skip navigation
Starring Tab Hunter
share:
Remind Me
,Tab Hunter

Starring Tab Hunter - 7/11


On what would have been his 88th birthday, TCM remembers Tab Hunter (1931-2018) with three films from his 1950s heyday as a teen heartthrob. Also showing are two screenings of Tab Hunter Confidential (2015), a documentary about the actor's life and career produced by Hunter's husband, Allan Glaser. The documentary, a TCM premiere, will be presented by Glaser and TCM Noir Alley host Eddie Muller.

Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) was inspired by Hunter's best-selling 2005 autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, co-written with Eddie Muller. Like the book, the documentary covers the actor's life and career as well as his long struggle about revealing his homosexuality. Along with Hunter's own commentary, we hear from such friends and associates as Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Clint Eastwood and Dolores Hart. In addition to hosting the documentary on TCM, producer Glaser and author/noir expert Muller also appear in the film itself.

The very prototype of a Hollywood Golden Boy, Hunter was first noticed for his stunning good looks, with chiseled face, blond hair and a tanned, athletic body that seemed most at home on horseback, in the surf or on ice skates. At his peak, along with roles that exploited his youthful attractiveness, he found opportunities to demonstrate genuine acting talent. Later in life he found humor in his image as a gay icon and what he termed a "swoon-bait sweetheart," acting in films costarring the outrageous actor Divine.

Hunter was born Arthur Andrew Kelm in Manhattan, the son of a Jewish father and an immigrant German mother. When his parents divorced a few years after his birth, Arthur's mother took him and his older brother Walter to California to live with her parents. She reclaimed her maiden name, Gelien, and also changed her sons' surnames. As a teenager, Arthur (or "Art") Gelien attended Catholic schools and became an accomplished figure skater. At 15, he lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard and was discharged when his true age was discovered.

The name "Tab Hunter" was bestowed upon him by Hollywood agent Henry Willson, whom Hunter met through his friendship with actor Dick Clayton. Willson was famous for grooming young male actors and finding catchy first names for them. His other clients included Rock Hudson, Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun and, later, Troy Donahue.

Hunter's first film role was a minor part in the Joseph Losey film noir The Lawless (1950). His breakthrough movie was the British-made Island of Desire (1952), the story of an older woman (Linda Darnell) and a beautiful young man (Hunter) who are marooned together on a desert island in the South Pacific during World War II. Hunter's physique was much on display, and he created a sensation among young film fans.

In the mid-1950s, Hunter entered into a seven-year contract with Warner Bros., where he would become the studio's most popular male star through the remainder of the decade. His films for that studio included the stylized Western Track of the Cat (1954), in which he played Robert Mitchum's younger brother; a pair of movies in which he teamed with his friend Natalie Wood, The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind (both 1956); and the William Wellman war film Lafayette Escadrille (1958).

A highlight of Hunter's Warner years was Damn Yankees (1958), a screen version of the Broadway hit in which he is baseball player Joe Hardy to Gwen Verdon's devilish temptress Lola. Singing came naturally to Hunter, and he had a successful recording career that included two major late-1950s chart toppers, "Young Love" and "Ninety-Nine Ways." It was said that Jack Warner established Warner Bros. Records to accommodate Hunter.

On loan-out, Hunter appeared for Columbia in They Came to Cordura (1959), a Western starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. But movie opportunities seemed to dwindle in the 1960s, and Hunter tried a TV sitcom that bore his name as well as a number of theater appearances including summer stock productions and, later, dinner theater. In 1964 he made a short-lived Broadway appearance opposite Tallulah Bankhead in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. In the late 1960s, he settled in Europe for a time and made a handful of "Spaghetti Westerns."

Since the 1950s, Hunter had also worked regularly in television, sometimes stretching himself as an actor with such roles as troubled baseball player Jimmy Piersall in "Fear Strikes Out" on the Climax! TV series. He was Emmy-nominated for the title role in a Playhouse 90 episode, "Portrait of a Murderer", playing opposite and holding his own with Method-trained actress Geraldine Page.

A Hunter film highlight of the 1970s came with a supporting role in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), starring Paul Newman. The 1980s saw a revival of his career with two Divine vehicles, John Waters' Polyester (1981) and Paul Bartel's Lust in the Dust (1985), which Hunter and Allan Glaser co-produced.

Hunter also appeared in the musical sequel Grease 2 (1982) and the horror film Cameron's Closet (1988). His last movie role was in Dark Horse (1992), a drama for which he wrote the original story about the recovery of an injured horse. He died from cardiac arrest on July 8, 2018, three days before his 87th birthday.

Below are the movies in TCM's tribute to Tab Hunter.

Battle Cry (1955) was a major milestone in Hunter's early career, casting him in the romantic lead of this film version of the Leon Uris bestseller set during World War II. He plays a young Marine who has an affair with an older woman (Dorothy Malone) before shipping out to fight at Guadalcanal. Mona Freeman plays the girlfriend waiting at home, and Aldo Ray is a tough-talking fellow Marine. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the hit film became one of Warner Bros.' top-grossing films of the year.

Gunman's Walk (1958) gave Hunter the film role he considered his favorite. Playing against type, he is the arrogant, drunken, murderous son of cattleman Van Heflin. James Darren plays the more stable brother in this Western made by Columbia and directed by Phil Karlson. In addition to providing one of his showiest roles, the movie gave Hunter a chance to display his superb horsemanship.

That Kind of Woman (1959) gave Hunter another favorite role as a paratrooper during the WWII period who meets an older woman (Sophia Loren) on a train and falls in love with her. (The younger man-older woman storyline was by now a familiar one for him.) In this film, directed by Sidney Lumet, Loren is the mistress of a millionaire (George Sanders) but can't resist the charms of the handsome young Hunter.

by Roger Fristoe