When he was in the Coast Guard, he was given the nickname “Hollywood.” Seems he’d go to the movies instead of going to bars. Now, I strongly suspect this was because he’d lied about his age to get in and was fifteen, though I definitely knew fifteen-year-olds who would’ve taken advantage of the whole thing and gone to a lot of bars. (Though “bars” also meant “girls,” which was not really Hunter’s thing?) But it’s also possible that the love of movies was just that strong, and he had enough money to see as many movies as he wanted, and how much of a dream is that for a lot of teenagers?
Apparently, Warners wanted to make Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood the Powell and Loy of the ’50s. Which is odd to me, because I don’t think they have much of anything in common. Not, mind you, that I’ve seen a lot of Tab Hunter movies. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’ve seen any beyond “part of Damn Yankees.” From what I can tell, the early part of his career was a lot of movies where he ran around with his shirt off, wooing women, and that doesn’t feel very William Powell to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen William Powell with his shirt off, either.
He had a singing career, because that was how it worked for dreamboats of the ’50s. Presumably that proves he was doing his own singing in Damn Yankees, though again you couldn’t prove it by me. He even had a number-one hit with “Young Love,” a song I have surely heard but cannot remember. [goes to YouTube] I feel like he’s the sort of guy I should ask my mom about; she would have been thirteen at the time, which makes her exactly the demographic he probably appealed to. Or at least one of them.
Frankly, from what I’ve read, his first few films seem to be the cinematic equivalent of romance novels. Young man, often shirtless, woos “experienced” woman. It’s the sort of thing older women might dream of, whether they’re unmarried or not—think of Riley’s mother in Inside Out who dreams of the Brazilian helicopter pilot even though she obviously loves Riley’s father. Tab Hunter was basically that sort of harmless dream—the more so because he projected an innocent, clean-cut sort of profile. Teenage girls like my mom and older women, possibly like my grandmother, could dream of Tab Hunter, and it was safe.
Not that either of them were actually Tab Hunter’s type. He contemplated a couple of lavender marriages, but in the end, he just quietly maintained same-sex relationships. He is, in fact, survived by his partner of more than 35 years, film producer Allan Glaser. He said he didn’t even think of “coming out” as a thing, that being a decent person was more important. I’ll admit I don’t know much about Tab Hunter the person, either, but I’m relieved that people no longer need studios to protect them from allegations of being gay, as Hunter did.