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Starring Tab Hunter
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Tab Hunter Confidential

Hollywood's Golden Age star system was famous around the world for the performers it developed and sold to an eager public. Young people were taught how to perform for the camera, the press and the public, had their appearances and names changed to make them more marketable and even endured the studio's management of their personal lives with arranged dates and sometimes even arranged marriages. For some actors and actresses this also meant living their lives in the closet. In recent years, stars like Farley Granger and Ray Stricklyn have shared their secret gay lives in tell-all memoirs. When Tab Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential which dealt openly with the dichotomy between his public image and private life, appeared in 2005, it shot to the top of the best-seller lists and inspired this award-winning 2015 documentary.

Hunter was one of several handsome young actors brought to fame by Hollywood agent Henry Willson. They had been introduced by actor Dick Clayton, whom Hunter, born Arthur Kelm, had met while he was working at a riding academy. Willson changed his name to Tab Hunter and began shopping him to the studios. After a bit part in Joseph Losey's The Lawless (1950), Hunter won a co-starring role opposite Linda Darnell in the World War II adventure Island of Desire (1952). Early reviews made frequent mention of his good looks but rarely had kind words for his acting, so Hunter started developing his talents through classes and stage roles. Eventually, Warner Bros. offered him a long-term contract, and his career started to take off when William A. Wellman cast him in a juicy supporting role in Track of the Cat (1954), followed by some sizzling love scenes with Dorothy Malone in Battle Cry (1955). Warner Bros. then promoted him to star status and cast him opposite Natalie Wood in a string of low-budget films that made him a teen idol. When his recording of "Young Love" for Dot Records became a number one hit, Warner's created a recording division to release his records, which helped cement his position as a heartthrob. Through much of this period, even as he went on studio-arranged dates with young actresses, he was involved in an affair with actor Anthony Perkins.

After hits in the musical Damn Yankees and another Wellman project, the World War I aviation film Lafayette Escadrille (both 1958), Hunter negotiated an end to his Warner Bros. contract. The move proved unfortunate. He had trouble finding suitable vehicles on his own and did not have a studio to protect him from a series of scandals, some of which may have been engineered by Willson after Hunter changed agents. His career moved into low-budget and European films along with summer stock and dinner theatre. He scored a major comeback in 1981 when director John Waters cast him as Divine's love interest in the outrageous soap opera spoof Polyester. While shopping potential projects to 20th Century-Fox, Hunter met and fell in love with their Director of Acquisitions, Allan Glaser. The two co-produced Lust in the Dust (1984), a Western satire co-starring Hunter with Divine and Lainie Kazan. They also co-produced Hunter's last film, Dark Horse (1992). The two would marry in 2013.

At Glaser's urging, Hunter wrote his memoir (with noted film scholar Eddie Muller) in 2005. The book won plaudits for his honesty about his homosexuality and his insights into Hollywood since the 1950s, and it immediately hit the New York Times best-seller list. It returned to the list when it came out in paperback in 2006. After providing an interview for Jeffrey Schwarz's I Am Divine (2013), he and Glaser approached the producer-director about turning Hunter's book into a feature-length documentary.

Work on the documentary began in 2011, and it took four years to compile film and television clips from every phase of Hunter's career and shoot interviews in Los Angeles, New York, Santa Barbara and Paris. Schwarz scored an impressive line-up of interview subjects, including Hunter contemporaries Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds and Connie Stevens, co-workers John Waters and Lainie Kazan and friend Portia de Rossi. Among the films best find's were Marilyn Erskine, who co-starred with Hunter in an early stage production of Our Town and helped coach the inexperienced actor, and Etchika Choureau, the Lafayette Escadrille leading lady Hunter almost married.

Tab Hunter Confidential premiered at South by Southwest in 2015 and went to on appear at more than 100 festivals and private screenings. It won Best Documentary at the California Independent Film Festival, FilmOut San Diego, the Louisville LGBT Film Festival and the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and Best LBGTQ Film at the Key West Film Festival. It also garnered rave reviews, with David Friend of Vanity Fair calling it, "slick, savvy, rollicking, and eye-popping....Tab Hunter Confidential is not only brave for its candor and enlightening for the social context it provides, it is also a delightful eyeful, using ingeniously edited vintage clips and employing rarely seen still photos...." The film's release also put the memoir back on the best-seller list.

Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Producers: Schwarz, Allan Glaser, Neil Koenigsberg
Based on the memoir by Tab Hunter and Eddie Muller
Cinematography: Nancy Schreiber
Music: Michael Cudahy
Cast: Tab Hunter, Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds, John Waters, Connie Stevens, Terry Moore, George Takei, Portia de Rossi, Robert Wagner, Dolores Hart, Venetia Stevenson, Robert Osborne, Allan Glaser, Marilyn Erskine, Etchika Choureau (Themselves).

by Frank Miller

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