Inside Out 2015: Tab Hunter Confidential
The 1950’s was the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. It was a time of studio contracts, strict public images, and of legendary stars. One of the biggest celebrities in America was Tab Hunter, a beautiful blond hair, blue eyed boy next door. Every man wanted to be him and every girl wanted to date him. Behind his meteoric rise to fame lied a secret that if exposed, would lead to the downfall of his career. Tab Hunter was gay in time where being homosexual was still illegal and classified as a mental disease. Jeffrey Schwarz’s film Tab Hunter Confidential intimately chronicles the difficult double life of one of the biggest stars of the era.
Tab Hunter’s charm, good looks, and magnetic personality made him the embodiment of youthful American masculinity. Attention from girls followed him from the time he was a young boy straight into Hollywood. Coming from humble beginnings and a sometimes difficult childhood, Tab recalls always feeling different than the other boys. During those years it was common to be taught to ignore and push down any bad thoughts, which for Tab, created a strain between him and his religion. Seeking an escape, he attempted to join the coast guard but was dismissed for being underage, which then lead to the formation of an interest in horses in his late teens and early 20s. One day, he happened upon a chance meeting with Dick Clayton, an actor who went on to introduce Tab to Harry Wilson, one of the most important agents in Hollywood. The seed for acting had been planted.
Tab’s first role came quickly but was poorly received. To improve his acting skills he began performing in Broadway plays. As he improved, casting agents in Hollywood began to notice and the film roles started pouring in. He quickly became one of the biggest leading men in the business in the 1950s and was signed to a 7-year contract with Warner Bros Studios. Any talk of his sexuality was covered up and his wholesome image remained intact. He was regularly seen with the biggest actresses on his arm. As his career progressed, he began to be typecast and eventually he wanted to be released from his studio contract. That was the beginning of the downward spiral of his career. With social change and revolution coming to America, attitudes towards manufactured wholesomeness changed. The Korean War was on everyone’s minds. Tab’s film projects dried up.
Throughout the next several decades, Tab was able to take acting chances that he never would have been able to under studio contract and it was his collaborations with director John Waters that lead to a revitalization of his career. Tab appeared alongside Divine in Polyester and he was introduced to an entirely new generation of viewers that did not know him from his Hollywood days. Pursuits of an independent passion project lead Tab to meeting producer Allan Glasser. As they began to work closely to make this project a reality, the two fell in love and are still together decades later. Tab has been able to find happiness about his career despite the personal struggles he faced and feels acting is in the past and will stay there. He did it and has let it go. He finds solace now living a quiet life with his horses and partner.
The film interviews a slew of Hollywood stars, reporters, and film historians who know and worked with Tab. The likes of Robert Wagner, John Waters, George Takaei, Debbie Reynolds, Lainie Kazan, Noah Wylie, Liz Torres, Portia DeRossi, and Clint Eastwood recall their experiences of working with Tab and what the pandemonium-like atmosphere surrounding him was like. They each contribute a piece to the affectionate portrait this film paints of this man.
Also relayed in detail is Tab’s relationship with Anthony Perkins, the actor probably most known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. At the time, the pair had to work hard to conceal their feelings for each other, often double dating with women so as to not raise suspicion from the press. Ultimately Anthony’s drive and commitment to his career caused a strain between them and they began to drift a part from one another, with their relationship finally ending. Tab recalls in the film the last time he saw Anthony before he died of AIDS and a longing and sadness can still be seen in his eyes.
This film is a wonderful documentation of a charismatic man and his quest to live a truthful life. It allows us to see and understand what life was like during this time period for homosexual people and the consequences they faced for being themselves. Even at the age of 83, the still-handsome and alluring Tab Hunter tells his story with an openness that is refreshing. It adds a piece to the record of the changing attitudes towards the LGBT community across America during the 20th century and we see just how far the road has been travelled.
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