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Living Two Lives :: Tab Hunter Talks Hollywood, the Closet & His 'Confidential' Doc

by Bill Biss
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 27, 2015

A very private man, Tab Hunter took to writing his life story in 2005. The reason for doing it himself? "It's better to get the story from the horse's mouth, rather than from some horse's ass."

Born as Arthur Gelien, he was given the name Tab Hunter when he arrived in Hollywood in the early 1950s by agent Henry Willson (famous for giving stage names to his handsome clientele, who included Rock Hudson, Troy Donahue and Robert Wagner).

His autobiography, "Tab Hunter Confidential," was an honest and open account of his life so far. He wrote of his closeted life as an actor, his career highs and lows and his personal relationships working with some of Hollywood's finest stars of the golden era.

Fast-forward to ten years later and his autobiography has been fashioned into a documentary feature film. The idea was transformed under the guidance of his longtime partner Alan Glaser, who co-produced the film with director Jeffrey Schwarz ("I Am Divine"). Their film offers an insider's view of Hunter's career with numerous co-stars and friends weighing in on the actor's persona and his career. Hunter leads the way in describing his upbringing, his passion for horses, the complications and gratifications of being a screen idol, and his efforts as a working actor to improve upon his craft.

Aficionados of classic cinema still delight in his roles in "Damn Yankees," "That Kind of Woman" [with Sophia Loren] and "Battle Cry," which catapulted him to major stardom. While others remember his hilarious turns opposite Divine in "Polyester" and "Lust in the Dust." Here for EDGE Media Network, Tab Hunter shares his thoughts on this new feature documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential" and more than a glimpse of his "past life" in front of the camera and his happiness... out of the spotlight.

I spoke to Hunter on Gary Cooper's birthday, a good starting point for a conversation since Hunter co-starred with that Oscar-winning actor in 1959's "They Came to Cordova" where they became good friends.

Gary Cooper & Dorothy Malone

EDGE: It is Gary Cooper's birthday today...

Tab Hunter: You're kidding! Really. I didn't know that. He was terrific! That's very nice. Also, his daughter, Maria, is a good friend of mine. I love her.

EDGE: I read in your autobiography about the quality time you spent with Gary.

Tab Hunter: I spent some wonderful time with him and Maria came up to the set a lot and I used to take her out a lot. I still see her when I go to New York.

EDGE: Wonderful. I'm going to start with one line of dialogue from one of your female co-stars. Then, I have a question about it. 'You think I'm a tramp, don't you Danny?'

Tab Hunter: Danny... that has to be from 'Battle Cry.' And, it probably had to be Dorothy Malone.

EDGE: Of course. She was an integral part of your first blockbuster, 'Battle Cry.' Dorothy Malone had been acting in films for over ten years, when she starred in 'Battle Cry' with you. Will you share your thoughts on acting with her and getting to know her?

Tab Hunter: I did get to know Dorothy because the studio did a lot of tests with me for that role. Then, they had me test with a lot of women whom they were thinking of for that role of the married woman that I would have an affair with. There were quite a few and one of them was Dorothy Malone. Dorothy Malone was the one who got the role. She was quite terrific. She is one of those sexy beauties.

Back before the camera

EDGE: How did it feel, going in front of the camera again, for the documentary feature film on your life? What was it like transferring your life story to the screen?

Tab Hunter: You know what? My partner, Alan was the one who got me to do the book. It was a lot of talking. He said, 'Somebody's going to do a book, I hear.' I said, 'Oh, my gosh.' He said, 'I think you should do it.' I said, 'It's better to get it from the horse's mouth and not some horse's ass... after I'm dead and gone.' As everybody wants to put a spin on your life. That was the trip.

Then, the book became a hit. Alan said, 'I think you should do the documentary.' I said, 'Alan, I've done the book.' He said, 'No, this is another way of presenting the book, but we can only pick parts of it because you only have such a limited time and I have an idea of how I want the film to go.' I did it. I wasn't nervous or anything about it. Though, it's always hard to talk about your past and all of that.

EDGE: Jeffrey and Alan and all the other producers did a phenomenal job.

Tab Hunter: Alan was the one. It was his idea. I mean, he worked on it for six years. He had all the archival stuff, ninety nine percent of it was all his. He just is a damn good producer. Then, we met Jeffrey and Alan said he wanted Jeffrey to direct it. Jeffrey's a wonderful director and a very good editor and he and Alan worked very closely.

EDGE: I like the rare footage of you figure skating.

Tab Hunter: Oh yeah, they found that. Yep (laughter).

EDGE: That was pretty cool. I'd never seen that before.

Tab Hunter: There was very little of the stuff with the horses... actual footage. I don't know why because I've done an awful lot of that stuff.

Attending film festivals

EDGE: Yeah. What has the experience been like attending all the various film festivals? You've been to England and you're going to Canada plus all the dates around the U.S.

Tab Hunter: We've been to a few of them. We started out with the world premiere in Austin at the South by Southwest, which was amazing. We went directly from there to London to The British Film Institute and that blew me away. Then, we're going to be going up to Seattle, then Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego... so, I'm pretty excited about that.

EDGE: After watching your documentary and rereading your autobiography, I hate to say it but you were a movie star.

Tab Hunter: (laughter) Oh, yeah. Well, thank you very much. I've always loved movies and once I was there doing it, I realized, 'Damn. I'd better learn my craft! I mean, this takes work.' So, I really put my nose to the grindstone to develop as an actor. I was very fortunate to work with some really good people and some really good directors. The more I realized what it was about, the more I realized how much I had to learn.

EDGE: The motion picture industry had changed over the course of your film career and you rode the waves, so to speak, through the highs and lows. You really learned how to be a good actor because you wanted to.

Tab Hunter: The movie industry was changing tremendously. I was one of the last with a studio contract and the studio moguls. They ran the studios. They ran tight ships. They knew what they wanted but you know, TV was coming in and the studios had to get rid of all their theaters around the country. People wanted real people in real situations. It was a big upset for them... they didn't know which way to go.

They started doing their own television series. Pictures weren't quite as good, there were a few (that were good), but still better than a lot today, that's for sure.

About the closet...

EDGE: Sure. You have said, 'You didn't want your sexuality to define who you were.' Is it fair to say that you were a closeted actor?

Tab Hunter: I never discussed anything. I figured it was nobody's business. My private life was my private life. Every free minute, I spent out with the horses. I felt closest to God with a pitchfork with 'you know what' in my hands. I just accepted my job as an actor to do the best I possibly could, because if I didn't... I'd be out and someone else would be in there.

EDGE: I hope that 'Tab Hunter Confidential' brings attention back to your autobiography of the same name. Your book and the film shows that we have come a long way, but it still was very difficult. You had the glamour and hard work of being a film star but during that time, it wasn't easy being a homosexual.

Tab Hunter: I look at the documentary as a journey. That's what it is. It's my journey. The young years, the Hollywood years and the golden years. That was the arc of my life, my career. I never was out there in your face because that's just not the kind of person I am. I wasn't brought up that way. I was brought up a devout Catholic. I had a very strong, wonderful, Old World mother, who was full of clichés. They wouldn't be clichés if they weren't truths (laughs). So, it was a wonderful time being in the movie industry because it's so different from today... and life in general, today, is so different than it was then.

EDGE: Definitely. I wanted to talk with you about 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.' (Tennessee Williams' 1963 drama that fared badly in two Broadway productions a year apart; the second featured Hunter along with Tallulah Bankhead and ran four performances in 1964.)

Tab Hunter: I wish we could have put that in the documentary. It was just impossible at the time. I think if we get it sold to whether it be HBO or whoever it might be, we might go back and revisit that. That was a fascinating time for me, doing the Tennessee Williams play. It was a wonderful experience working with Tallulah [Bankhead]. That was a (laughs) trip within itself. Marian Seldes was the glue that held us all together. Even though it was short-lived, it was quite a wonderful time in my life.

EDGE: For you to receive a note of congratulations on your portrayal of Christopher Flanders in the play from Mr. Williams himself was pretty terrific.

Tab Hunter: Yeah, he was a pretty fabulous man. I mean, look at the contributions he's made to the American theatre... unbelievable.

Special friendships

EDGE: Rock Hudson made 'Pretty Maids All in a Row' just a year or so before you made 'Sweet Kill' in 1973. Both those films would make a great double-bill as they are both kind of those campy sexploitation films created in the early 1970s.

Tab Hunter: I never saw 'Pretty Maids...' but 'Sweet Kill' is interesting because that was Curtis Hanson's first film. He did 'L.A. Confidential' and many, major films. The producer of 'Sweet Kill' was Tamara Asseyev, who won the Academy Award for producing 'Norma Rae' with Sally Field. So, they were all just starting out at that time. [of 'Sweet Kill']. It was very low-budget and it was a really interesting script. But, of course, Roger Corman had to put his own little tweaks into it (laughter). He had his own way of making motion pictures... and selling them.

EDGE: It's really special that Mother Delores Hart, Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens and Terry Moore are part of 'Tab Hunter Confidential' to chime in on your work and their friendship with you. That, for me, made for some great moments in the documentary.

Tab Hunter: I was really thrilled about that. You know, we have a lot more interviews, we just didn't put in. We just didn't have the time as we only had 90-some minutes to do the documentary. If we sell this or when we sell this, we will then put a bonus reel out with all the other interviews. A lot of them were really fascinating of wonderful people I've known throughout my life. I've been very fortunate.

EDGE: In reading your autobiography and watching the documentary, Dick Clayton (his second agent) seems to be the man who, from the very beginning, was a true friend through thick and thin.

Tab Hunter: You know. I'm so glad you said that. Dick Clayton... God threw the mold away after he made Dick Clayton. He was an incredible human being. I was acquired when he became an agent. I left Henry Willson and went to Dick Clayton. Look at the people who Dick Clayton was an agent for! I mean Jimmy Dean, Jane Fonda, Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson and you can go on and on and on. He was just such a decent human being in kind of a scary business, if you know what I mean.

A 'wrap' party?

EDGE: Yes. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a dear friend of yours, Evelyn Keyes.

Tab Hunter: Well, I loved Evelyn. Alan was the one who was really closest to Evelyn. Evelyn Keyes was wonderful! Not only a fine actress but a wonderful writer. She used to write for The L.A. Times and then she wrote a couple of books. One was 'Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister' and then, she did another book. It was her first one called 'I Am a Billboard' which we optioned and she did a screenplay for and it was just brilliant, called 'Blues in the Night.' It's something I just love and I hope that Alan pursues it as our next project. That's the one I want Alan to pursue. He's such a good producer and it's such a timely piece, that's really moving.

EDGE: I truly hope so. That would be wonderful.

Tab Hunter: We are in moving pictures. It's all about getting it together, getting the right ingredients together and of course, getting the finances together.

EDGE: Of course! It's a business.

Tab Hunter: (laughter) It's a business, yes! Unfortunately, the taste in the business isn't always the best but when it does come through, you think, 'Thank God, they did do that.'

EDGE: When you finished filming, did you get the opportunity to have a 'Wrap party?'

Tab Hunter: You know, I wish we had, but filming took place over six years, so we'd do a shoot when we could get financing together and then another little shoot here, etc. So, it took a long while for Alan and Jeffrey to put it all together. Unfortunately, we didn't have the Wrap party, but on July 11 in Los Angeles, we are going to have a screening and we're going to invite all the people who we can think of, who were part of this.

EDGE: That's marvelous. In closing, for you, it all comes back to your love of horses. The last time we spoke, you told me about your horse 'Harlow' and in naming her that was as close as you'll come to Hollywood these days.

Tab Hunter: Now as soon as I hang up, I'm going to be getting a sack of carrots and going out to see Harlow and her new baby!

EDGE: Skylark!

Tab Hunter: Skylark. Exactly. I heard the tune as I was going over to see the baby, I heard the Hoagy Carmichael song playing on the car radio and I looked at Alan and said, 'That's her name.'

EDGE: Ahhh. Thank you so much. It's been a great pleasure talking with you again.

Tab Hunter: Thank you very much. Nice talking with you, too.

Tab Hunter Confidential is being screened this week at FilmOut San Diego Opening Night: Friday, May 29, - 7:30PM - The Observatory North Park and the Berkshire International Film Festival, Great Barrington, MA Sunday, May 31, - 1:45PM - Triplex #1. It will also been screened at numerous film festivals through the summer: For additional screening dates and more information, visit the film's website.


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