Lewiston writer Mark Griffin may know the real Rock Hudson – his stardom and his pain – better than anyone on Earth.

What would you do if the life of another were in your hands – his 59 years, 66 feature films and 124 remembrances of loved ones and colleagues? And what if that life had been an iconic yet enigmatic one, knowable only through traces and tendrils of history and hearsay?

Well, if you were Lewiston author Mark Griffin writing about Hollywood film star Rock Hudson’s life, the task would be perfectly clear: You would descend into your basement writing studio for four years to arrange and weave the pieces – glittering, tattered, mysterious – into an illumination of a life that had been waiting to be examined with the degree of care and accuracy it deserved.

Mark Griffin

You would come up for air once in a while, say, to visit your subject’s hometown or spend time with his loved ones in order to better understand him, but the magnitude of the task would have you spending countless days working underground, both literally and metaphorically.

The passage of time would come to be marked by the sudden appearance of foliage spotted through the frame of a top-of-the-wall basement window, followed too soon by branches lacquered in layer upon layer of ice, and then finally, the welcome burst of tender green shoots and new shafts of light slanting into the studio.

Weeks would sometimes feel like years, and memories of events thought to be from weeks ago might have taken place months before.

While undertaking his momentous task, Griffin would experience rare illness, the sudden death of a sibling and other family emergencies, and complete a number of other writing projects for film magazines and newspapers that were in progress before he signed with HarperCollins Publishers.

“It was like I was just suddenly dropped into this really intense life, both professionally and personally,” Griffin said.

“If you think about Rock’s life and all of the hardship he experienced – abandonment, abuse, betrayal, AIDS – the subject matter itself takes you to some pretty hard places. Writing ‘All That Heaven Allows’ required more of me than any creative endeavor I have ever worked on before, but I also couldn’t have imagined a more perfect fit with a subject. Early reviews have referred to ‘the writer’s empathy,’ and there could be no greater compliment for me than that.”

“All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson” by Mark Griffin of Lewiston will be published Dec. 4 by HarperCollins.

Griffin, who wrote the 2010 biography on Hollywood film director Vincente Minnelli, “A Hundred or More Hidden Things,” already knew that a combination of meticulous research, coast-to-coast sleuthing and uncompromising validation of information would be the pillars of his prodigious task.

“So much was written and rumored about Rock, from the ‘fanzines’ of the ’60s to sensationalistic tell-alls to downright vengeful posthumous money-grabs,” Griffin said.

“It is too easy for some biographers to go the gossipy, salacious route, especially when the subject had challenges or was controversial, but that does nothing but dehumanize the person you are writing about,” he said. “I made every effort to not fall into that trap, of course, and also had to vigilantly maintain a balance between empathy and clear-eyed objectivity without getting swept up in the charisma of Rock Hudson.”

One reason Griffin had to be extra wary about maintaining objectivity was that literally all of the people he interviewed for the biography – from Hudson’s hometown pals to his Navy buddies, from family members to his inner circle of friends, from top film stars to those who were at Hudson’s bedside when he died – had wonderful things to say about the actor. This is simply unheard of in the world of biography and is true testimony to Hudson’s exceptional character.

“One actor I interviewed said, ‘I loved him – I bet everyone tells you that,'” Griffin said. “And the thing is, it was true. People didn’t only have wonderful stories: They wanted to pay tribute to this larger-than-life legend who showed generosity of heart throughout his life, no matter how badly the world was treating him.”

Roy Harold Scherer Jr., whom the world would come to know as Rock Hudson, was born in 1925 in Winnetka, Illinois, into a life beset with pain from nearly the beginning: He was abandoned by his father, then raised by an abusive stepfather and a mother who loved him but failed to protect him.

He was a country boy with silver-screen dreams that seemed impossible to reach and World War II beckoned him to enlist in the Navy, where he would serve as an aircraft mechanic until 1946.

Post-discharge, he went to California, determined to shoot for the stars. He found work as a truck driver, while chasing every lead that might gain him entry into the Hollywood world he had dreamed of since childhood.

Hot leads repeatedly ended cold and caused hope to waver, but Hudson weathered the disappointments until, at last, he was discovered by notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson. Willson would catapult Hudson, who had almost no acting experience, onto the big screen and mold him into the dazzling persona who would become America’s No. 1 star for more than a decade.

The realization of Hudson’s Hollywood dreams would come at a personal cost he could not have imagined.

Griffin emphasizes the importance of remembering that American culture was in a very different place in the ’50s and ’60s than it is today: “Now, our culture is all about the eager ‘exposure’ of every aspect of existence – we live in a reality-show, talk-show world, but that was not at all the case for Rock, who was forced to pretend he was someone he was not – both personally and professionally – just to survive.

“So you have this larger-than-life figure who was living a glamorous, cinematically scaled life, but enveloped within that was a very vulnerable human being who was always looking over his shoulder and had to keep the most personal parts of his life hidden. At any moment, if the wrong information got into the wrong hands, his career would have come tumbling down.”

The “real” Rock Hudson – the unassuming, down-to-earth, nice guy beneath the incandescent star persona – was known by few, Griffin said.

“Rock’s sister Alice Waier said his life was like ‘The Three Faces of Eve,’ that he lived a compartmentalized life. His friends Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett got one version, his lovers got a different one, the friends and family back in Winnetka yet another and his fans still someone else. All of these were the ‘real’ Rock, but they weren’t all of Rock at the same time. It was simply too dangerous to reveal too much of himself, so he couldn’t.”

When Griffin began his research on Rock Hudson, aided by assistants in Georgia and Wisconsin, his first question was always: Can this source be trusted?

“While so much has been written about Hudson, you often find in both film star and gay history that the truth has been purposely buried,” Griffin said. “The entourage around a star relentlessly hid the truth out of a well-founded fear that it might tarnish the icon’s carefully constructed ‘larger-than-life’ image. For me, knowing the truth of the vulnerable human being beneath the Prince of Hollywood persona makes Rock all the more endearing. But that was not the case decades ago.”

In order to get as full and true a picture of Hudson as possible, Griffin methodically, exhaustively interviewed friends and family of the star and at least one co-star or crew member from each of his 66 films. He also gained unprecedented access to Hudson’s personal correspondence and private diaries.

“Hudson, the ultimate movie star of the Golden Age, was one of the last of the era of studio-manufactured stars,” Griffin said. “So many of those who knew Hudson are no longer living, and those who still are, are well into their 80s and beyond, so there was really a sense of urgency collecting their stories.”

Griffin talks about Rock Hudson as the embodiment of so much more than himself, from Hollywood legend to posthumously pivotal figure in gay history and mainstream AIDS awareness, to the ultimate exemplar of achieving the American dream.

“Starting from rural Illinois, Rock went from sailor to truck driver to Hollywood star. He really built his career from nothing, piece by painstaking piece. How much more ‘American dream’ can you get?”

The sad part, Griffin said, is that along with the glory and glamour of success, Hudson’s life carried so much suffering.

The title for Griffin’s book was inspired by the movie “All That Heaven Allows,” a 1955 drama starring Hudson and Jane Wyman. The movie – which examines the debilitating pressures exerted by societal norms, regrets and the redemption found from being one’s authentic self – provided a fitting title for Hudson’s biography.

“One of the most poignant expressions heard repeatedly from Hudson throughout his life was, ‘I learned to keep my mouth shut,’ ” Griffin said.

“It was what he had to do to get through life from the earliest age, so he did, until he no longer had to. When it was announced that Hudson was battling AIDS – this was back in 1985, when it was still perceived with great fear and stigma – Hudson received 30,000 letters of support from all over the world. I hope he knew how loved he was, just as he was.”

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