Documentary Review ‘Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star’

By: 
Ben Miles

It started with the publication of his 2005 autobiography, “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star,” coauthored by TCM’s film noir aficionado and host, Eddie Muller. It quickly rose to the top of the New York Times list of bestselling nonfiction books. It was released in paperback form in 2007, again rising to bestseller status in the NYT. Then after the documentary of the same title came out in 2015, book sells soared once again.

The autobiographical account in both the book and the documentary, which was produced by Allan Glaser and directed by Jeffery Schwarz, features Tab Hunter in a first-person account of his career as a Hollywood heartthrob and pop singer.

In the written autobiographical account and in the film documentary, Hunter is open and upfront about his sexual orientation, but he’s also troubled by the struggle between his image as a Hollywood heartthrob in the 1950s and the perilous path but personally important issue of coming out as a homosexual man.

Filming of the documentary started in 2011 with candid interviews with Hunter and friends and co-stars in locations as diverse as Los Angeles, Paris, New York and Santa Barbara. With archival footage culled from various sources we are treated to reflections and remembrances from a league of Tinsel Town luminaries, including Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner. Filming was completed in 2015.

Given the name Arthur Andrew Kelm at birth, like Rock Hudson and Cary Grant, Tab Hunter changed his name at the uncompromising suggestion of the powerfully influential Hollywood agent Henry Willson, who also represented Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner, among many others. (FYI: Rock Hudson was christened Roy Harold Scherer Jr. and Cary Grant’s birth name was Archibald Alec Leach.)

Hunter had a childhood filled with poverty and an abusive father, named Charles, who soon deserted the family. His mother, Gertrude, a German immigrant – to whom Hunter was devoted throughout her lifetime – didn’t have it easy, barely scratching out subsistence, for Hunter and his older brother, Walter (whom Hunter held in high regard and respected).

Hunter found escape from his bare-bone existence through the movies and in movie theaters is where he spent much of his time. Though acting in films seemed a far flung fantasy to the young man, when his good looks and athletic physique caught the eye of Hollywood power players, after he moved from New York to Los Angeles, it didn’t take long before Hunter was performing in films, despite his initial awkwardness and self-consciousness.

Put under contract by Warner Brothers Studios, Hunter was enlisted into the studio’s acting classes. Soon Hunter was auditioning against the likes of James Dean and Paul Newman, even winning a major role in 1955’s “Battle Cry” over those two up-and-comers, who themselves would eventually become movie legends.

In addition to being a film star of the 1950s, Hunter also became a chart topping recording artist with his most famous record being 1957’s “Young Love.” As Hunter’s shining stardom began to fade, he attempted to revive his film career in off-beat films such as John Water’s cult attraction “Polyester,” with the so-called drag queen Divine, who starred in multiple Water’s movies. Hunter also spent much of his late career acting on dinner theater stages.

Additionally, Hunter was an expert equestrian and ice skater, who found love and peace of mind with Allan Glaser and who directed this documentary as a tribute to his lover Tab Hunter. Glaser and Hunter spent 35 years together and married in 2013. Tab Hunter died in 2018 at the age of 86. “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” won the 2015 Audience Award for Best Documentary, awarded by the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was nominated for Outstanding Documentary by GLAAD Media Awards.

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