In 2005, actor Tab Hunter released his autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. Now thanks to director Jeffrey Schwarz and Hunter’s partner, Allan Glaser, a documentary based on the book is hitting movie screens.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, Tab Hunter Confidential will be screened at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, with Hunter in attendance to discuss the film at a special event benefiting the Desert AIDS Project. The film will then remain on Camelot screens for at least a week.
During a recent phone interview, Hunter explained why he decided to write the book.
“I wrote the book with a lot of hesitation, but I figured I had to do it, because someone else was going to write a book,” Hunter said. “I figured it’s better to get it from the horse’s mouth, not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone, where they’ll put some spin on it. I didn’t want that. People are noted for doing that.”
Hunter, now 84, worked as a stable boy at the age of 14; that is how he met actor and agent Richard Clayton, who used to come to the barn to ride and shoot promo photographs.
“That’s where it started, where I was shoveling the real stuff out of the barn,” Hunter said. “(Clayton) discovered me there, and my career went on from there.”
Hunter’s love of films started around the same time. He said he would see films on weekend evenings after working in the barn all day.
“All those wonderful Tyrone Power films like The Black Swan and all of those things—I loved the total escapism,” he said. “I was always so locked within myself that I admired anybody who could be out there, and those films gave you a whole different vision of the world. That was really important to me when I was a kid, and you’re scared of your own shadow. Lucky, my brother helped me out a lot, but we used to go to the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara all the time.”
While Tab Hunter was best known for acting and his all-American good looks, he also recorded music as well.
“I was doing a chore with Natalie Wood for a film we had done, and I was singing,” he said. “Howard Miller, who was a huge disc jockey in Chicago, asked me, ‘Did you ever think of recording?’ And I said, ‘I sing in the shower, and everyone sounds good in the shower.’ He said, ‘I’d like to introduce you to Randy Wood at Dot Records.’ He put me in touch with Randy, and Randy heard me sing, and presented me with a tune called ‘Young Love.’ I recorded it on a Friday and heard it on the car radio while I was driving the following Monday, and almost hit a palm tree, I was so shocked. It knocked Elvis out of the No. 1 slot and stayed there for about six weeks.
“From there on, I went on to do an album. Jack Warner (of Hunter’s studio, Warner Bros.) called me in the office and he said, ‘Wait a minute! You can’t do that! We own you for everything!’ I said, ‘But Mr. Warner, you don’t have a recording company.’ He looked at me and said, ‘We do now!’ and started Warner Brothers Records. That’s amazing when you stop to think how huge that company is now.”
Hunter starred in both hits and films that flopped. However, Hunter insisted he has no regrets.
“I don’t ever wish I didn’t do anything, because I did them because it was called ‘survival,’” he said. “That’s what happens when you have bills to pay. Usually, the actor gets the blame if the picture isn’t any good. … They don’t realize the producers and the directors and all the money behind it is what makes the picture. I’ve done a lot of bad pictures, and I don’t look at those and forget them; that is just called experience. The best part is I got to work with good people—actors, writers and directors. That helps you grow.”
He said he is particularly proud of several films, however.
“I love Damn Yankees because it was my first musical,” he said. “I love That Kind of Woman because it was with Sophia Loren—need I say more? Also, it was with Sidney Lumet, who was a wonderful director. I liked Gunman’s Walk, because it was the first heavy I ever played in a film, and that’s a really great picture. But I think TV is what gave me more opportunity than movies, because the studio era was falling apart then.”
John Waters helped Tab Hunter enjoy a bit of a resurgence in the 1980s when he cast him in Polyester. Hunter also went on to star in Grease 2, and became a bit of a cult favorite with the younger generation.
“John was great,” Hunter said. “I was doing a play in Indianapolis, and I got a call one day, and it was John. He said, ‘Hello. I’m John Waters, I don’t know if you know me or not.’ I said, ‘John, I’m a major fan of yours! I love Mondo Trasho and Pink Flamingos.’ He said, ‘I have a script I’d like you to do, if I can send it to you.’ I said I had two weeks off before I had to do another play, and asked when he planned to shoot. He asked me, ‘Before we go there, how do you feel about kissing a 300-pound transvestite?’ I said, ‘I’m sure I’ve kissed a whole hell of a lot worse.’ He sent me the script; I read it. I had already met Divine at David Hockney’s party a little while earlier, and I thought he was wonderful. It was a great experience, and I loved doing that film for him. It revitalized my career.”
When the book Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star was released in 2005, it included a confession on a subject about which members of the press and many others had speculated for decades: Hunter is gay. When he looks back, he said he feels the press is still quite cruel.
“I think, ‘How sad!’ Because everything seems to be so in your face and pushed out there from a time when things were much quieter and much simpler; people didn’t discuss those things, and the word ‘gay’ wasn’t even around,” Hunter said. “They might have said something, but it was hush, hush. It was nobody’s damn business. My touch of reality in the unrealistic world of Hollywood was going out to the barn and shoveling the real crap. … People are always going to be quick to label people. The first line of my book is, ‘I hate labels.’ People were always trying to label people, and what’s much more important is that we’re all human beings. What kind of a human being are you? That’s what’s important.”
He said he misses the relative privacy the media offered stars back in his heyday.
“Everything is discussed today, and I’m not really sure I like that,” he said. “I love what Allan (Glaser) said in an interview last week. A reporter was talking about the documentary, and Allan said, ‘Yes, Tab came out of the closet and did the documentary, then turned around and closed the door behind him.’ I thought that was funny, but it was true. The documentary is about my journey, the early years, the Hollywood years, and these golden years. We’re all on a journey—but the most important question is: What kind of journey are you on?”
Tab Hunter Confidential will be shown at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 12, at Camelot Theatres. 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20 and include a post-show Q&A; VIP tickets, which include a pre-screening reception, are $65.. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit the event’s Facebook page.