Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. November 5, 2015 7:30 PM
If you asked a millennial who is Tab Hunter, I'm sure you would either get a blank look or perhaps some might guess that he's a right-wing politician or the husband of a reality star. For those who did not know, the fascinating documentary, "Tab Hunter Confidential" reveals that the blond and handsome Hunter was actually a very popular movie star during the 1950's. And he had a secret.
He came to fame during the Eisenhower era with it's rigidly defined conception of manhood. While the actor was able to portray this rugged he-man image comfortably on film, the real-life Hunter was different from those men he played in front of the camera. Jeffrey Schwarz, who has previously brought to the screen the stories of cult and underground personalities ranging from porn star, Jack Wrangler, John Waters' muse, Divine, gay activist, Vito Russo and gimmick film maker, William Castle, tells another compelling story of Hunter publicly living a lie for the price of Hollywood glory while a constant threat to his career due to the possibility of his true-nature being revealed kept him from truly enjoying his success.
He was born Arthur Kelm in New York City but ended up in sunny Los Angeles after his mother took him and his brother away from their abusive father. As a young boy, Arthur had a passion for ice-skating, horseback riding and the cinema and while he participated in the first two activities, he never imagined himself possibly being an actor.
That changed after Henry Wilson, a Hollywood agent known for his stable of attractive young studs, discovered the nineteen-year old Kelm, gave him the silly stage name and got him under contract with Warner Brothers. He had his first major role with Linda Darnell in "Island of Desire" and while the film was a hit at the box-office, Hunter's performance was not, with the actor dismissed as simply a pretty face. Deciding to gain acting experience by working on the New York stage, Hunter developed much needed skill and confidence.
Tab Hunter rose to the top during the time when an actor's image was still being carefully manufactured by a Hollywood publicity team. He was being projected as the sweet, boy-next-door type that any girl would love to bring home to mother. But Hunter was gay and the studio worked overtime to conceal his sexuality. He was seen out on studio-created dates with several of his lovely co-stars (Debbie Reynolds and French actress, Etchika Choureau, who Hunter almost married, appear briefly to discuss this) which helped not only publicize their latest film but make him appear like your average, all-American boy. This didn't stop some of the sleazier tabloid magazines to publish stories raising questions. Hunter did manage to find true romance a few times, most notably with actor Anthony Perkins of "Psycho" fame but the anxiety of the public discovering the truth caused the relationships to suffer.
Schwartz has crafted a fairly conventional doc although his examinations on bold, larger-than-life individuals doesn't require excessive embellishments. With much of Hunter's life covered in the 2006 memoir of the same title, there aren't any new revelations disclosed. However, that doesn't stop the film from being engaging and thoroughly entertaining.
The eighty-four year old Hunter is low-key and easy-going with no signs of resentment or bitterness. This is surprising considering how he went from a major box-office draw and a pop-star with a number-one hit (despite a modest singing voice) but after buying out his contract from Warner Bros.in 1960, struggled to find work. He spent a number of years doing dinner theater, television dramas and B-movies before John Waters offered Hunter a role opposite Divine in the 1981 Odorama comedy, "Polyester". It became a cult classic and put Hunter back in the spotlight.
Long retired and living happily on his horse ranch in Santa Barbara with Allan Glaser, his partner of over thirty years (and one of the film's producers), "Tab Hunter Confidential" shows that the actor came out of Hollywood relatively unscathed despite the arduous challenges the system put him through. It would be great to say that actors today no longer have to live in fear that revealing their actual sexuality could cost them work but the truth is that it still remains a complicated issue. We have certainly come a long way since Hunter's days as a closeted movie star but the evolution still continues.