Tab Hunter

The Sigh Guy
Cover from Tab Hunter's autobiography, Confidential
Tab Hunter had the kind of clean, cool, uncorrupted good looks a pimple-cream manufacturer dreams of. Blonde, white-toothed, healthily tanned and impressively muscled - in the 1950s, he was a major teen heart throb.

As an adolescent, Hunter was the athletic type, excelling in figure-skating and horseback riding. However, he hadn't enjoyed an easy childhood - born in New York in 1931, his parents divorced early, evidently due to his father's abusive behaviour and his mother was plagued by mental illness, which intensified in later years.

Following the divorce, his mother took Tab and his brother to live in sunny California, where he spent the bulk of his childhood. An adventurous spirit revealed itself in adolescence, as at 15, Hunter lied about his age  to join the Coast Guard, only to be thrown out when the deception was revealed. After a stint working at a riding academy, an acting career beckoned. It seemed the obvious choice for a boy whose golden looks encapsulated the Californian ideal of wholesome blonde perfection.

Tab made his screen debut with a small part at 18 in Joseph Losey's Lawless (1950), followed by Island of Desire (1952) with the voluptuous Linda Darnell but the breakthrough part came with the role of a all-American green marine in the WWII drama, Battle Cry (1955). The combination of his tousled masculine charm in a uniform, paired with a heated onscreen love triangle proved irresistible to the excitable hormones of  young female audiences (as well as some of the boys).

Hunter himself had no illusions about the strength and depth of his acting abilities and while he never achieved A list status, he did make over 40 films, starred in his own, albeit short-lived TV show - The Tab Hunter Hour and even managed to score a No.I  hit with the mawkishly endearing teenage passion song,  Young Love.

Blonde beauty. Tab Hunter on an island with Linda Darnell
I did Polyester, and I don't regret one minute of it. It was wonderful~Tab Hunter
Born Art Andrew Kelm (later Gelian, after his mother reverted to her maiden name)  Hunter's stage named was given to him by the infamous Hollywood agent, Henry Willson,  who apparently had a penchant for macho/gay names since he also named Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun and a plethora of other boy starlets. Like Hudson, Hunter's was a manufactured image, ironic in its female fan-fainting, 'dreamboat' pretensions.

Rumours surrounding Tab Hunter's sexual preferences had surfaced early in his career, partly fueled by his association with Willson, who was known to have what was referred to in gossipy Hollywood circles as a "stable of pretty boys". To the  bulk of his adoring female public however, to whom it would probably never have occurred to question his sexual orientation, he was as red-blooded and heterosexual as his onscreen personas. The 'straight' image stoked by very public liasons with Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood, romantic relationships which were not much more than studio concoctions, though the actor did have close friendships with both women. The inside running joke at the time was Natalie would but Tab wouldn't.

Although he may have been  publicly in denial in throughout much of his career, in his 2004 biography Confidential, Hunter made no bones about his homosexuality and openly wrote about his relationships with champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson, actor Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame and his long-term partner, Alan Glaser. Like many gay men who had to suffer the discriminations of the era, he endured, as he put it himself, "a don't ask, don't tell existence."
Gidget, the Movie

Horst Buchholz