His movie career may have peaked in the 1950s, but Tab Hunter was a superstar all over again over the weekend at the Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The sold-out screening of Tab Hunter Confidential took place on the actor’s 84th birthday on Saturday night (12 July) and among the stars in the audience were comedy legend Carol Burnett and such Hunter leading ladies as Connie Stevens and Terry Moore.
‘I’m just thrilled with the outcome,’ Hunter told the audience after the screening of the documentary. ‘You answer the questions as honestly as you can and that’s it. It’s all about the journey – we’re all on a journey. I’m more open now than I ever was.’
Hunter’s star burned brightest in the 1950s when he starred in the classic musical Damn Yankees, had a huge recording career (Young Love), and appeared in many other films (Battle Cry, The Pleasure of His Company, The Burning Hills) and live television dramas (Playhouse 90).
His blond, tanned, surfer-boy good looks and gorgeous blue eyes landed him on the cover of countless movie magazines. But through it all, he was living a double life as a closeted gay man.
‘I felt if you were with a man you were sinning and if you were with a woman you were lying,’ he says in the film.
But he has serious relationships with men – famous ones – including champion figure skater Robbie Robertson and actor Tony Perkins. He found lasting love 33 years ago with Allan Glaser who produced the documentary and has been integral in getting Hunter to open up about his life – first in a memoir and now in the documentary.
Although he continued to act in films (Grease 2, Lust in the Dust, Pink Flamingos) in the 1970s and 80s, Hunter never watched his movies or TV shows after making them. He also had not kept any memorabilia from his Hollywood heyday.
But he had a partner who was a pretty big fan of his work.
‘For 33 years, I re-collected everything – really eBay was my Bible. I thought it might come in handy if they ever did a film,’ Glaser told the audience at the DGA Theatre in West Hollywood. ‘I just thought it was important that this story be told.’
The film, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, includes many interviews with famous faces including Robert Wagner, Debbie Reynolds, George Takei, Clint Eastwood, Noah Wylie, John Waters, Stevens, Don Murray and Moore, among others.
Among the other comments Hunter made after the screening:
On Grease 2: ‘It was not a good film – it was fun to do though. It was a little la de da. My mother would have looked at that film and said, “Please. Elevate your thinking.”‘
On changing his name from Arthur Kelm to Tab Hunter: ‘At first I could barely read my new name on a piece of paper. Nowadays you can have a very weird name and it doesn’t make a difference – you just have to learn to pronounce it!’
On what actress Geraldine Page once told him that he never forgot: ‘If people don’t like you, that’s their bad taste.’
Pictured: 1. Hunter and Carol Burnett 2. Actress Terry Moore 3.Three’s Company star Joyce DeWitt 4. Producer Allan Glaser with life partner Tab Hunter 5. Director Jeffrey Schwarz