Tab Hunter (2010)
Although somewhat conventionally framed by the drama of an early near-outing — as a 19-year-old Hollywood newbie, Hunter was arrested for attending a private gay party, something he recalls "would be thrown at me years later"—"Confidential" is not a story of torment in the closet. Indeed, the 2006 book Hunter wrote with Eddie Muller does a better job limning the internal and professional conflicts in his life, as well as the somewhat footloose style that saw him seldom seriously involved romantically before he formed a lasting partnership with the much younger Allan Glaser (a producer here) three decades ago. Here, the emphasis is on his affability and ability to roll with the punches.
Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (2006), co-written with film noir specialist Eddie Muller, became a New York Times best-seller as did the paperback edition in 2007. The book is still currently in publication and was nominated for several prestigious writing awards. In the book, he acknowledged that he is gay, confirming rumors that had circulated since the height of his fame.
According to William L. Hamilton of The New York Times, detailed reports about Hunter's alleged romances with close friends Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood, were strictly the fodder of studio publicity departments.
As Wood and Hunter embarked on a well-publicized but fictitious romance, promoting his apparent heterosexuality while promoting their films, insiders developed their own headline for the item: "Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn't".
Hunter was born in New York City, the son of Gertrude (Gelien) and Charles Kelm. His mother was a German (Catholic) immigrant, and his father was Jewish. Hunter's father was an abusive man and within a few years of his birth, his parents divorced and his mother moved with her two sons to California. She reassumed her maiden surname Gelien and changed her sons' name to that as well. As a teenager, Hunter was a figure skater, competing in both singles and pairs, and a horseback rider. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard at the age of 15, lying about his age to enlist. While in the Coast Guard he gained the nickname "Hollywood" for his penchant for watching movies rather than going to bars while on liberty. In later years, Hunter's mother was institutionalized and underwent shock treatments, and he supported her financially until her death.
Arthur Gelien was given the stage name "Tab Hunter" by his first agent, Henry Willson. His good looks landed him a role in the film Island of Desire opposite Linda Darnell. However, it was his co-starring role as young Marine Danny in 1955's World War II drama Battle Cry, in which he has an affair with an older woman but ends up marrying the girl next door, that cemented his position as one of Hollywood's top young romantic leads. His other hit films include The Burning Hills with Natalie Wood, That Kind of Woman with Sophia Loren, Gunman's Walk with Van Heflin and The Pleasure of His Company with Debbie Reynolds. He went on to star in over forty major films and became a cult star in the 1980s appearing in Lust in the Dust, Polyester and Grease 2.
In September 1955, the tabloid magazine Confidential reported Hunter's 1950 arrest for disorderly conduct. The innuendo-laced article, and a second one focusing on Rory Calhoun's prison record, were the result of a deal Henry Willson had brokered with the scandal rag in exchange for not revealing his more prominent client Rock Hudson's sexual orientation to the public. Not only was there no negative effect on Hunter's career, but a few months later he was named Most Promising New Personality in a nationwide poll sponsored by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations. In 1956, he received 62,000 Valentines. Hunter, James Dean and Natalie Wood were the last of the actors placed under exclusive studio contract to Warner Bros.
Hunter had a 1957 hit record with the song "Young Love", which was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks and became one of the larger hits of the Rock n' Roll era. He also had the hit "Ninety-Nine Ways", which peaked at #11. His success prompted Jack Warner to enforce the actor's contract with the Warner Bros. studio by banning Dot Records, the label for which Hunter had recorded the single (and which was owned by rival Paramount Pictures), from releasing a follow-up album he had recorded for them. He established Warner Bros. Records specifically for Hunter.
Hunter starred in the 1958 musical film Damn Yankees, in which he played Joe Hardy of Washington D.C's American League baseball club. The film had originally been a Broadway show, but Hunter was the only one in the film version who had not appeared in the original cast. The show was based on the 1954 best-selling book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop. Hunter later said the filming was hellish because director George Abbott was only interested in re-creating the stage version word for word. Hunter was Warner Bros.' top money grossing star from 1955 through 1959.
Hunter's failure to win the role of Tony in the film adaptation of West Side Story prompted him to agree to star in a weekly television sitcom. On July 9, 1960, prior to the program's debut, he was arrested by Glendale, California police for allegedly beating his dog Fritz. His 11-day trial started in mid-October, a month after The Tab Hunter Show debuted on Sunday evenings on NBC. It was proved that the neighbor who initiated the charges had done so for spite when Hunter declined her repeated invitations to dinner, and he was acquitted by the jury. The Tab Hunter Show had moderate ratings (due to being scheduled opposite The Ed Sullivan Show) and was hence canceled after one season, however it was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, where it ranked as one of the top situation comedies of the year. For a short time in the latter 1960s, Hunter settled in the south of France, where he acted in spaghetti westerns. His career was revived in the 1980s, when he starred opposite actor Divine in John Waters' Polyester (1981) and Paul Bartel's Lust in the Dust (1985). He is particularly remembered by later audiences as Mr. Stewart, the substitute teacher in Grease 2, who sang "Reproduction." Hunter had a major role in the 1988 horror film Cameron's Closet. He also wrote and starred in Dark Horse (1992).
Hunter became close enough with Etchika Choureau, his co-star in Lafayette Escadrille, and Joan Cohn, widow of Harry Cohn, to contemplate marriage, but he thought he never could maintain a marriage, and remained merely platonic friends with both women. During Hollywood's studio era, Hunter says, life "was difficult for me, because I was living two lives at that time.
Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins with Dates Jan Chaney and Norma Moor
A private life of my own, which I never discussed, never talked about to anyone. And then my Hollywood life, which was just trying to learn my craft and succeed..." The star emphasizes that the word 'gay' "wasn't even around in those days, and if anyone ever confronted me with it, I'd just kinda freak out. I was in total denial. I was just not comfortable in that Hollywood scene, other than the work process." "There was a lot written about my sexuality, and the press was pretty darn cruel," the actor says, but what "moviegoers wanted to hold in their hearts were the boy-next-door marines, cowboys and swoon-bait sweethearts I portrayed."
Tab Hunter with 30 Year Partner Allan Glaser
Hunter had long-term relationships with actor Anthony Perkins and champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson, before settling down with his partner of 30 years, Allan Glaser. Hunter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6320 Hollywood Blvd. In 2007, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.