Tab Hunter Confidential: Celebratory, Uncritical Look at Double Life of Gay Star

Tribute to Tab Hunter, who died last night in Santa Barbara at the age of 86.

Tab Hunter Confidential

Celebratory rather than revelatory, and more of a chronological essay than a truly critical documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential is nonetheless a likable and entertaining profile of the hunky (“beefcake”) blond actor, who was extremely popular with female fans in the early 1950s.

Like the memoirs upon which it is based on, Tab Hunter Confidential provides a colorful look of the handsome actor, who very early on showed a shrewdly pragmatic approach of how to handle his double life, opting to live as a closeted homosexual in a then homophobic industry and society.

In narrating his life, Hunter shows not only smarts but a good, often self-deprecating humor about both his personal life and especially professional career, which, surprisingly, was viable for close to two decades.

Non-fiction director Jeffrey Schwartz, who had previously made “I Am Divine” (about John Waters’ s muse and leading lady) and “Vito” (the queer writer who wrote one of the seminal gay books of our era) seems modest in his goal of simply presenting the basic facts and myths that have defined the rich life of Hunter, who this year celebrates his 84th birthday and still looks sexy and sounds terrifically lucid.

Hunter recalls how a traumatic event in early life–he was arrested at 19 for attending a private gay party–has changed the life.  Even then he was sufficiently ambitious to realize the price to be paid for being openly out of the closet in Hollywood.

The 2006 book Hunter wrote (with Eddie Muller) offers a deeper and better look does a better job in illuminating the internal and professional conflicts of his life.

He was romantically involved for several years in the mid-1950s with Anthony Perkins (Psycho), who he describes as a nice but extremely ambitious thespian. As is well known, the gay Perkins went on to marriage and children and died of AIDS in the early 1990s.

Hunter formed a long-lasting meaningful partnership with the much younger Allan Glaser (who is a producer on this film) in the 1980s.  They are still living happily together in their ranch in Santa Barbara, with Hunter cultivating his greatest love of horses, a passion that he describes as deeper and more pleasurable than movie making, even when he was at the height of his career.

Born Arthur Gelien to a German immigrant mother, Gertrude, Hunter grew up with an older brother under the fear of an abusive father in Southern California. After her divorce, Gertrude imbued her son with a strong (almost military) discipline.

Working at a ranch, he was encouraged to cultivate his striking “all-American boy” good looks as an actor. He was soon signed by Henry Willson, a prominent agent noted for launching the Hollywood careers of other “pretty boys,” gay and straight (Rock Hudson, Robert Wagner), and it was Wilson who came up with the short and catchy screen name.

As expected, his initial roles typecast him as a male cheesecake, forcing him (albeit with his own agreement) to remove his short and reveal his smooth and muscled chest.  The turning point of if career occurred in 1955, when he won a major role in the macho genre picture, Battle Cry, a huge critical (Oscar-winning) and commercial success.  According to Hunter’s narration, James Dean and Paul Newman, among others, have also auditioned for this part.

Running time: 90 Minutes

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