LGBTQ South Florida

Once-closeted movie star Tab Hunter’s life no longer confidential

Tab Hunter, at the height of his 1950s movie star fame.
Tab Hunter, at the height of his 1950s movie star fame. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Tab Hunter, perhaps the most popular pretty-boy movie star of the 1950s, spent most of his film career in the closet, terrified the public would abandon him if female fans learned the truth about their romantic idol.

“I was concerned about everything. I was frightened of my own shadow as a kid,” he told the Miami Herald in 2013 upon receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival.

Hunter is no longer afraid that people know he’s gay. He wrote a bestselling memoir in 2005 and 10 years later authorized a film documentary based on the book, “Tab Hunter Confidential,” produced by longtime partner Allan Glaser, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix.

Hunter now tells the Herald he wrote the book and made the documentary because he didn’t want the public to hear his story from anyone else.

“Allan talked me into doing the book. He said, ‘Someday, you’re going to be doing a book.’ I said, ‘Look, get it from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone.’ People put a spin on my life that never knew me. So I wrote the book because that was my journey.”

Hunter says he’s shy and “not really the most open person about talking about things.”

“When a film comes out, you talk about it and that’s it,” he says. “I’m not one of those blah-blah-in-your-face type individuals. I never have been. I was brought up by a very conservative German mother. I’m an old man now, 85, and I’m just not in your face.”

Still, he’s now comfortable talking about his once-secret relationships six decades ago with fellow movie star Anthony Perkins and skater Ronnie Robertson.

Hunter has been partnered with Glaser more than 30 years. The former movie star sometimes calls Glaser “my friend” and says they are not married.

“I keep asking him, but he keeps turning me down,” Hunter laughs, then turning serious: “A commitment is between two people and their maker and no one else. That’s my feeling.”

Hunter, who starred in such films as “Battle Cry” and “Damn Yankees,” also had a successful singing career including the hit “Young Love,” which went to No. 1 on Billboard in 1957.

“I loved it,” Hunter says about singing. “I sounded good in the shower with all that echo. I always did enjoy that, but it took me awhile to get used to doing it in public. I was very shy.”

Reflecting on his life in the 1950s, Hunter says, “I didn’t want anyone to know who I was. I just did my job. I did my job as best I possibly could. I had to learn my craft because God knows it was a totally new business for me, with a brand new name thrown into it.”

Hunter, who grew up as Arthur Gelien, says he “hated the name Tab” — which came from Hollywood agent Henry Willson, who also represented Rock Hudson and Troy Donahue.

“We’ve got to tab you something,” Willson told him. “That’s how they picked up Tab. ... I got the name Hunter because I showed horses. Hunters and jumpers. And you couldn’t have Tab Jumper as opposed to Tab Hunter,” he says.

“The name Tab, I didn’t like. It sounds like the New Year’s baby comes in with a diaper, ‘Hi, I’m Tab. Happy New Year!’ It was ridiculous. But like a friend of mine said, ‘When you see it on the line that says pay to the order of, you’ll feel a lot better about it.’ I thought, that makes sense.”

Despite hating the name, most people — including Glaser — call him Tab.

“Nobody calls me Arthur who never knew me as Art. I don’t like that. I think that’s people stepping into an area they didn’t know. It’s like being inside,” he says.

Only his oldest friends, like Debbie Reynolds, call him Arthur. “Deb calls me Art. And I call her Mary Frances. I’ve known her since she was Mary Fran.”

Hunter’s movie and TV career faded in the 1960s, but he made a brief comeback in the 1980s, starring opposite drag star Divine in the films “Polyester” and “Lust in the Dust.”

He now considers himself retired from acting. “I’ve been very fortunate, but there aren’t a lot of films a person my age around. I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I’ve been very fortunate, but I feel very comfortable being around my horse and a few people I know. I’m very thankful for all of that.”