Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, whiling away these sweaty summer days pondering one of life’s eternal conundrums — how Tab Hunter became Tab Hunter.
What brought this up was our recent consideration of Guy Madison (July 10 blog, Guy Madison — Choice Beefcake?) who came into this world with the name of Robert Moseley. Can’t get anywhere with a name like that, sneered Hollywood agent Henry Willson, who “discovered” Madison.
You like this hot redhead, Rhonda Fleming? You wouldn’t know her if she was still Marilyn Louis. I changed it….Ever heard of Francis Durgin?…Who’d go to the movies to see a guy named Francis? First thing I did was change his name. Rory Calhoun.
Changing names was standard practice for Willson, a wealthy Easterner who came to Hollywood to scout talent for producer David O. Selznick. He later became an agent, and grew to be a powerful one. One of his charges was a young Rock Hudson (born Roy Scherer Jr.). Willson’s male acting charges were famously said to have reflected his sexual persuasion, although he counted a number of rising female stars (Lana Turner, Jeanette MacDonald, Ann Sothern) as clients.
But Willson’s real attention was focused on his lists of male clients, specifically young, good-looking, all-American guys, wrote Hunter in his superbly-written 2005 autobiography (coauthored by Eddie Muller) Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.
This is, says Frank, one of the most interesting star biographies he’s ever read, and is highly recommended. The books tells of a relatively innocent tyro figure skater and former Coast Guard hand — born Arthur Kelm in 1931 — who visited Willson in the late Forties to discuss getting into movies.
Willson asked him to sign up as a client; Arthur Kelm agreed and, as he put it “became Henry’s ‘property.'” Now let’s get down to business — the name’s got to go, announced Willson. After floundering around for a suitable new monicker, the impatient agent said, C’mon, we’ve got to tab him something….Hey, that’s not bad. ‘Tab.’
Then Willson inquired if his newly-signed charge had any hobbies. He loves horses, the agent was told. Rides hunters and jumpers. ‘There we go,’ said Henry flashing a satisfied smile. ‘Tab Hunter.’
Hunter’s career comprised some 75 film and TV credits including 1955’s Battle Cry and 1958’s Damn Yankees. He is perhaps best remembered as a teen idol of the Fifties who actually recorded a No. 1 hit song in 1957, “Young Love.”
In his 2005 memoir, Hunter comes clean about many things including his gay sexuality and his screen name. I hated it, he wrote. I consoled myself by considering that I might have been named Tab Jumper.