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‘Tab Hunter Confidential’ a Revealing Look at Hollywood Golden Boy

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One look at the startlingly handsome images in “Tab Hunter Confidential,” and it’s obvious why the actor became a Hollywood Heartthrob. The biggest name at Warner Bros. Studios in the 1950s, Tab Hunter also sold 1.5 million copies of “Young Love,” the No. 1 hit song that motivated Jack Warner to create Warner Bros. Records just for him.

“Tab Hunter: Confidential,” screening at Outfest Saturday at the DGA, is a revealing documentary based on the star’s best-selling autobiography, presenting a parade of famous faces who were costars and/or friends of the blond, blue-eyed matinee idol. Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Don Murray, Connie Stevens and gossip guru Rona Barrett, among others, dish about his reign as the Golden Boy of Hollywood—and to what lengths a studio would go to hide their box office star’s homosexuality.

Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz does a good job depicting Hollywood’s Golden Age, when male stars wore jackets and ties out on the town, and women dazzled in fashionable gowns and stoles. In those days, an actor’s image was carefully manufactured by the studio, whether it reflected the truth or not.

Fan magazines of the day show Hunter dating, dancing and dining with starlets including Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds. But there are also glamorous photographs of Hunter, his “date,” and Anthony Perkins, at places such as Ciro’s (now the Comedy Store) and other nightspots on the Sunset Strip.

In the 1950s, the word “gay” was rarely spoken, and Hunter admits that he wouldn’t have uttered it if someone hadn’t planned to out him in a book. It was then that he chose to do his autobiography, to tell his story his way.

“My relationship with Tony, I never discussed with anyone,” Hunter says about fellow actor Anthony Perkins. “If one of my so called friends would mention it … I would’ve hated it and denied it emphatically.”

Actress Venetia Stevenson recalls that she and others were referred to as “beards,” providing cover for gay when they wanted to go out together.

“When I first saw Tab and Tony, I knew they were more than friends, it was pretty obvious,” she says. “I was happy to be a beard because we were having a good time.”

It’s made clear that if word got out that an actor was gay, it would ruin his career. The film offers a fascinating glimpse at how the studios controlled that and all aspects of Hollywood in those days, including what “news” was written about their stars’ personal lives.

Still fit and handsome at age 84, Hunter comes off as a Hollywood survivor. He could have done what others did, gotten married and created a façade to protect his image. He admits in the film that he considered marrying French actress Etchika Choureau, whom he says genuinely “stopped me dead in my tracks.” But he chose to remain true to himself and his sexuality.

“I felt if you were with a man you were sinning,” says Hunter, who grew up a devout Catholic. “If you’re with a woman, you’d be lying.”

“Tab Hunter Confidential” offers not only a stylish tribute to a 1950s matinee star, but also an eye-opening, first-hand account of what it was like to be a gay movie star in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

For tickets to the Outfest screening at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 11, at the DGA Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., see outfest.org.

 

 

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and is currently producing a documentary for her own company, Saving Grace Films.

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