Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL. Tab Hunter and Eddie Muller. Algonquin Books.
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (2015). Director: Jeffrey Schwarz.

As this documentary is based on a book, I'll start with a review of Hunter's autobiography:

Once a movie star, always a movie star – and is there anything on earth more self-absorbed than a movie star? Tab Hunter tells how a great-looking guy with absolutely no acting experience managed to become fading star Linda Darnell's leading man in one of her last pictures, and then moved onward and upward to become a movie star in his own right, appearing in such films as Damn Yankees and The Pleasure of His Company. He doesn't gloss over how he quickly descended to the depths as a Hollywood has-been, then made a comeback of sorts by co-starring with Divine in two funny movies. Hunter's story is reasonably absorbing and somewhat enlightening about Hollywood, but what it mostly does is remind us of the shallowness of movie stars – all movie stars. Not being normal people, they just don't get it. For instance, on one page Hunter (or rather his co-author) writes how disappointed he was that his then-agent Henry Willson wasn't behind him more when he tested for an important role. He complains that Willson didn't care if he got the role as long as it was one of his many clients. So much for loyalty Hunter complains, or words to that effect. What did Hunter expect Willson to do – focus only on him and to hell with all of his other clients!!! It just doesn't occur to Hunter how hypocritical he sounds. Considering that he's out of the closet – a decision that may have had more to do with the fact that his sexual orientation was pretty much an open secret as opposed to true self-acceptance on his part -- Hunter refers to certain people he dislikes as “fags” a lot more often than he should. But then, Hunter comes across as moderately likable but not especially bright. This is by no means an essential read but many people will find it absorbing.

Now on to the film version:

Tab Hunter Confidential was produced by Hunter's long-time companion, so this can hardly be taken as an unbiased examination of the subject and his career. First it seems obvious that Hunter -- who left the Catholic Church years ago due to its attitudes, which made him feel like an outcast, and who has rejoined the virulently homophobic institution in his elder years (there are organized religions that welcome gays, for Pete's sake) -- is not exactly a poster boy for Gay Liberation. One senses that Hunter became openly gay for career reasons more than out of a true acceptance of his sexuality, which still seems to embarrass him. Nevertheless he makes an appealing subject for a biography -- Hollywood heartthrob is secretly gay -- and while he talks briefly about considering marriage to a woman, he doesn't cop out and claim to be bisexual. As in his memoir, Hunter comes off as relatively likable if not exactly an intellectual. The documentary consists primarily of a long, frank interview with Hunter interspersed with comments from everyone from John Waters to Clint Eastwood, Darryl Hickman and Mother Delores Hart, a former co-star of Elvis Presley's who became a nun. Hunter talks about his affair with Tony Perkins, as well as relationships with a prominent figure skater and others, but completely glosses over how and why these relationships came to an end (but one can guess: career reasons). Hunter finally settled down with a young producer, Allan Glaser, who was thirty years younger than Hunter, making him definitely come off like a typical movie star, gay or not. The documentary also offers clips of Hunter's recording career -- he had a nice enough voice but tended to go flat a little too often -- and film highlights, such as a genuinely strong performance in Gunman's Walk as a psychopath. Hunter was better in his second film, Island of Desire, than he gives himself credit for, and his performance of "Reproduction" was a highlight of Grease 2. Hunter also talks about his arrest at a gay party and the report of it in Confidential magazine. NOTE: Director Jeffrey Schwarz also directed the superb documentary Vito, on author and gay activist Vito Russo.

Verdict: Book ***. Film: ***.


angelman66 said...

Loved this book, one of my favorite star bios of recent years, and have been looking forward to seeing this film, but it is elusive for me. I must have missed it during its art house circuit, and it has not yet shown up On Demand on my cable (I am one of the few Netflix holdouts and have not signed up for it yet.)
Looking forward!

William said...

Yep, the movie is on Netflix, but there's probably also a DVD as well or it will turn up somewhere. Damn that Hunter -- I'm not a "gerontiphile," but he's still good-looking in his eighties!!!

I subscribe monthly to Hulu for regular shows, but I do netflix only now and then when there's something I want to catch up with. Same with Warner archives. You can sign up, do a month, then quit until next time (you don't have to sign up for, say, a year at a time). And don't forget they offer a free 30 day trial period. Do it for Tab, LOL!