Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tab Hunter Confidential -- Tab Hunter & Eddie Muller

You have to be of a certain age (i.e., old) to be familiar with the early career of Tab Hunter (real name: Art Gelien). I'm of a certain age. I remember seeing Battle Cry, and I remember all to well hearing Tab's version of "Young Love" coming from the car radio. Half the girls in my high school were crazy for Tab. Little did any of us know that he was gay, much less that he was insecure. How could a guy that good-looking be insecure?

Hunter was never in a really good movie, but throughout the '50s he was a star, dating all the pretty young women in Hollywood and keeping his homosexuality as well hidden as possible. Confidential magazine outed him early on, but the studio publicity machine was able to cover up for him pretty well. In the '50s, being gay just wasn't acceptable in most of the country, and Hunter had to keep his affairs with people like Anthony Perkins a secret.

Hunter's career took a serious downturn at the end of the 1950s. For many years he worked whenever and however he could, doing spaghetti westerns, dinner theater, TV guest shots. His career revived when he starred in John Waters' Polyester, and he's been working in show business in one way or another ever since, still hustling for work but at a little higher level.

The book is full of entertaining anecdotes about the people Hunter worked with: John Wayne, William Wellman, Tallulah Bankhead ("He must be gay. He hasn't gone down on me."), Robert Mitchum, John Waters, Divine, and many others. In a way, Hunter was lucky. He was one of the last products of the contract system. And he worked with some of the greats from Hollywood's early years as well as some of the up-and-coming stars and directors.

I found out a lot about Hunter that I didn't know, for example that he was an accomplished ice skater, and he comes across as a pretty nice guy. The book is well written (co-author Eddie Muller should probably take a bow here), and I 'd recommend it to anyone interested in Hollywood in the '50s or in the the way movie stars were manufactured in those days. Check it out.

6 comments:

Jeff Meyerson said...

Gotta love that Tallulah. Donald Sutherland acted opposite her in his first movie and he's told similar stories about her.

Sounds like a book I need to read.

Bill Crider said...

Tallulah was near the end of the road when she and Tab were in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.

Ivan G. said...

Rather than say Hunter was never in a really good movie, I'd change it to say that Hunter was never really good in a movie. The reason for this is because he is in Gunman's Walk (1958), a sleeper of an oater directed by noir maven Phil Karlson (Kansas City Confidential, 99 River Street, The Phenix City Story) that has a hell of a performance by Van Heflin as a patriarch who begins to question his values when the older son (Hunter) he's raised turns out to be a real rat bastard. The movie is great...but as usual, Hunter is pretty lousy in it.

Bill Crider said...

Hunter likes that one and thinks he did a pretty good job.

Gerard Saylor said...

There is another book that ties right into the Hunter book, "The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: the Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson". Willson managed both Hunter and Hudson and seemed to specialize in managing gay actors. I've not read the book.

Heck, I've bought several gay biographies over the past couple years for my library (including the above two) and have found they are a waste of money; they never get checked out.

My father is the same vintage as you, Bill, and the girls in Irving apparently had the same fondness for Tab. My father expressed surprise when seeing the Hunter book on the shelf.

Bill Crider said...

Hunter has a few things to say about Henry Willson, as you might expect. Not so much about Rock Hudson, however.