The Sigh Guy
March 22, 2015 4:38 AM   Subscribe

New documentary Tab Hunter Confidential is the story of the squeaky-clean 1950s teen idol whose career was nearly wrecked by gay rumours broken by the notorious Confidential magazine. Rumours that happened to be true.

The movie star who epitomised the Eisenhower era's idea of the young American male, clean-cut and impossibly handsome Tab Hunter was a bobbysoxer's delight. Warner Bros. signed him as the alternative to his 'bad boy' peer James Dean, though Hunter beat Dean to get his breakthrough role in Battle Cry.

Convinced to give acting a go by his mentor Dick Clayton, he walked into legendary agent Henry Willson's office as Art Gelien and, like Willson's other beefcake productions Rock Hudson and Troy Donahue, was re-named and packaged for stardom.

Soon he would be on the cover of innumerable fan magazines, romantically linked to various starlets. He also had a notable singing career and knocked Elvis off the top of the charts. Warner Bros. Records was quickly established on his behalf. He was the studio's top grossing star between 1955 and 1959. The studio called 6ft Hunter 'The Sigh Guy' and cast him in movies where his shirts had a convenient habit of coming off.

Warners particularly pushed his nights out with co-star Natalie Woods. After the pictures were taken, Woods would leave for dates with Dennis Hopper while Hunter headed out to meet his boyfriend Tony Perkins.

The Confidential story is widely considered to have been placed by Willson both as an act of revenge on Hunter, who had moved to another agent, and as a way to shift attention off of his main meal ticket, Hudson, whose sexuality remained secret for most of his life.

Private and happy to have left fame behind, Hunter only co-wrote his 2005 memoir at the urging of his partner Allan Glaser when he heard of an unauthorised biography being put together: "I thought, 'Look, get it from the horse's mouth and not from some horse's ass after I'm dead and gone".

The documentary (trailer) was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, who had interviewed Hunter for I Am Divine about Hunter's Polyester and Lust in the Dust co-star: "She was one of my favourite leading ladies. Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren...Divine."
posted by Gin and Broadband (12 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
God he was pitch perfect in Polyester. That's my only encounter with the guy, so I'm looking forward to digging into these links. Thanks!
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:01 AM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

When Polyester came out, I was so impressed with Tab Hunter for playing opposite Divine in such a straightforward manner, which was really out there for the time.
posted by xingcat at 5:22 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Man, now I need to go watch "Damn Yankees!" again.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:15 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of optimistic mid-century style in architecture, transportation, product design, even fashion sometimes. However, stories like this remind me that while that era might be a fun to visit I'd never want to live there.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:20 AM on March 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

So not only did Tab sing the theme song to Polyester, Bill Murray sang another tune for the movie? It's a crazy world.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:27 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ha. The photo in that Tony Perkins link is classic. Great post; I've been meaning to learn more about Hunter for years but now have the best excuse. Thanks.
posted by mediareport at 7:02 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was lucky enough to see the doc at the BFI last night, which came with a surprise (to me, at least) visit from Tab himself. Who looks 30 years younger, and still has that voice. He was over the moon - not because of the applause, but because his favourite horse is about to foal. He learned the hard way how fickle fame is and appears to be completely immune to its charms - the film goes into the reasons he had to keep working after his star fell so hard. Appears to be retired but did tease us with a line about how he'd love to work with John Waters again, and basically charmed the pants off of the audience.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 7:22 AM on March 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

His autobiography from 2005 is suprisingly well written, as well as Robert Hofler's The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson, which indicated how sleazy a svengali Hofler waas, and how desperate he was to replicate the success of Hudson and Hunter (esp. Dirk and Dack Rambo).

As much as I love the story of Hudson, and the work that has been made around him, and as much as I think both his work (esp Sirk), and the work that surrounds him (esp. Rock Hudson's Home Movies), and the flirting with Confidental, Hunter never had that autonomy, and in this sense, Hunter has been less generously treated.

I am glad for the movie, and I suspect that he would be too generous to be explicit about his realtionship with Hofler, or to be angry about the casting couch/tabloid/acting circuit that is pretty universal in Hollywood and I think still exists (Spacey and Singer come to mind).

I also disagree wth John Waters about outing--but one of the things that I admire about him deeply, is that he hires actors who have this historical baggage--for a bunch of reasons, for that old school professionablism, that it adds to this frisson of historical joking, because they must have been cheap, but also because of his generosity and sweetness about survivors. It isn't an act of mercy and he isn't exploiting them, which is rare in Hollywood and must be rare for Hunter.

I wish Hudson had more of a sense of humour, because what he could have done together with Hudson, would be majestic. (I also wonder why Hunter never showed up on Dallas or Dynasty or Falcon Crest)
posted by PinkMoose at 9:19 AM on March 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd never heard of this actor until now. I'm taking a moment to be shallow and gasp, 'my god he was beautiful!'
posted by Windigo at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a little kid in the '80s, this was my shining Tab Hunter moment.
posted by rewil at 12:17 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

And if you've run up too many tabs while delving into Tab Hunter's career, the Firefox Tabhunter addon will help you get back control of your browser.

I once found an episode of The Tab Hunter Show from the early 60s on YT, but it looks gone now. I think he played a doctor, and in the episode I watched a pretty woman was going after him, but in the end it didn't work out. Maybe the whole series was like that. Interesting times, when even the closet was in the closet.
posted by morspin at 3:18 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd always figured the casting of Simon Baker in L. A. Confidential as a young film actor whose career ambitions are damaged by a sleazy tabloid, and his styling and appearance in that film, as some kind of shout-out to Tab Hunter, though of course the model could apply to many.
posted by Gelatin at 9:39 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

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