In “Tab Hunter Confidential,” A 1950s Beefcake Star Outs Himself

August 23, 2016 — He was one of the last of Hollywood’s golden boys.

Tab Hunter’s career had a strange trajectory. He was only 21 when he was cast as one of the leads in Island of Desire, opposite Linda Darnell; he would star in more than 40 films during his film career.

In 1956, he, Natalie Wood and James Dean were the final group of actors placed under exclusive contract with Warner Bros.

In 1957 he recorded a song called First Love, which would reach the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stay there for six weeks. It went gold, selling more than 1 million units. A second song, 99 Ways, would reach #11 on the charts. Both songs were recorded for Dot Records, which belonged to Paramount Pictures. Jack Warner would establish Warner Bros. Records in order to have a company for Hunter’s future recordings, but no other records made by Tab Hunter approached the success of his initial hit.

However, his singing ability eventually would help him land the lead role in Damn Yankees, one of the big musicals of 1958. 

From 1955-1959, Tab Hunter was Warner’s top-grossing star. This was despite the fact that the rumors about Hunter’s sexuality were all around Hollywood. Nonetheless, the general public remained basically unaware of the fact that Hunter was gay. He starred opposite some of the biggest female stars of the time, including Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren and Debbie Reynolds. Fake dates and love affairs were created by the studio to protect one of their valuable assets. A phony romance between Hunter and film star Natalie Wood was well-publicized. The non-existent romance was tagged by those who actually knew the two stars as “Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn’t.”

After Hunter got arrested for disorderly conduct, his agent agreed to supply Confidential magazine with a scoop about the actor. Nothing was said outright about Hunter’s sexuality, but much was implied. The agent had brokered the article in exchange for Confidential‘s promise not to expose Rock Hudson, the agent’s bigger star.
Oddly, the article had virtually no effect on Hunter’s popularity.

Long after Hunter’s career had cooled off, he became something of a cult idol after starring in John Water’s Polyester opposite Divine. A number of camp classics followed, that cemented his following.

Throughout his years as one of Hollywood’s most desirable leading men, Hunter had to keep his sexuality a secret. But in Tab Hunter Confidential, he addresses the issue — and describes what it was like to hide his real life and pretend to be someone he was not, under the glare of Tinseltown’s publicity machine.

The award-winning Tab Hunter Confidential is available on Blu-ray and DVD, or you can stream it immediately on Amazon Video.
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