Documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz
Marilyn Gevirtz describing her junior high classmate, Tab Hunter: It was as if magic had dropped in when he walked into the school.
Many years ago, when I finished reading Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, written in 2005 by the actor with Eddie Muller, I was impressed with how honest and genuinely sincere this actor came across. He started his memoir with “I HATE LABELS” then followed that opening line a few pages later with “My work with John Waters and Divine was a high point of my professional life, even though it led to another label being hung on me that I have no use for: Gay Icon”. I was surprised to hear a documentary was made by acclaimed director Jeffrey Schwarz (I AM DIVINE, VITO) using the book as the source material. Would it negate the impact of the statement of disliking the gay icon label?
It doesn’t. TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL is an entertaining if not conventional “talking head” documentary, much along the lines of an episode of E! True Hollywood Story. The film covers it all, from a 12-year-old boy’s fortuitous meeting with a Hollywood actor at a photo shoot in a stable (“You oughta be in pictures, kid”), to an aborted stint with the Coast Guard from which he was thrown out from for only being 14 years old, to a trip to Hollywood where he meets notorious gay agent, Henry Wilson, who changes his name from Art Gelien to Tab Hunter. His striking boy-next-door good looks land him some lead roles in B-movies which eventually lead him to sign a 7-year contract with Warner Brothers, where he becomes a bonafide movie star due to roles in movies as diverse as BATTLE CRY to the musical DAMN YANKEES. The one consistent thing in all his movies – he takes off his shirt – which garners him millions of adoring fans of both sexes. To keep the nature of his sexuality a secret, the studio set him up on dates with talented ingénues from Natalie Wood to Debbie Reynolds, while his real relationships with ice skater Ronnie Robertson or actor Anthony Perkins were doomed as homosexuality was considered to be a mental disease at this time.
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL surpasses the enjoyment of the book with its numerous scenes from Hunter’s many movies and television appearances. To say that Tab Hunter was handsome in those days is akin to saying that Mariah Carey has a pleasant singing voice. Those piercing blue eyes, that tousled blonde hair, the chiseled chest, he is perfection personified. I can unequivocally say that for the first time in a long time, the movie is much better than the book.
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL screens at the 25th edition of Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival on Friday, May 22, at 9:15 PM, at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information and for tickets, please visit insideout.ca.