Tab Hunter

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Tab Hunter
Tab Hunter in trailer for Gunman's Walk (1958)
Born Arthur Andrew Kelm
(1931-07-11) July 11, 1931 (age 85)
New York City, United States
Other names Arthur Gelien
"The Sigh Guy"
Occupation Actor, singer, writer
Years active 1950–present
Partner(s) Allan Glaser (1983–present)[1]

Tab Hunter (born Arthur Andrew Kelm; July 11, 1931) is an American actor, pop singer, and author. He has starred in over 40 films and is probably best known as a Hollywood star of the 1950s & 60's.

Early life[edit]

Hunter was born in New York City, the son of Gertrude (née Gelien) and Charles Kelm. His mother, from Hamburg, was a German Catholic immigrant, and his father was Jewish.[2][3] Hunter's father was an abusive man and within a few years of his birth, his parents divorced and his mother moved with her two sons to California, living in San Francisco, Long Beach and Los Angeles.[4] She reassumed her maiden surname Gelien and changed her sons' name to that, as well. As a teenager, Hunter was a figure skater,[5] competing in both singles and pairs.

He joined the U.S. Coast Guard at the age of 15, lying about his age to enlist. While in the Coast Guard, he gained the nickname "Hollywood" for his penchant for watching movies rather than going to bars while on liberty.[6]


Arthur Gelien was given the stage name "Tab Hunter" by his first agent, Henry Willson.[7] His good looks landed him a role in the film Island of Desire (1952) opposite Linda Darnell. However, his co-starring role as young Marine Danny in 1955's World War II drama Battle Cry, in which he has an affair with an older woman, but ends up marrying the girl next door, cemented his position as one of Hollywood's top young romantic leads. His other hit films include The Burning Hills with Natalie Wood, That Kind of Woman with Sophia Loren, Gunman's Walk with Van Heflin, and The Pleasure of His Company with Debbie Reynolds. He went on to star in over 40 major films and became a cult star in the 1980s appearing in Lust in the Dust, Polyester, and Grease 2.

In September 1955, the tabloid magazine Confidential reported Hunter's 1950 arrest for disorderly conduct. The innuendo-laced article, and a second one focusing on Rory Calhoun's prison record, were the result of a deal Henry Willson had brokered with the scandal rag in exchange for not revealing his more prominent client Rock Hudson's sexual orientation to the public.[citation needed] This not only had no negative effect on Hunter's career, but also a few months later he was named Most Promising New Personality in a nationwide poll sponsored by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations.[8] In 1956, he received 62,000 Valentines. Hunter, James Dean, and Natalie Wood were the last of the actors placed under exclusive studio contract to Warner Bros.

Hunter had a 1957 hit record with the song "Young Love," which was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks and became one of the larger hits of the Rock 'n' Roll era.[5] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[9] He also had the hit "Ninety-Nine Ways," which peaked at #11. His success prompted Jack L. Warner to enforce the actor's contract with the Warner Bros. studio by banning Dot Records, the label for which Hunter had recorded the single (and which was owned by rival Paramount Pictures), from releasing a follow-up album he had recorded for them. He established Warner Bros. Records specifically for Hunter.

Hunter in Damn Yankees (1958)

Hunter starred in the 1958 musical film Damn Yankees, in which he played Joe Hardy of Washington DC's American League baseball club. The film had originally been a Broadway show, but Hunter was the only one in the film version who had not appeared in the original cast. The show was based on the 1954 best-selling book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop. Hunter later said the filming was hellish because director George Abbott was only interested in recreating the stage version word for word. Hunter was Warner Bros.' top money-grossing star from 1955 through 1959.

Hunter's failure to win the role of Tony in the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) prompted him to agree to star in a weekly television sitcom. On July 9, 1960, prior to the program's debut, he was arrested by Glendale, California police for allegedly beating his dog Fritz. His 11-day trial started in mid-October, a month after The Tab Hunter Show debuted on Sunday evenings on NBC. The neighbor who initiated the charges had done so for spite when Hunter declined her repeated invitations to dinner, and he was acquitted by the jury.[10] The Tab Hunter Show had moderate ratings (due to being scheduled opposite The Ed Sullivan Show) and was hence canceled after one season, but it was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, where it ranked as one of the top situation comedies of the year.

For a short time in the late 1960s, after several seasons of starring in summer stock and dinner theater in shows such as Bye Bye Birdie, The Tender Trap, Under the Yum Yum Tree[11] and West Side Story with some of the New York cast,[12] Hunter settled in the south of France, where he acted in spaghetti westerns, including Hostile Guns (1967) and Vengeance Is My Forgiveness (1968). He won a supporting role in successful fiim The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), but it didn't lead to a comeback. His career was revived in the 1980s, when he starred opposite actor Divine in John Waters' Polyester (1981) and Paul Bartel's Lust in the Dust (1985). He is particularly remembered by later audiences as Mr. Stewart, the substitute teacher in Grease 2 (1982), who sang "Reproduction." Hunter had a major role in the 1988 horror film Cameron's Closet. He also wrote and starred in Dark Horse (1992).

A 2015 documentary about his life, Tab Hunter Confidential, was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and produced by Hunter's partner Allan Glaser.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Hunter in April 2010

Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (2005), co-written with Eddie Muller, became a New York Times best-seller as did the paperback edition in 2007. The book is still currently in publication and was nominated for several writing awards. It re-entered the New York Times Best Seller list on June 28, 2015 during the release of the documentary film based on the book.

In the book, he acknowledged that he is gay, confirming rumors that had circulated since the height of his fame. According to William L. Hamilton of The New York Times, detailed reports about Hunter's alleged romances with close friends Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood were strictly the fodder of studio publicity departments. As Wood and Hunter embarked on a well-publicized but fictitious romance, promoting his apparent heterosexuality while promoting their films, insiders developed their own headline for the item: "Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn't."[14]

Hunter became close enough with Etchika Choureau, his co-star in Lafayette Escadrille, and Joan Perry, widow of Harry Cohn, to contemplate marriage, but he thought he never could maintain a marriage, and remained merely platonic friends with both women.

During Hollywood's studio era, Hunter says, "[life] was difficult for me, because I was living two lives at that time. A private life of my own, which I never discussed, never talked about to anyone. And then my Hollywood life, which was just trying to learn my craft and succeed..." The star emphasizes that the word 'gay' "wasn't even around in those days, and if anyone ever confronted me with it, I'd just kinda freak out. I was in total denial. I was just not comfortable in that Hollywood scene, other than the work process."[15] "There was a lot written about my sexuality, and the press was pretty darn cruel," the actor says, but what "moviegoers wanted to hold in their hearts were the boy-next-door marines, cowboys and swoon-bait sweethearts I portrayed."[14]

Hunter had long-term relationships with actor Anthony Perkins and champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson, before settling down with his partner of over 30 years, film producer Allan Glaser.[16]

Hunter has a star for his contributions to the music industry on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6320 Hollywood Blvd.[17] In 2007, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[18]

Chart performance[edit]

Year Title Chart positions
1957 "Young Love" 1 1
"Red Sails In The Sunset" 57
"Ninety-Nine Ways" 11 5
"Don't Get Around Much Anymore" 74
1958 "Jealous Heart" 62
1959 "(I'll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time" 31
"There's No Fool Like A Young Fool" 68


Year[19] Film Character Notes
1950 The Lawless Frank O'Brien also released under the title "The Dividing Line"
1952 Saturday Island Marine Corporal Michael J. "Chicken" Dugan
1953 Gun Belt Chip Ringo
1953 The Steel Lady Bill Larson also released under the title "Treasure of Kalifa"
1954 Return to Treasure Island Clive Stone
1954 Track of the Cat Harold Bridges
1955 Battle Cry Pvt. / Cpl. Dan 'Danny' Forrester
1955 The Sea Chase Cadet Wesser
1956 The Burning Hills Trace Jordan
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Andy L. Shaeffer
1958 Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates Hans Brinker TV movie
1958 Gunman's Walk
1958 Lafayette Escadrille Thad Walker
1958 Damn Yankees Joe Hardy Also released under the title "What Lola Wants" in the UK
1959 Meet Me in St. Louis John Truett TV movie
1959 They Came to Cordura Lt. William Fowler
1959 That Kind of Woman Red
1961 The Pleasure of His Company Roger Henderson
1961 Summer on Ice Himself TV movie
1962 The Golden Arrow Hassan
1963 Operation Bikini Lt. Morgan Hayes
1964 Ride the Wild Surf Steamer Lane
1964 Troubled Waters Alex Carswell
1965 City Under the Sea Ben Harris released as "War Gods of the Deep" in US
1965 The Loved Ones Whispering Glades Tour Guide
1966 Birds Do It Lt. Porter
1967 The Fickle Finger of Fate Jerry also known under alternate titles as "El Dedo del Destino" and "The Cup of San Sebastian"
1967 Hostile Guns Mike Reno
1968 Vengeance Is My Forgiveness Sheriff Durango
1968 The Last Chance Patrick Harris
1969 Bridge over the Elbe Richard
1971 Hacksaw Tim Andrews TV movie
1972 Sweet Kill Eddie Collins
1972 The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean Sam Dodd
1975 Timber Tramps Big Swede
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood David Hamilton
1978 Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold Elliot Bender TV movie
1979 The Kid from Left Field Bill Lorant TV movie
1981 Polyester Todd Tomorrow
1982 Pandemonium Blue Grange
1982 Grease 2 Mr. Stuart
1982 And They're Off Henry Barclay
1982 Natalie: A Very Special Tribute to a Very Special Lady Himself Made-for-TV documentary
1985 Lust in the Dust Abel Wood
1988 Out of the Dark Driver
1988 Grotesque Rod
1988 Cameron's Closet Owen Lansing
1988 James Stewart's Wonderful Life Himself Made-for-TV documentary
1992 Dark Horse Perkins
1995 Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick Himself Documentary
1996 Ballyhoo: The Hollywood Sideshow Himself Documentary
1998 The Best of Hollywood Himself/Presenter/Narrator Made-for-TV documentary
2002 Elvis Forever Himself Made-for-TV documentary about Elvis Presley
2003 Rita Himself Made-for-TV documentary about Rita Hayworth
2007 The Brothers Warner Himself Documentary
2008 Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical Treasure Himself Made-for-TV documentary
2008 Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical History Himself Made-for-TV documentary
2013 I Am Divine Himself Documentary about regular co-star and drag queen Divine
2015 Tab Hunter Confidential Himself Documentary about Hunter's life as a matinee idol, based upon his book of the same name
2016 Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age Himself Documentary, in post-production


  1. ^ Hamilton, William L. (September 18, 2005). "Did Success Spoil Tab Hunter?". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2010. 
  2. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (September 9, 2003). "A Star's Real Life Upstages His Films; Tab Hunter Looks Back on Sadness and Success and Ahead to a Book". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star - Tab Hunter - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-08-17. 
  4. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (2003-09-09). "A Star's Real Life Upstages His Films; Tab Hunter Looks Back on Sadness and Success and Ahead to a Book". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  5. ^ a b Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 38. CN 5585. 
  6. ^ "Tab Hunter at Coast Guard History". Retrieved 2015-08-17. 
  7. ^ The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler, published by Carroll & Graf, 2005, ISBN 0-7867-1607-X
  8. ^ Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller, published by Algonquin Books, 2005, pp. 116–118 ISBN 1-56512-466-9
  9. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 136. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  10. ^ Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, pp. 227–235
  11. ^ Hollywood Confidential by Tab Hunter, p. 297
  12. ^ Slant Magazine Interview: Tab Hunter by Gerard Raymond, Oct 21, 2015. [1]
  13. ^ "Tab Hunter Confidential". Retrieved 2015-08-17. 
  14. ^ a b See William L. Hamilton, "Did Success Spoil Tab Hunter?," New York Times (September 18, 2005)
  15. ^ See Tim Parks, "The many lives of Tab Hunter," Gay and Lesbian Times (December 15, 2005)
  16. ^ Bayard, Louis. ""The Celluloid Closet," October 9, 2005". Retrieved January 7, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Tab Hunter". Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  18. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-17. 
  19. ^ "Tab Hunter - IMDB". 

External links[edit]