Tab Hunter, the closeted ’50s teen heartthrob who became a gay icon later in life, died last night at his Santa Barbara home. His partner Allan Glaser told Variety‘s Brent Lang that the cause of death was a heart attack. Hunter was 86.
Hunter was an amiable, really good-looking ’50s guy. His career soared and than tapered off within that decade. His first ’50s film was Island of Desire (’52 — aka Saturday Island) with Linda Darnell. His big breakout happened in ’55 when he played Danny, a naive young Marine, in Raoul Walsh‘s Battle Cry. (His character has an affair with sultry Dorothy Malone, but ends up marrying small-town girl Mona Freeman.) The third most popular film of ’55, Battle Cry cemented Hunter’s rep as a hot young actor who was modestly talented.
Hunter’s peak moment happened three years later with Damn Yankees, in which he played Washington Senators baseball star Joe Hardy — actually a 50ish Senators fan named Joe Boyd who’s been made into a strapping young athlete by the devil (i.e., Ray Walston‘s Applegate).
Hunter’s career began to slightly wane after Yankees, and by the mid ’60s he was no longer a big name. But then he began to bounce back in the early ’80s.
From a 3.14.15 post: The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg has posted an interview (and accompanying audio q & a) with ’50s teen heartthrob Tab Hunter, whose closeted-in-Hollywood tale is told in Jeffrey Schwarz‘s Tab Hunter Confidential, which is screening at South by Southwest (a.k.a., “South By”). Hunter, 83, has never sounded to me like a layered or complex fellow, but he seems happy, settled. He lived an amazing life, certainly during his mid-to-late ’50s heyday.
The doc is a visual accompaniment to “Tab Hunter Confidential,” an ’06 tell-all written when Hunter heard about the then-imminent publishing of Robert Hofler‘s “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Wilson.” Wilson was a gay Svengali who spotted, brought along and managed the biggest closeted hunks of the ’50s and early ’60s, including Hudson and Hunter. Wilson’s first move was always “butching” these guys up with studly-sounding screen names — i.e., Arthur Gelien/Tab Hunter, Roy Scherer/Rock Hudson, Robert Mosely/Guy Madison, Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr./Ty Hardin, etc. No Wilson client was actually given the name “Ben Dover.”
Tab Hunter half came out when he made John Waters‘ Polyester and Lust in the Dust, but not officially until ’05, at age 74, in a co-authored autobiography, “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.”