A decade after penning his best-selling autobiography, blonde-haired, blue-eyed 1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter has transferred his life story to the big screen in the 90-minute documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential.""It’s been playing at film festivals this year to great reviews and this month will be opening in selected theaters around the country," said Hunter from his Santa Barbara, Calif., home (see www.tabhunter.com for dates and locations).
Originally from New York City, Hunter moved to California as a young boy with his mother. After his older brother taught him to ride horses at 12, the animals would become Tab’s passion and indirectly lead the shy Catholic lad to Hollywood.
"I was a stable boy with a shovel in my hands when I was noticed by Dick Clayton, James Dean’s agent," said Hunter, who found himself marooned on a deserted island with glamorous Linda Darnell in 1952’s "Island of Desire," his first major feature."Linda was a Texas beauty and a huge star at the time. I was shaking with nerves when I had to kiss her during the screen test," Hunter recalled. "But she just said ‘Relax, I’m good luck for newcomers.’ "
Within a few years, after freelancing before signing with Warner Bros., Hunter was sharing top billing with leading ladies such as Natalie Wood, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner, and co-starring with actors such as Fred Astaire, Robert Mitchum and John Wayne.
"Only a few years earlier, I was admiring them from a movie theater seat," said Hunter. "Suddenly, I was working with them."
In the 1959 western "They Came to Cordura," Hunter worked with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, whom Hunter remembers as a quiet beauty.
"I thought she was rather introverted, and when you met her, you just wanted to put your arms around her and hold her. There was just something very touching about her."
The movie, however, was catastrophic for co-star Dick York, who suffered a severe back injury while filming. It would later force him to leave the "Bewitched" TV series in 1969 and eventually end his career.
"It happened towards the end of shooting when we were on a railroad handcart between St. George (Utah) and Las Vegas," recalled Hunter.
Hunter also launched a musical career at the height of his fame after his 1957 hit "Young Love" reached No. 1 on the U.S. music charts.
"I recorded it on a Saturday and when I heard it on the car radio the following week, I almost hit a palm tree on Sunset Boulevard," he recalled. But studio head Jack Warner wasn’t impressed.
"He read me the riot act saying ‘We own you for everything.’ When I pointed out Warner’s didn’t have a recording company he said ‘We do now’ and he created Warner Bros. Records."
While Hunter’s star dimmed once he reached his 30s, he continued to work into the 1980s and experienced success again with the comedy "Polyester" and the western spoof "Lust in the Dust."
A private person throughout his career, Hunter publicly acknowledged for the first time in his book and subsequent documentary that he has been gay all his life.
Today, the 84-year-old actor remains pragmatic about his revelation.
"People always want to label you, and I hate labels," he said. "I’ve never been comfortable in the public eye or discussing my private life. But life’s a journey we are all on, and I wanted to tell my complete story. What’s important on that journey is the kind of person you are."
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 500 magazines and newspapers.