Welcome to Hollywood, circa 1950, the end of the Golden Age. A remarkably handsome young boy, still a teenager, gets "discovered by a big-time movie agent. Because when he takes his shirt off young hearts beat faster, because he is the picture of innocence and trust and need, he will become a star. It seems almost preordained. The open smile says, "You will love me," and soon the whole world does.
The young boy's name was Tab Hunter―a made-up name, of course, a Hollywood name―and it was his time. Stardom didn't come overnight, although it seemed that way. In fact, the fame came first, when his face adorned hundreds of magazine covers; the movies, the studio contract, the name in lights―all that came later. For Tab Hunter was a true product of Hollywood, a movie star created from a stable boy, a shy kid made even more so by the way his schoolmates―both girls and boys―reacted to his beauty, by a mother who provided for him in every way except emotionally, and by a secret that both tormented him and propelled him forward.
In Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, Hunter speaks out for the first time about what it was like to be a movie star at the end of the big studio era, to be treated like a commodity, to be told what to do, how to behave, whom to be seen with, what to wear. He speaks also about what it was like to be gay, at first confused by his own fears and misgivings, then as an actor trapped by an image of boy-next-door innocence. And when he dared to be difficult, to complain to the studio about the string of mostly mediocre movies that were assigned to him, he learned that just like any manufactured product, he was disposable―disposable and replaceable.
Hunter's career as a bona fide movie star lasted a decade. But he persevered as an actor, working continuously at a profession he had come to love, seeking―and earning―the respect of his peers, and of the Hollywood community.
And so, Tab Hunter Confidential is at heart a story of survival―of the giddy highs of stardom, and the soul-destroying lows when phone calls begin to go unreturned; of the need to be loved, and the fear of being consumed; of the hope of an innocent boy, and the rueful summation of a man who did it all, and who lived to tell it all.
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With very little hedging, great good humor, and no pretentiousness, Tab Hunter Confidential delivers the straight story on how a young, gorgeous kid named Art Gelien, child of an absent father and a repressed, platitude-spouting mother, suddenly became a teen hearthrob, known as "The Sigh Guy." Tab Hunter was, in the 1950s, one of the reigning hunks, every teenage girl's dreamboat. He dated Debbie Reynolds and other starlets, did countless interviews about the kind of girl he would marry and, through it all, kept his private life very private. Tab Hunter was gay before gay meant anything other than joyful exuberance.
Henry Willson, famous and infamous agent and creator of stars, named Tab Hunter. He also tagged Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, and other young sex symbols. Not all of them were gay, but they came to be known as Harry Willson's boys. (Another book about this time and subject is The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler.) Tab Hunter was completely manufactured. He even speaks of himself in the third person in the book.
Before he was 26, Hunter had hit the trifecta: he was a movie star, had a hit single in "Young Love," and was on the first live production of Playhouse 90 on television. His future success looked assured, but such was not the case. It was either feast of famine for the next few years. He was never a solid A-list leading man, but had his share of famous co-stars and leading ladies nevertheless.
While he was struggling with his true identity and trying to stay afloat financially, his mother had a complete breakdown and he was forced to hospitalize her in less than ideal conditions. This also had to be a secret from the fans. His friendships, both intimate and platonic, kept him going, as well as his deep faith in Catholicism. Yes, Catholicism. Tab Hunter has his own unique pact with God.
The book is filled with many pictures of Tab and his friends and with anecdotes about the stars: Tallulah Bankhead on her last legs, fuzzy and outrageous; Linda Darnell's kindness; John Wayne's macho strutting; Fred Astaire's humility; Van Heflin's professionalism, and on and on. This is sheer heaven for any movie fan. His relationship with Tony Perkins is noted, as is his liaison with Olympic figure skater Ronnie Robertson. (Tab, in addition to being an actor, singer and horseman was also an accomplished figure skater.) When the good parts disappeared after he left Warner Brothers, he went on tour with the Everly Brothers. Much later, now fully "out" he joined Divine in two John Waters movies: Polyester and Lust in the Dust, both cult classics. After suffering a stroke and a heart attack, he is now enjoying life in Santa Barbara with his longtime companion, Allan Glaser. As Tab succinctly puts it regarding his story: "Better to get it from the horse's mouth, I decided, and not from some horse's ass." --Valerie RyanBook Description:
He became an instant star and a #1 box office attraction, recorded a #1 hit song, and survived a major sex scandal—all by the time he was twenty-five. Five years later, new stars had been developed to meet the demands of fickle fans, and Tab Hunter found himself scrambling to find work, struggling just to survive. Yet survive he did, re-creating himself as a cult star and film producer in a career that spans five decades and more than fifty films, from Island of Desire to Lust in the Dust.
But first, he was Art Gelien, an introverted and extremely attractive young boy who was discovered by a Hollywood agent and transformed—with the help of studio publicity hacks—into Tab Hunter, Movie Star. This book tells how it all happened, and what it felt like to be created, packaged, and sold to the American public. How it felt to appear on-screen, off-screen, and on every newsstand in America with the biggest leading ladies of the day—Linda Darnell, Natalie Wood, Debbie Reynolds, Lana Turner, and Rita Hayworth—while dealing with the reality of being gay in a time when the word didn’t exist. It’s his story of how he kept his bearings when he was suddenly no longer the boy-next-door heartthrob, no longer under the protective wing of the Warner Bros. publicity department, no longer in demand as a “star.” It is his story of how he soldiered on—with perseverance, determination, and faith. And, like the best-loved Hollywood movies, it has a happy ending.
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