To say that Tab Hunter was a Fifties heart throb would be an understatement. He was billed as that All-American boy, six feet of rugged manhood to stir the heart of every woman.
He was deemed immensely sexy especially to teenage girls, encouraged to take his shirt off onscreen as often as possible. Yet he had that clean-cut suitability — he could be taken home to meet mother.
After his first onscreen kiss to Linda Darnell in 1952′s Island of Desire (Hunter played a hunky Marine corporal), Darnell pinched him and declared that was nice.
And to reinforce his screen work, Hunter turned himself into a genuine pop star — even bigger at one point than Elvis. Tab’s recording of the 1957 teenage threnody Young Love stayed No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts for a full month-and-a-half, eclipsing sales of Presley’s recording of Too Much.
Thanks to actor’s superb 2005 autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential (co-authored with film noir scholar Eddie Muller) and a revealing documentary of the same title released in 2015 (both the book and the documentary are highly recommended), we now know that it was all a masquerade.
Hunter was and is gay.
Like so many Forties and Fifties actors playing romantic leads to varying degrees — Rock Hudson, Anthony Perkins, John Dall, Farley Granger among others — Hunter led a double life. You were rewarded for pretending you’re not, he said. You learn when you are in public to compartmentalize. And compartmentalize he did.
Hunter recalled that after making publicity and promotional appearances accompanied by Natalie Wood on behalf of his studio Warner Bros., the apparently happy couple spent the rest of the night going their separate ways: she sneaked off to see Dennis Hopper, her lover at the time; he to his then paramour Tony Perkins. In the 1950′s being gay was absolutely not acceptable among studio bigwigs.
Things have changed in Hollywood immeasurably since those long gone days. Now Hunter (who says he was always reluctant to “fully come out”) declares: I would never have talked about my personal life in the 1950′s. I’m sure I was very closeted.
Now I am open. This is my life. (Pause) Big deal.