‘Tab Hunter Confidential’
Friday, Oct. 23 at 4 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24 at 5:30 p.m.
At age 84, openly gay actor Tab Hunter still has the boyish good looks, easy charm and buoyant optimism that made him one of Hollywood’s leading heartthrobs in the 1950s. He’s happy to be back in the spotlight with the release of the new documentary “Tab Hunter Confidential,” based on his 2006 memoir.
Hunter credits his long-time partner, Hollywood producer Allan Glaser, with getting him to write the memoir. Hunter remembers, “Allan said, ‘I think you should write a book,’ and I said, ‘Who would read a book about me?’ Allan said, ‘You’d be surprised.’ So I thought about it long and hard. I finally figured they may as well get it from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone.”
In the book, Hunter confirmed decades-old rumors about his sexuality, including his relationship with Anthony Perkins. Looking back at their relationship, Hunter remembers that Perkins was different than his screen persona.
“Tony Perkins had a reputation for being very broody,” Hunter recalls. “Broody was very big in Hollywood at that time. And he was very moody, but he was also very intelligent with a quick sense of humor.” They were involved with each other for three years, but drifted apart after Hunter suspected that Perkins stole a plum role from him.
Hunter’s memoir was a big hit and Allan started work on a film documentary version. Hunter is proud of his partner’s work on the film. “Allan worked really hard putting it together,” he says. “The producer is the person who causes it all to happen. He raised all the money, hired the director, got all the interviews and stills. It took him six years to do it.”
“Tab Hunter Confidential” will be bringing Hunter to the D.C. area this week. The film opens tonight (Friday, Oct. 23) at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market and Hunter will be there in person on Sunday, Oct. 25. The film will also be part of the Middleburg (Virgina) Film Festival this weekend and Hunter is looking forward to being back in Virginia. “I am so looking forward to that. I used to have a farm out there. That’s heaven on earth, one of my favorite places in the world,” he says. “Sheila’s done a great job with that festival.”
The teen idol and gay role model was born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York City in 1931. After brief stints in the Coast Guard (he was discharged for lying about his age) and at a riding academy (he’s had a life-long love of horses), the fledgling actor got an introduction to famous Hollywood agent Henry Willson. Willson renamed him, saying that he wanted to “tab” him with a catchy new name. “Hunter” came from his skills as a horseman who rode hunters and jumpers.
Hunter wryly remembers that Willson originally wanted him to change his name to “Troy Donahue.” He scoffs, “Can you believe that Henry Willson wanted to stick that name on me?” Ironically, the name later want to another New York native named Merle Johnson who succeeded Hunter as Hollywood’s leading heartthrob.
The newly minted Hunter was quickly snatched up by the legendary Jack Warner at Warner Brothers. Despite rumors about his sexuality, Hunter quickly became a star. From 1955 through 1959 he was the top grossing star for Warner Brothers and his chart-topping singles also helped to launch the Warner Brothers Records label.
As the new documentary details, Hunter grew frustrated by his restrictive deal with Warner Brothers and he bought out his contract with the studio. Unfortunately, without the protection of the studio’s press office, and with the rise of new heartthrob Troy Donahue, Hunter slid into infamy and then obscurity. He starred on Broadway with his friend Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams’ “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” but the show only lasted five performances. Hunter also worked in dinner theaters across the country as well as appearing as a guest star in numerous television shows and acting in a number of B-movies. Things changed in 1981 when he got a call from trashy film director John Waters.
“John called me when I was doing a play in Indianapolis,” Hunter says. “He asked if I knew who he was and I said I was a big fan. I loved ‘Mondo Trasho’ and ‘Pink Flamingos.’ And then he said, ‘Before we go any further, how would you feel about kissing a 350-pound transvestite?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve kissed a hell of a lot worse.’”
With that, Hunter was cast in the cult hit “Polyester” and sprang back into the public spotlight. He was only on the set for a week (that’s all Waters could afford), but Hunter still has fond memories of that shoot and his plus-size co-star, Divine. “John is such a great character,” Hunter says. “He’s like a friendly undertaker. He’s one of the sweetest people in the world with his little Adolphe Menjou mustache. He’s so creative. He is just wonderful. So was Divine. That was a lot of fun.”
Hunter’s appearance in “Polyester” also led to his meeting with his partner of 30-plus years. “I originally met Allan at the studios at Twentieth Century Fox,” Hunter says. “I brought him a project I’d been working on called ‘The Reverend and Rosie.’ He liked the idea. It was his idea to change the title to ‘Lust in the Dust’ and to bring in Divine and Lainie Kazan. The only sad thing is that we didn’t get John Waters to direct, but we sure tried.”
Nowadays, Hunter spends most of his time on his beloved Santa Barbara ranch with Allan and his horses, but he’s enjoying promoting the documentary and meeting fans old and new.
“I was an old man just out at the barn every day with my horses shoveling out the real stuff,” he says. “But they’re really keeping me busy with the documentary. I’m just overwhelmed by the response.”