named after one of Hudson’s most acclaimed films, will mark one of the few times that the Golden Age heartthrob — who led an intense double life keeping his sexuality a secret in order to maintain a career — has been the focus of fictionalized works. In addition to Berlanti’s latest, three plays have been produced about Hudson, namely Rock, For Roy, and Hollywood Valhalla. There also exists the 1990 television film Rock Hudson starring Thomas Ian Griffith in the titular role. A prospective feature called The Making of Rock Hudson had been in development at Maven Pictures, but that project has since evidently lost steam.
In reality, All That Heaven Allows is only set to be published in early December 2018. Yet despite the fact that the book is not yet available to the general public, early publisher reviews have painted it in a promising light. Griffin is especially praised for his meticulous attention to detail, in-depth research, and avoidance of salacious sensationalism. This alone makes the potential biopic even more intriguing already.
Hudson had to work his way up to being a full-fledged movie star. He signed with Universal early in his career, becoming a product of the studio system. His beginnings were filled with unremarkable ventures comprising small roles and B movies. He eventually started getting lead roles in 1952 — the first in the adventure film Scarlet Angel — but truly found cinematic renown in the romance genre.
Hudson starred in Douglas Sirk’s romantic drama Magnificent Obsession in 1954, which was a box office success that solidified him as one of America’s most beloved stars. While Hudson did return to adventure flicks with Bengal Brigade and Captain Lightfoot, melodramas became a mainstay in his filmography. One of those dramas just happens to be titled All That Heaven Allows, which was also directed by Sirk.
Hudson’s immense popularity grew with George Stevens’ Giant, for which he and co-star James Dean were both nominated for Best Actor Oscars. Hudson reunited yet again with Sirk soon enough, showcasing that their team-up remains impressive as ever with Written on the Wind and Battle Hymn. That said, he saw box office disappointments alongside those hits, a huge one being the poorly received remake of A Farewell to Arms.
Thankfully, the romantic comedy Pillow Talk was just around the corner. Hudson was then able to corner a fresh genre and reignite his star power. He still dabbled in Westerns and adventure pics, but his most profitable movies between 1959 and 1964 were definitely comedic (many of which co-starred Doris Day). Hudson started experiencing a decline in movie stardom and eventually turned his attention to TV in the 1970s. His most memorable small-screen ventures include the police procedural McMillan & Wife and what would be his final project, the soap opera Dynasty.
Still, in contrast to such a glamorous onscreen career, Hudson’s life behind the scenes was excruciatingly different. He firmly kept his gay identity out of the limelight and this was a haunting reality for the film star. He was always hard at work ensuring that he could remain bankable in the studio system that made him, and his personal relationships suffered.
Hudson’s high-profile celebrity status meant that when he sadly died from AIDS-related complications not long after his initial HIV diagnosis, the industry — the world — was ablaze with conversations about the virus and syndrome. He was one of the first mainstream figures to have openly suffered from the disease.
Overall, All That Heaven Allows takes these complexities of Hudson’s life into account, weaving a more complete portrait than ever before. It makes sense that Berlanti and his eponymous production banner would feel compelled to adapt it even before it hits shelves. As the filmmaker and his fellow co-producer Sarah Schechter declare in a statement:
“When [producer] Sherry Marsh brought [Griffin’s] book to us, we jumped at the chance to be involved. Rock Hudson’s life and legacy is a vital piece of both LGBTQ history and Hollywood history and has to be given the big-screen treatment it deserves.”
Of the many works in Berlanti’s oeuvre, his efforts behind the camera in The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy and this year’s teen rom-com delight Love, Simon are the most striking in relation to the Hudson biopic. Both films notably present normalized and loving portrayals of the LGBTQ community. That conscious sensitivity is crucial for an All That Heaven Allows adaptation as well. I’m conscious of the fact that this sounds like Berlanti’s biggest feature undertaking yet — as can be expected from adapting Hollywood legacy — but Hudson’s truth could very well be done justice.