On 22 July 2018, I tweeted the following:
@TabHunterDoc(blog to follow): tears of sadness & joy in my eyes, throughout! A beaut. #humanbeing! From his #soulrose up #love, #courage, #perseverance, #tolerance, #forgiveness, #gratitude, #understanding, #empathy. Telling my wife about the doc afterwards, I burst into tears.
So here’s the blog:
After I watched this brilliant documentary on the movie star*, the ‘pop star’, the ‘horseman’, the human being, the inspiration, the all-round ‘nice guy’ (my guess is that Tab, if he had seen me drafting this blog, he’d have asked me to re-arrange the aforementioned list!), I was extremely emotional – why? I wish I’d known the guy. He passed away a few weeks ago and, crazy as it may seem, my never having met him and only knowing about him what I saw and heard in the documentary, I feel the loss. He personified the nouns I listed in the tweet, love, courage, perseverance, tolerance, forgiveness, gratitude, understanding and empathy and I don’t know many people who personify so many personality traits/characteristics. He truly was a special human being.
(*I just want to add that whilst the movie is predominantly about Tab Hunter, movie fans generally, especially those who love Hollywood history, will really enjoy it! The ‘Golden Age’, the Hollywood studios, the ‘studio system’, interviews/words from giants such as Debbie Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Robert Wagner, it’s all in ‘Tab Hunter Confidential’).
I don’t want to take anything away from Tab’s accomplishments after the 1950s but I think it’s fair to say that it was in the 50s that he really was a megastar, a Hollywood movie star – signed to Warner Brothers – a ‘pop’ star/recording artist, an American cultural icon/phenomenon.
George Takei: “With his charms and good looks and his magnetic presence, he was the embodiment of youthful American masculinity.”
Rona Barrett, entertainment reporter: “Young girls just were crazy about him. The minute they took a look, he became their guy, and he was marketed to those people.”
Jo-Ann Cox Bunton (Tab Hunter fan): “…Tab Hunter was the heartthrob that I had seen in the movie magazines.”
Terry Moore (actress): “He was a guy that all the girls wanted to go out with. Of course I wanted to meet Tab Hunter, ‘cause he was the big young male star at Warner Brothers, and I was the big female star at Columbia Pictures…”
AND, as the saying goes, “he was nice with it”:
Mother Dolores Hart, Prioress, Abbey of Regina Laudis (ie a nun), a former actress: “He was the kind of boy every mother would want to have married into her family. He had an honesty. He had a simplicity. He had a certain strength of character. He would not let anyone down.”
Debbie Reynolds (film star – legend!): “We got along great, ‘cause he was always fun and sweet. And he wasn’t after me, so he wasn’t on the make. And women like that.”
Tab wanted to be an actor, an actor in Hollywood, he also wanted to be a recording artist but, and this is not unusual, he was not a ‘Hollywood animal’, he was not an extrovert, the heart and soul of the party – he said of himself:
“I was lost as a kid in many ways, introverted, and I was extremely shy. I was never comfortable around people. It made me very nervous.”
As one who suffers from/with clinical depression, I don’t find it odd that a shy person, an introvert, would want to be an actor, to be a star – I think it allows introverts to inhabit another world, to live, during the production of a movie, as fictional characters (or other ‘real’ people), as the characters they are portraying, especially if they are method actors and live as their characters 24/7.
The appeal of stardom is related, I guess – Art (Arthur) Gelien, pronounced ‘Geleen’, was ‘given’ the name Tab Hunter by Henry Willson, his agent. In the same way as Cary Grant is reputed to have said that he was three people, Archibold Leach (his original name), Cary Grant, the public persona acted out/portrayed by Archie, and the character he was playing in a movie, so Art Gelien could ‘hide’ behind the public persona, Tab Hunter, and he could also hide behind the character he was portraying in a movies.
However, it wasn’t that simple for the honest Tab. You see, Tab was gay and he was keeping it a secret (as many people, not just actors, did in the 50s as it was still a crime back then to be gay or, rather, to be an ‘active’ gay man – it makes me angry just typing that sentence!).
George Takei: “In the 1950s, being gay was absolutely not acceptable. It was against the law. It was considered a mental disease. There were very devastating consequences. You couldn’t have a life being gay back in the ‘50s. Tab would be foolish not to hide, or he would not have a career.”
Tab: “The public saw me as one person, and I was another. I didn’t feel good about myself. I never felt that I deserved a lot of the stuff that was happening. You were rewarded for pretending that you were something that you were not.”
It says a lot about Tab that he felt like a fraud, that he didn’t just ‘thank his lucky stars’ and milk the Hollywood cow for as long as he could get away with it, that it bothered him that he couldn’t be himself.
The ‘deal’ with the movie studios, at that time, the era when actors/actresses were ‘under contract’, was that you, the actor/actress, were paid a salary, regardless of whether or not you were working on a movie (you could be ‘loaned out’ to other studios if your studio didn’t have you in a movie), you were paid a salary and you stayed away from controversy (the studios would also put their full weight into ‘protecting’ you from the prying lenses and gossip mongers in the media):
Tab: “Jack Warner (head of Warner Brothers) and I never discussed my sexuality whatsoever. I was making a lot of money for them. As long as I didn’t destroy this image they were creating, that was important to them. They created this persona. You played the game, so to speak, if that’s what they want. I did sign a contract, and I was willing to do whatever they wanted me to do to fulfil that contract.”
BUT Tab was tormented, conflicted – the movie throws a spotlight on Tab’s inner conflict (and his honesty!!) by bringing Etchika Choureau into the documentary (I don’t want this to be a ‘spoiler’ so I’ll say no more….).
Even Tab’s religion didn’t (initially) shield him from the torment:
“I love the Church, I love my religion (Catholicism), but I still just felt like I was such an outcast because of my sexuality. It took a long time for me to find my way back. It was so peaceful, and it was so important that I try to be a part of it. And I struck up a conversation with a priest who I felt that I could really communicate with. I told him I was a Catholic, and I told him I had some terrible reservations. He was so receptive, and he really made me feel better about myself.”
All I’ll add on this part of Tab’s life (not wanting the blog to be too much of a ‘spoiler’) is that Mother Dolores Hart is so sweet – what a beautiful soul!!
I want to jump past a lot of what we see in the movie, relationships, friendships, events, because although they evidence the heart and soul of Tab, his understanding and empathy, his strength of character, his ability to forgive, his tolerance, his humility (John Waters: “Tab was serious about his career, but he never took himself that seriously”) and magnanimity, I don’t want this to be a ‘spoiler’ blog – I want this to whet your appetite, not satisfy it! I will just say this: Tab’s partner, Allan Glaser, his soul mate for over 30 years, was an intrinsic part of his life – you’ll see that in the movie but I simply couldn’t blog on it without mentioning Allan – to do so would be like blogging on the life of Liberace without mentioning the word ‘piano’!
Tab, sadly, passed away a few weeks ago but his legacy goes beyond the movies and his music, his acting and singing – his greatest legacies (and this is not to diminish from his acting and singing!) are the lessons his life reflects, not the least of which are, I guess, ”live your life, your authentic life”, “when you fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with it….”, “give it a go, give it all you’ve got” and “look at what you’ve got, not at what you haven’t got!”
Tab was against the ropes at times, he was on the canvas but he always beat the count! What a guy, what an inspiration – as I said at the beginning of this blog, I so wish I had met him!
Thank you, Allan Glaser, for adding so much to Tab’s quality of life and for giving us this great movie!