Lately, there has been a dearth of documentaries that seem to be biographical tales of older celebrities. To Be Takei comes to mind. Another such film is Tab Hunter Confidential, which tells the story and life of the titular actor, singer and former Golden Boy of Hollywood. In the 1950’s and 60’s, no one was bigger than Tab Hunter. Paired on screen in romantic leads with bombshells like the late Natalie Wood, Hunter was invited to all the parties during the height of the studio system.
Like so many actors however, Hunter had a secret. A secret he kept hidden for 50 years until the release of his book in 2007 (upon which the documentary is based). In public, Hunter was cavorting with and “romancing” Wood and became close with other women such as Joan Cohn and Etchika Choreau, yet in private was into like fellow actor and Psycho Anthony Perkins. You see in the 1950s, the word gay, according to Hunter didn’t really exist.
He recounted these times and more in my recent interview with him, where he speaks fondly of Wood – whom he maintains had a fear of water and merely slipped and fell on that fatal night – as well as Robert Wagner; explains the studio system and how it played into his public image; his relationship with Perkins, and most importantly, working with the great John Waters, whom he calls “tasteful”, followed by a chuckle.
Being signed to multi-picture contracts at major studios, you simply went out and did your job, Hunter explains, and part of the work included escorting actresses like Wood. Not to keep up appearances, but more to drum up publicity. Outside of that work, Hunter maintains that Warner Bros. let him live his own life. At the same time, he never discussed his sexuality with anyone saying “If they discussed it with me, I probably would have freaked out, because it was none of their business”. Good to see that time have changed and that we are no longer obsessing over the personal lives of celebrities and rumouring who is and isn’t gay. (To be fair Hunter was by far the only one in position).
Hunter says he initially wrote his memoir and the urging of his partner, producer Allan Glaser because someone else could write it first so why not get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth. Speaking of horses, they are, Hunter says, his dose of reality. He would spend as much time as he could with his favourite four-legged creatures, and after our interview, was headed over to the stables to meet a friendly new face. He feels a spiritual connection to animals and nature; he feels closest to God when he is with him.
On working with John Waters, whom he calls “your friendly undertaker”, Hunter says that he has a very good knowledge and idea of the direction he wants to take with his film. He joked about how Waters pitched him, recounting a question along of lines of “would you be okay with kissing a 200 pound drag queen”, to which Hunter retorted that he had kissed worse.
While Hunter acknowledges that Hollywood is more open and accepting in terms of the numbers of gay actors, he also laments the fact that they will never play leading men. This is almost the reverse of his glory days, when many gay actors including himself, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Perkins, and even those suspected of moral turpitude like Cary Grant, Danny Kaye and even Sir Laurence Olivier all had starring roles, many of them in romantic dramas. Although he does enjoy the work of NPH.
On why he left the industry, Hunter explains that while he thoroughly enjoyed the work, he did not like being in the spotlight or public eye and was always painfully shy when he was not in a role. Still, he is content with the trajectory of his life and no desire to return to the business the made him business. His favourite moment is when he has a “pitchfork full of you-know-what in [his] hand”. Who knows, maybe John Waters can entice him out retirement with the role of a sexually perverse and drug-addled grandpa. Or something like that. In the meantime, he will enjoy all the praise that Tab Hunter Confidential has so deservedly been getting.