April 6, 2017 — In the 1950s, he was internationally famous. By the time he was 21, Tab Hunter was a leading man. He was ubiquitous, his face on every fan magazine.
He had all American good looks, a chiseled jaw, blond hair and blue eyes. He was true heart-throb material, and Warner Bros. recognized his value immediately.
One of the final group of actors the studio would put under contract — the others included James Dean and Natalie Wood — he was only 21 when he was cast as one of the leads in Island of Desire, opposite Linda Darnell.
A year later, in 1957, he would record a song entitled Young Love. It 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.
Although his singing career would never again hit the charts, his early singing successes would help him land the lead in Damn Yankees, one of 1958’s biggest musicals.
From 1955-1959, Tab Hunter was the biggest star at Warner Bros.
However, his career trajectory, which seemed to move from success to success, was threatened by one thing: Tab Hunter was gay. Rumors about his homosexuality were all over Hollywood. The studio would set him up on dates with females stars. A phony romance was created by the publicity department between him and Natalie Wood, which was called by those in the know “Natalie Wood and Tab wouldn’t.” Other fake dates included Debbie Reynolds and Sophia Loren.
But when Tab Hunter got arrested for disorderly conduct, his agent sold him out. Confidential magazine threatened to out Rock Hudson, the agent’s bigger star, who was also homosexual. The magazine agreed to lay off Hudson if they were handed Hunter. The agent agreed, and an article appeared which implied throughout that Hunter was gay.
The general public didn’t seem to care very much. Nonetheless, Hunter was starting to chafe at living two separate lives.
Hunter would make more than 40 films and numerous television shows and appearances, eventually becoming a cult idol for his role in John Waters’ Polyester (opposite Divine) and as the substitute teacher in Grease 2 who sang the song Reproduction.
In the award-winning film Tab Hunter Confidential, he addresses his homosexuality and the difficulties inherent in pretending to be the heterosexual boy-next-door in his movies, while rumors about him swirled around Hollywood. The pretense, the double life, the world of Hollywood’s studio system and publicity machines are all part of this acclaimed documentary.
Tab Hunter Confidential is available on DVD and Blu-ray or you can stream it immediately on Amazon Video.