Monday, July 9, 2018

The Late Great Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter, the movie heart throb who appeared in such  films as The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958), died yesterday, July 8 2018, at the age of 86. The cause was complications from deep vein thrombosis that resulted in a heart attack.

Tab Hunter was born Arthur Andrew Kelm on July 11 1931 in New York City. It was only a few years after Tab Hunter's birth that his parents divorced and his mother moved the family to San Francisco, California. She took back her maiden name, Geilen, and also changed the surnames of her sons. Young Tab Hunter was a figure skater as a teenager. He was also an avid horseman. At the age of 15 he lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Coast Guard. He was discharged from the Coast Guard a year later when his true age was discovered. Actor Dick Clayton, who had worked with him at a stable, suggested that he finish high school and said that he if ever wanted to work in motion pictures to talk to him.

It was Dick Clayton who introduced young Tab Hunter to agent Henry Wilson, the agent of a number of young, male actors, including Rock Hudson, Guy Madison, and Robert Wagner. It was Henry Wilson who gave young Arthur Geilen his stage name, "Tab Hunter".

Tab Hunter made his film debut in a small part in The Lawless (1950), In the early Fifties he appeared in such films as Saturday Island (1952), Gun Belt (1953), Return to Treasure Island (1954), and Track of the Cat (1954). It was in 1955 that he appeared in his star-making role of Danny Forrester in the film Battle Cry. It resulted in a seven year contract with Warner Bros. Over the next few years Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Sea Chase (1955), The Burning Hills (1956), The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Lafayette Escadrille (1958), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958). During this period Mr. Hunter was immensely popular. In 1955 he beat out both Jack Lemmon and Harry Belafonte as most promising new personality in an audience poll conducted by the Council of Motion Picture Organisations. So popular was Mr. Hunter that he survived a story published in the scandal magazine Confidential about him being arrested five years earlier at a gay house party. The revelation did nothing to harm his career, even given the rampant homophobia of the times.

Despite such success Tab Hunter was not happy at Warner Bros. After appearing in an adaptation of the book Fear Strikes Out on the TV show Climax!, Mr. Hunter wanted Warner Bros. to buy the film rights to the book. Unfortunately, the studio did not do so. Tab Hunter then bought out his contract with Warner Bros. in 1959. He finished out the Fifties appearing in such films as That Kind of Woman (1959) and They Came to Cordura (1959). He also appeared on television during the decade. He made his debut in an episode of The Ford Television Theatre. He guest starred on such shows as Conflict, Climax!, Playhouse 90, and General Electric Theatre. He starred in the television films Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and Meet Me in St. Louis. At the end of the decade he starred in his own TV show, The Tab Hunter Show. It lasted one season.  Tab Hunter also had hit singles in the Fifties. In 1957 his song "Young Love" went to no. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. He later had a hit with the song , "Ninety-Nine Ways".

In the Sixties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Pleasure of His Company (1961), L'arciere delle mille e una notte (1962), Operation Bikini (1963), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), The City Under the Sea (1965), Birds Do It (1966), El dedo del destino (1967), Hostile Guns (1967), La vendetta è il mio perdono (1968), and No importa morir (1969). He had a cameo in the cult film The Loved One (1965).  He guest starred on the TV shows Saints and Sinners, Combat!, Burke's Law, The Virginian, and San Francisco International Airport.

In the Seventies Mr. Hunter appeared in such films as Sweet Kill (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Timber Tramps (1975), and Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). He guest starred on such shows as The Wonderful World of Disney; Cannon; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Ghost Story; The Six Million Dollar Man; Ellery Queen; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; McMillan & Wife; The Love Boat; Police Woman; Hawaii Five-O; and Charlie's Angels.

In the Eighties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as Pandemonium (1982), Grease 2 (1982), And They Are Off (1982), Lust in the Dust (1985), Cameron's Closet (1988), Out of the Dark (1988), and Grotesque. He guest starred on the TV shows Benson, The Fall Guy, and Masquerade. In the Nineties he appeared in the film Dark Horse (1992). In 2005 his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (co-written with Eddie Muller), was published. In it he came out as gay. The documentary Tab Hunter Confidential was released in 2015.

In his early days Tab Hunter often received searing reviews from critics, but the truth was that he was an actor of considerable talent. If his performances in some of his early films were not up to par, it was perhaps due to Warner Bros. utilising him wrongly rather than a lack of talent on his part. Indeed, even as he was appearing in films for Warner Bros., Mr. Hunter was giving impressive performances on television, playing a soldier accused of murder on Conflict, a young baseball player fighting mental illness on Climax!, and a respected citizen leading a sinister double life on Playhouse 90. Mr. Hunter would also give sterling performances in motion pictures. Even when he was on screen briefly (as in his delightful cameo in The Loved One), Tab Hunter could be impressive. He gave solid performances in Damn Yankees, In the Pleasure of His Company, City Under the Sea, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and many more movies. Even when specific film was not very good, Mr. Hunter always was.

I never got to meet Tab Hunter, although I know people who did. All of them have the same things to say about him. Mr. Hunter was one of the kindest, most generous, most sincere people one could ever meet. I have never heard a bad word said about him. That Tab Hunter was a talented movie is well known, but he was also an incredibly nice guy.

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