Throughout the 1950s, Tab Hunter reigned as Hollywood’s ultimate male heartthrob. In dozens of films – and in the pages of countless movie magazines – Tab’s astonishing looks and golden-boy sex appeal drove his fans to screaming, delirious frenzy, making him the prototype for all young matinee idols to come.
Bristling against being just another pretty face and wanting to be taken seriously, Tab was one of the few to be able to transcend pin-up boy status. He earned his stripes as an actor to become a major movie star and recording artist.
But throughout his years of stardom, Tab had a secret. Tab Hunter was gay, and spent his Hollywood years in a precarious closet that repeatedly threatened to implode and destroy him. Now, Tab’s dramatic, turbulent and ultimately inspiring life story has become an explosive documentary feature directed by Emmy award winning filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz.
The film has the unique advantage of exclusive, unprecedented access to Tab Hunter himself who shares first hand, for the first time, what it was like to be a studio manufactured movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood and the consequences of being someone totally different from his studio manufactured image. We will trace Tab’s dizzying rise to Hollywood super-stardom, his secret life in an era when being openly gay was unthinkable, and his ultimate triumph when the limelight finally passed him by.
Punctuating Tab’s on screen presence will be rare film clips and provocative interviews with friends and co-stars including John Waters, Clint Eastwood, George Takei, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Portia de Rossi, Noah Wyle, Connie Stevens, Robert Osborne, and dozens more.
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL is an important piece of Hollywood’s hidden history that is more relevant than ever in today’s obsessive, star-driven, sexuality speculating media. (Production)
Like the autobiographical tome it’s based on, “Tab Hunter Confidential” provides a colorful, likable and unpretentious look at the 1950s Hollywood dreamboat who was living a closeted gay life even as he was marketed as every bobbysoxer’s ideal boyfriend. Sharing his subject’s good humor about himself, prolific docu and DVD-extra director Jeffrey Schwarz (“I Am Divine,” “Vito”) has assembled a pleasing if less-than-revelatory feature that should prove particularly popular on the gay fest circuit en route to broadcast and download sales.
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.
His German emigre mother, Gertrude, having left his abusive father early on, blond, blue-eyed Arthur Gelien was raised in Southern California along with an older brother. Working at a ranch while still in his teens, he was encouraged to exploit his striking “all-American boy” good looks as an actor. He was soon signed by Henry Willson, a prominent agent noted for enthusiasm toward “pretty boys” (also including Rock Hudson), and who handed him his loathed, cartoonish stage name.
Success came quickly, though his initial roles pegged him as mere male cheesecake. Deciding to take acting seriously, he won a coveted role in the 1955 hit “Battle Cry” (reportedly over James Dean and Paul Newman), and began winning some grudging critical respect. But the range and depth hinted at were better tapped in some live TV dramas and on loan to other studios than in the generally rote roles he got as a Warner Bros. contract player. Overexposure as a fan-magazine staple and schmaltzy top-40 pop crooner hardly inclined WB to take him more seriously.
At great expense, he bought out his contract, only to find that rapidly changing fashions had already rendered him a relic of the squeaky-clean 1950s, rather than the adventuresome freelance talent he’d hoped to appear. A sitcom flop, B-movies, network guest spots and a long grind in dinner theater ensued — the latter forced by the costs of his now-unstable mother’s institutionalization — before he was “rediscovered” by John Waters for 1981’s “Polyester.” Gamely romancing Divine, he demonstrated a flair for comedy (and self-parody) that few had bothered noticing before.
Still fit and handsome in his mid-80s, Hunter is a most genial narrator, even if some of his confidences seem a bit disingenuous. “I’ve never been as open about it (being gay) as I am with you” he tells an off-camera interviewer here, though a decade ago his book actually spilled considerably more dirt than this documentary does. (Among the missing tidbits are his affair with Rudolf Nureyev, though a more serious relationship with Anthony Perkins is fondly recalled.)
When he rides off into the sunset at the end proclaiming, “I’m happy to be forgotten,” it’s hard to ignore that we’ve just watched 90 minutes of genial self-promotion. Nonetheless, he’s clearly much liked by his fellow professionals, particularly those starlets (including Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Terry Moore and a gushing Dolores Hart, now a nun) for whom he was a perfect companion, even if their dates were essentially publicity functions.
Pic might well have probed further its subject’s troubled family background, and any difficulties his Catholic faith caused his private life. (“If you were with a man, you were sinning; if you were with a woman, you were lying” is his one moment of insight, when recalling how he came close to marrying French actress Etchika Choureau — who, like everyone else here, still thinks highly of him.) But one gets the sense that Hunter, with his strong work ethic and myriad athletic pursuits, was never much for introversion, any more than he’s been interested in gay identity as a political cause. He comes off not as shallow, but as the type of personality who naturally seeks to keep life as agreeably uncomplicated as possible.
Drawing on a rich array of archival materials, “Tab Hunter Confidential” is lively and entertaining, if not particularly imaginative in packaging elements like Michael Cudahy’s standard synth-based score. (Dennis Harvey, Variety.com)
Tab Hunter was a teen idol in the mid 20th century: he starred in dozens of films, appeared on countless magazine covers and recorded the #1 pop song “Young Love” in 1957. Yet the entire time he was in the public eye, Hunter closely guarded his private identity as a gay man, even while engaging in fairly public relationships with “close friends” like Anthony Perkins (the tabloid Confidential threatened to expose his involvement in a “limp wristed pajama party” at the time). “Tab Hunter Confidential” is so enjoyable principally through many interviews with Hunter himself, who makes clear that he wasn’t a stereotypical tortured, self-loathing homosexual. He was an amazingly well adjusted, clean-cut kid who followed his gut and loved who he wanted to love; his behavior was quietly groundbreaking.
At the start of this documentary, which is based in part on a book of the same name that Hunter wrote with Eddie Muller, he seems reluctant to talk about his sexual history. “I’m an old man now —this is my life, big deal,” Hunter shrugs. From there, director Jeffrey Schwarz nimbly charts Hunter’s life and career, using archival images and videos, including hilarious photographic magazine spreads that had Hunter engaging in banal activities like cleaning a window and longer editorial pieces about his date with Debbie Reynolds (who is interviewed here to engaging effect). It’s fascinating, spirited examination of how Hollywood used to function.
But the juiciest material details Hunter’s personal life; his relationship with a famous Olympic skater pales next to his romance with Perkins, who not only broke his heart but slighted him professionally (oddly enough, it’s not Hunter’s monogamous relationship with his longtime partner that serves as the heart of the film, but rather his tempestuous, closeted affair with Perkins.) Hunter was a massively famous teen idol, but nobody knew who he really was, and those who repeated whispers as to his homosexuality around Hollywood were quickly silenced by high powered lawyers and heavy-hitting studio execs (Hunter was contracted to and was thus a darling of Warner Bros., at least for a while). Hunter never took up drinking or drugs and his American-as-apple-pie, Eisenhower-era charm and good looks never wavered. It wasn’t even his private life that led to his career skydiving; it was his annoyance towards Warner Bros. for releasing him from his contract to shoot films for other studios. He ended his association with the studio, and he admits in the documentary that doing so was “career suicide.”
Without the help of Warner Bros. and their platoon of shady employees who “kept things quiet,” Hunter’s private life was discussed out in the open. Hunter, who never truly broke through to the mainstream (despite showy roles in some prestigious projects), was forced to beg for roles and star in crummy movies. A few years later, he was forced to join the dinner theater circuit and would later leave show business altogether. It’s clear from his early work that he was not a preternaturally gifted performer —his delivery is wooden and his physicality stiff. Even during a time where an “aw-shucks,” square-jawed affect was common, he felt a little bit old fashioned; an antique being advertised as something brand new. As one interviewer in the documentary put it: “The publicity exceeded the product.”
Some 50 years after his heyday, Tab Hunter is a cult icon, not only for those sensitive to the homoerotic subtext in his most aggressively heterosexual performances, but because he was the whole package: tanned, toned and wonderfully approachable. To a certain audience, he was perfect. Or as John Waters, who would cast Hunter in “Polyester,” kicking off a minor career resurgence (during which he forged a close personal and working relationship with drag queen Divine), says in the documentary “he was amazing looking.”
Hunter has shied away from the spotlight after that small, Waters-assisted career bump, living a quiet life with his longtime partner away from the spotlight. Even Clint Eastwood, who is interviewed briefly, seems impressed by his attitude and his subsequent life. Hunter plainly states that he’s “happy to be forgotten,” but if “Tab Hunter Confidential” ensures that he will never be forgotten. His story is profoundly American.
Towards the end of the movie, Schwarz circles back to Perkins, who while widely known to be gay, maintained a conventional facade via a wife and kids It must have been torture. Hunter and Perkins made amends before Perkins died from AIDS, but you can still hear the hurt in Hunter’s voice, as well as gratitude that he didn’t live his life like that. “Tab Hunter Confidential” is fun and gossipy in the way that great documentaries about Hollywood often are, but it also speaks to a deeper truth about identity and perseverance and the large divide between one’s personal and professional life. Even if you have no idea who Tab Hunter is, this documentary is riveting and insightful. ( Drew Taylor, inviewire.com)
Tab Hunter was …. and still is at age 83 years-old …a stunningly handsome man. When he was a teen idol in the 1950’s he was the ultimate clean-cut all-American boy and seemingly butter would not melt in his mouth. He was Warner Brothers Studio’s biggest box office movie star for at least three of the years of his tenure there. Surprisingly one of the revealing things in this sparkling new documentary of his life that we discover is that it was not the rumors of his sexuality that rapidly ended his Hollywood ‘A’ list career, but it was his desire to buy himself out of his Studio Contract . Even though he was a major star Hunter was extremely unhappy with the lightweight fluffy movies that he was aways having to make.
‘Tab Hunter Confidential’ is based on the memoir that Hunter penned with film historian Eddie Muller in 2005 and is a lively account of how this handsome matinee idol with a rigid set of principles coped with his dramatic professional and person life to come through it all intact and sane unlike most of his peers. His sexuality, although hidden from the public in the early days, was no deterrent for Studio Mogul Jack Warner who never raised the subject as he was simply happy that Hunter was such a money maker for him. When on one occasion Hunter’s privacy was sacrificed to save Rock Hudson from being exposed, Warner defended him with a blunt ‘Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s toilet paper.’
With his career fading, Hunter resorted to dinner theater and whatever work he could get to scrape by until his career got a second wind in the 1980’s when he co-starred in ‘Polyester’ with Divine.
The most interesting part of the story are Hunter’s romances ranging from Ice Skater Ronnie Robertson to actor Tony Perkins, the latter who managed to break his heart and steal a role that he had coveted. In an era when homosexuality was not only illegal but could also destroy lives, Hunter resisted taking the well worn path of other closeted gay men in the public eye who had marriages of convenience. True, he very publicly ‘dated’ many starlets and took part in many photo spreads in fanzines with them, but he resisted the pressure to opt for the easy way out by getting wed.
Hunter a very devout Catholic explains his dilemma at the time ‘if you were with a man you would be sinning, and if you were with a woman you would be lying.’ He did, as Debbie Reynolds confirmed, make the right choice and he eventually was able to come to terms with his sexuality by accepting the Church’s teaching on love and self-acceptance.
Some 30 years ago Hunter aged 53 met a 23 year old man called Allan Glazer who became his partner, and now after three decades together Glazer is a producer of this documentary which maybe a reason why there is little of him in this movie. Since Hunter’s second movie with Divine in 1985 ‘Lust In The Dust’ he has settled down to a life away from the spotlight on his ranch with Glazer raising horses.
The movie is directed by Emmy Award winner Jeffrey Schwarz and this is his fourth documentary of a gay icon (Vito, Jack Wrangler and Divine). Schwarz shows a genuine affection of his subjects and the portraits he paints are very insightful and totally riveting. What he does so successfully he is re-introduce this disarmingly charming man to those of us who have memories of Hunter growing up, and present him to new generations …. particularly of young gay men …. who will see him as role model that they can look up too. (Quertiques.com)