Dreamboat Departed: Tab Hunter, 1931-2018

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Actor Tab Hunter died yesterday at the age of 86, prompting a revisit of this 2016 post, updated with new images.  

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Tab Hunter was a clean-cut, all-American ’50s dreamboat heartthrob. But when rumors surfaced that he was gay, Hunter found himself torn between being true to himself and trying to save his nosediving career.

Images of Hunter show up on vintage Ivy message boards, such as the Film Noir Buff Talk Ivy board, and he is featured in the UK coffee-table book “Hollywood And The Ivy Look.” Now a recent documentary, “Tab Hunter Confidential,” based on the actor’s autiobiography, is making the rounds at film festivals and art houses. It just finished a screen run last week in Miami; no word yet when it will be released on DVD.

This quote from Hunter’s wiki page summarizes the actor’s struggles being a closeted gay man during the Hollywood studio era:

During Hollywood’s studio era, Hunter says, “[life] was difficult for me, because I was living two lives at that time. A private life of my own, which I never discussed, never talked about to anyone. And then my Hollywood life, which was just trying to learn my craft and succeed…” The star emphasizes that the word ‘gay’ “wasn’t even around in those days, and if anyone ever confronted me with it, I’d just kinda freak out. I was in total denial. I was just not comfortable in that Hollywood scene, other than the work process.”[14] “There was a lot written about my sexuality, and the press was pretty darn cruel,” the actor says, but what “moviegoers wanted to hold in their hearts were the boy-next-door marines, cowboys and swoon-bait sweethearts I portrayed.”

Hunter also had one hit song in 1957. Well written by pop standards of the time, Hunter struggles a bit with the delivery. Entitled “Young Love,” it was secretly that proverbial love that dare not speak its name.  — CC


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30 Comments on "Dreamboat Departed: Tab Hunter, 1931-2018"

  1. Just imagine! A gay man wearing Ivy style! Who ever heard of such a thing?

  2. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | January 26, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Reply

    He looks like the real life persona Justin Hopwood portrays in all those RL ads.

    It’s incredible how his career trajectory was kinda similar to Cliff Richard in the UK. Both were good looking/well dressed gentlemen, both queer as a hooded sport coat. It is amazing how far humanity has come in the last half century. Let’s hope we continue to evolve.

  3. According to the “Hollywood Reporter”, the Motion Picture Academy is throwing Tab Hunter, and all the older members, out………..

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/academys-new-voting-rules-raise-858388

  4. Hollywood is and always has been full of successful actors and actresses that live double lives, both gay and straight. It’s Hollywood.

  5. Hunter says, “[life] was difficult for me, because I was living two lives at that time.” That is a remarkable understatement. Imagine what it must have taken for him to play the roles of “boy-next-door marines, cowboys and swoon-bait sweethearts …” Pretty impressive guy. I’d like to have that kind of focus and commitment.

  6. Wait, there are homosexuals in California…the hell you say.

  7. Henry Contestwinner | January 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Reply

    Hollywood is also full of child molesters, according to Corey Feldman.

    I think that John Waters cast Tab Hunter in Polyester precisely because of Hunter’s “split personality,” i.e., the disjoint between his personal life and his professional life, and also because Hunter was a has-been. That sort of tawdriness is essential to Waters’ films.

  8. Henry Contestwinner | January 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Reply

    Sacksuit, everyone knows California is the land of the fruits and nuts!

  9. Henryctwr

    No one is talking about child molesters. Why bring that up?

    ‘Split personality’ has nothing to do with gay vs straight or personal vs public life. Personality is very different than gender and sexual orientation.

  10. Sorry, didn’t finish …

    Tawdry? My goodness. What’s you fantasy here, Henrycts?

  11. Incredible as the music was decayed by from 40s in only ten years.
    From immortals jazz songs to..young love!

  12. Henry Contestwinner | January 26, 2016 at 11:53 pm | Reply

    Leaving aside the other stuff, have you ever seen a John Waters film, Ward? Tawdriness is one of the key elements of his oeuvre. He revels in it! Why must I have a “fantasy” because I recognize this?

  13. Someone’s got to say it:
    Tab in a tab!
    And a damned smart striped one, as well.
    How and why did tab collars like that become an endangered species?

  14. Marc Chevalier | January 27, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Reply

    I hope very much that Christian, Bruce B., or Richard Press will write an article about tab collars. They deserve some limelight.

  15. Was a very big fan of this blog. Even bought the Take Ivy Style book. 2 copies. One for my boss one for me. Now very disappointed to read the comments of this post. Just don’t want to be part of this set. Can’t share the love for an aesthetic if I know this is your ethic.

  16. @Jose

    I agree. I was also disappointed to see how the community here regard tab collars so highly.

    Will

  17. My late cousin was possibly gay. He was very effeminate and liked flowers. Also, like Liberace, he was deeply devoted to his mother. His late father, my uncle, was a ww2 combat veteran, having served in the Pacific Hell.

    We lived 1200 miles apart all our lives, and only saw each other every two years for a nice restaurant lunch. He’d always bring up in conversation how mean I was when we were boys. I’d always feel bad about that.

    Two years ago, we had our last lunch together. He told me of heart issues he was having. Last Christmas, I sent him a greeting card, and didn’t get one back. Checking the internet, I learned he was awaiting a heart transplant, and died six months earlier at sage 62. His relatives, that I only met once at his mother’s funeral, didn’t even notify me of his passing.

    I figure he really hated my guts.

    Rest in peace, cousin Charles.

  18. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 9, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Reply

    Tab Hunter was unlucky to live in a era that was the sunset of a world (and of a civilization).

    On Facebook Joseph Barnes said”
    It’s sad how many individuals Hollywood snapped up, used and then discarded in the name of the Next Big Thing or social trend,and stars of Hunter’s generation had it particularly hard, with the movie studios forced to divest themselves of their theater chains in the 50s, the rise of and competition from television, and other factors, including the cultural revolution of the mid-1960s, which buried stars like Hunter, Sandra Dee, and Troy Donahue almost overnight. Even older, more versatile stars like Debbie Reynolds, Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly and Kim Novak saw the kind of film they were known for disappear, and their careers grind to an abrupt, if not complete, halt”.

    Many promising stars,that in others years would have had a great career were forgotten in late 60s. For example think what could be the career of George Hamilton in 30s,40s or 50s.

  19. Vern Trotter | July 9, 2018 at 7:33 pm | Reply

    When I worked at Brooks Brothers in 1959-60, I was usually behind the tie counter which was then a square directly in front of the 44th street entrance. Tab Hunter came in several times, bought a couple of neckties and always stopped to chat. I always had to give the sale to a salesman as I was only a stock boy and not a member of the Union. I never knew he was gay or whatever we called it back then; it would not have made any difference anyway. This was New York, not the lower Midwest where I grew up. I was envious of the way he dressed and glad to see him. I think his career crashed not long after that. Battle Cry was his biggest movie, I believe.

  20. And not even Angie Dickerson could change his mind. 🙂 RIP

  21. Now that’s a very sharply dressed man indeed.

    Looking at some of those photos, the young Jude Law reminds me a bit of Hunter. Hunter, however, doesn’t seem to have that slightly odd tinge of bug-eyed anger (a ‘did you spill my drink?’, accusatory kind) that Law, in my opinion always has in his eyes and mouth, whether he’s smiling or otherwise.

    In fact, if I were casting an imaginary remake version of The Talented Mr Ripley that stays faithfully to Highsmith’s masterpiece, I’d have to run a screen test on Hunter. There’s something of the original Dickie Greenleaf from the book that I see reflected in some of those photos.

    Who would play Tom, now that’s a different question.

    As for the issue of Hunter’s sexuality, I’d like to think that such things wouldn’t be an issue in any walk of life in the West today and that he’d be judged solely on his acting merits.

  22. As Oscar Levant once said,”Everyone in Hollywood is gay, except Gabby Hayes. Gabby Hayes is a transvestite.”

  23. If you didn’t know that “Hollywood” is a nasty snakepit designed to wring money out of talent, well, there are a lot of movies about it.

  24. @ Le Moomin – Tab Hunter as Dickie is a great idea… My Tom vote would be cast for the young Dennis Hopper.

  25. Tab Hunter as Dickie Greenleaf is a lousy idea. Dickie is a bit of a spoiled jerk and Jude Law deserves an Oscar for the menacing Dickie portrayal.

    Tab Hunter reminds me of James Dean: a sweet, all-American guy with a tragically short career in film.

  26. Now Tab Hunter as Tom Ripley is a great idea. Picture him as an out of place American wearing an ill-fitting corduroy jacket and a knit tie in Southern Italy.

  27. @Just Sayin’ Dennis Hopper played Ripley in a 70s Wim Wenders version of Ripley’s Game. He wasn’t bad at all.

    @Mitchell S. I couldn’t disagree with you more, old chap. Dickie in the novel is not, as you put it, a ‘spoiled jerk’, but more of an over-indulged wannabe painter/ would-be arty European existentialist type. At his core is a vulnerability beneath that Ivy League shine, something that the novel’s Ripley exploits. He’s a wannabe genius whose breeding hides his essential shallowness.

    The Anthony Minghella/ Jude Law Dickie is a spoiled brat who exudes an overweening sense of entitlement and confidence. He’s not vulnerable enough to be true to the original novel, and all the film does is redraw him as a bad combination of Dudley Moore’s Arthur meets Alfie, from the eponymous film. Law is a limited actor, who will probably come into his own playing character roles as he ages. Probably angry men with menacing stares.

    The Minghella/ Damon take Ripley, by contrast, displays too many vulnerabilities. The ending of that film sums it up, with the character trapped on a boat to Greece. Highsmith’s original Ripley would never get caught in a situation like that. After all, “something always comes up” is one of his mottoes. He makes his own luck. James Dean would get my screen-test for Ripley.

  28. A couple more thoughts:

    I’d have to add a young Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train) would be worth trying out for Ripley too.

    Also- if you cut the dialogue right back to suit his tastes- McQueen would have been a great Ripley, especially if we had an unlimited budget for our imaginary film company and were filming the entire Ripley series of books. As Ripley gets older, the veneer of respectability hardens around him, but he gets deeper and more complex to fathom without ever really articulating to himself or others what drives him. A McQueen-like actor would be great at that.

    Sorry for this sharp diversion from the late Tab to Patricia Highsmith. As you were, chaps.

  29. @ Mitchell – Tab is too sweet and all-American to play Dickie, but you’re fine with him playing Ripley? Not sure how that one works out…

  30. What short-changed Hunter’s career was not his Homosexuality, it was his lack of intelligence. Hunter tuned down quite of few projects, one being 77 Sunset Strip, because he did not want to do television.
    He turned down some movies which, in retrospection, would have been good moves for him. He always saw the tree, in front of him, but not the trees around it.
    He was beautiful not smart and the latter is what clipped his career, including buying out his contract from Warner Brothers for $100,000. He was, already, a known Homosexual by ’55 and definitely, by ’60. His alliances with Ronnie Robertson and Anthony Perkins only solidified what was already known.
    He was his own worst enemy and thus, saved only buy his autobio and later, his Documentary…confirming him as a Gay Adonis not as an actor or singer of renown. It saddens me that Hunter’s Supreme Legacy is his Homosexuality and not his aesthetic contributions; thus, he is defined and limited by his bed partners not walking the Earth

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