Call Me Kate, Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed, and Being Mary Tyler Moore


[NoHo Arts District, CA] – Hollywood or Bust: Thoughts on TCM, Call Me Kate, Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed, and Being Mary Tyler Moore.

I love Turner Classic Movies. It’s the first channel I look for when I turn on the TV, and it’s done an exemplary job introducing me to stars I may not otherwise have known (pre-Code cad Warren William!), and occasionally unearthing the rare film that I’ve been dying to see (Paul Muni in 1939’s We Are Not Alone—and I still think my chance encounter with Robert Osbourne led to TCM screening that film). TCM fans feel a connection to the channel and the movie heritage it has preserved. There’s been a lot of news and speculation over what is happening (or not happening) at Turner Classic Movies. I adore the channel, even when it’s not playing movies I might not want to see. I figure someone might want to see them, and if they need to play a few more current films (I won’t even say “borderline classics”), then so be it. However, I am a bit concerned at what might happen over at TCM, interventions by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and others notwithstanding.  They’ve laid off a number of people, so if your Watch TCM app hasn’t been updated since July 1, that might be a direct result. I’ve noticed that while the intros to prime time fare remain, the outros have been out—though I’m told these will be reinstated in time for viewing in the fall. I remember all too well when other channels have undergone renovation and alteration: Does anyone remember what Bravo used to be, or when the Arts and Entertainment channel actually produced something artistic and entertaining—or when AMC actually meant American Movie Classics—before the advent of commercials and later, commercialization? So yeah, I’m concerned about what will happen to the TCM brand. I do hope it endures, but I wonder…


Which leads me to a few recent Hollywood (and Hollywood-related) documentaries that I’ve seen, all engaging and fairly informative—and all worth your time. Call Me Kate, which can be seen on Netflix, is a 2022 documentary of Katharine Hepburn which is generous with reflections from the Great Kate herself, courtesy of some broadcast interviews and newly found audio and video footage. There is a great deal in the film about her New England upbringing, the isolation she felt after the early death of her brother, denied the chance to grieve where the prevailing attitude was just to “carry on.” Call Me Kate charts her ascent to Hollywood stardom and icon status, in terms of both her talent and determination to live life by her own rules. There are some good clips, some thoughtful reflections, by Hepburn and her living relatives, all of whom provide insight and humor. The film does try to address some of the contradictions in Hepburn’s life: Hepburn admits to an inherently selfish nature, yet she gives up significant portions of her career to care for a troubled and ailing Spencer Tracy; Jane Fonda tells about Hepburn’s confiding in her that Tracy would needle and “test” her the way Henry Fonda would “test” jane in On Golden Pond. A clip from the 1957 Tracy/Hepburn comedy Desk Set is shown—along with some pointed commentary about the self-effacing “doormat’ that Hepburn seems to be playing.  In any case, if you’re a Hepburn fan, you may not learn a lot more than you already know, but this is a pretty entertaining and reflective recap.

Two recent HBO documentaries try to shed some new light on Rock Hudson and Mary Tyler Moore, and while they’re hardly revelatory (as with Call Me Kate, if you’ve followed these actors, much will not surprise you), they are both entertaining reminders of why you might have admired these individuals in the first place. Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed immediately reveals its intentions, including charting Hudson’s determined rise through the Hollywood ranks with the aid of powerful male mentors who were not above exploiting some obvious talents, the ability to live an unusual (for the time) lifestyle without his cover being blown, the personal cost for him and those he loved, how various films commented unwittingly (or wittingly???) on his image—and how his life and image suffered when his AIDS diagnosis is revealed. (A particularly telling moment is friend Nancy Reagan’s brushing off Hudson’s request for help.) The interviewees, among them Hudson’s friends and lovers, do a fine job of revealing the playful and compassionate Rock not otherwise known to us, while the clips provide some interesting glimpses of his often underrated abilities. I just wish these might have been identified, as in his anguished monologue from The Tarnished Angels.

Being Mary Tyler Moore is a look at the television icon (though she made some fleeting attempts at Hollywood fame—including a nominated turn in Ordinary People). Much of the narration is provided by Mary herself, in television interviews with reporters like Rona Barrett. The documentary does a good job (with the aid of well-chosen clips) of addressing Mary’s charmed career and not-so-charmed life, including the suicide of her son, her alcoholism, the diabetes that would lead to late-in-life complications. In the interviews, Moore is gracious and effusive with praise for colleagues and friends, and fairly willing to confront others’ criticisms, her own anxieties and difficulties—particularly in light of being made a feminist icon when she didn’t necessarily feel “up to it.” The television and movie clips are well-chosen, including her comedy breakout on The Dick Van Dyke Show, as are the sections on her mixed success on (or around) Broadway—and a glimpse of her bachelorette party (for her final, lasting marriage to a much-younger Doctor Robert Levine. I would have liked more insight into her marriage with Grant Tinker—how two powerful people made the marriage work, and why it deteriorated. Oh well, but there is plenty on display as to why you may have loved Mary Tyler Moore in the first place—and probably still do.

Check out all of Mike Peros’ movie and TV reviews.