(director/writer: Jeff Schwarz; screenwriter: based on the book “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” by Tab Hunter, Eddie Muller; cinematographer: Nancy Schreiber; editor: Jeff Schwarz; music: Michael Cudahy; cast: Tab Hunter, John Waters, Rona Barrett, George Takei, Rex Reed, Connie Stevens, Darryl Hickman, Don Murray, Robert Wagner, Marilyn Erskine, Debbie Reynolds, Terry Moore, Mother Dolores Hart, Dick Button, Etchika Choureau, Venetia Stevenson, Rae Allen, Shannon Bolin, Bill Wellman Jr., Robert Osbourne, Eddie Muller, Gary Giddins, Neil Noorlag, Liz Torres, Lainie Kazan, Allan Glaser, Noah Wyle, Clint Eastwood. Portia de Rossi; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Allan Glaser, Neil Koenigsberg, Jeffrey Schwarz; Film Collaborative; 2015)

“Though tame it’s still a moving portrait of the closeted clean-cut blond dreamboat actor.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Jeff Schwarz (“I Am Divine”/”Vito) provides a conventional but entertaining biopic on the legendary Hollywood actor, of the 1950s & 1960s, Tab Hunter (born on July 11, 1931 and died on July 8, 2018, at age 86). Though tame it’s still a moving portrait of the closeted clean-cut blond dreamboat actor, who seems very likable, modest and low-key. Hunter finally comes out of the closet in this documentary, which was based on Hunter’s 2006 book of the same title (it’s ghost written by film historian Eddie Muller) and produced by his much younger longtime romantic partner, Allan Glaser (this film’s producer). Interviews with Tab and various Hollywood actors and personalities are the gist of the documentary (including interviews with Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Terry Moore and Dolores Hart–now a nun). Seemingly the affable Tab was very well liked in Hollywood.

The film traces his life, starting with his childhood memories as Arthur Gelien, growing up in Southern California, where he lived with his strict German emigre mother and older brother. His abusive father left the family early on in his childhood. At 19, as an innocent newcomer to Hollywood, Arthur is arrested at a private house party for queers.This isn’t revealed publicly until his prominent agent Henry Willson, who named him Tab Hunter, is fired and in revenge he spills the court record to Confidential magazine. But at this time Tab was a big money-maker for Warner Brothers and the studio head Jack Warner refused to do anything to harm his golden goose.

Though he was never trained as an actor and his early roles used him only for his good looks, he found his footing in the 1955 hit “Battle Cry” and started to get some grudging respect from critics while being a box-office hit. Tab was popular in the fan magazines, as a TV guest and also became recognized as a singer. Later in his career he did live TV. John Waters directed Tab in the freaky Polyester (1981), where the daring actor kisses the transvestite Divine and has fun with it at the expense of the wholesome image he cultivated.

The film discusses several of his secret relationships (trysts with Olympic skater Ronald Robertson and actor Anthony Perkins), how he followed studio orders to go on arranged dates in public with starlets (like with Natalie Wood) and he wisely learned to adjust to living a double-life (in those days being a homosexual was illegal and subject to arrest). Though the film comes off as a surface self-promotional sketch of his life, it’s still a candid one and one that makes for a genial watch. When the actor, now a devout Catholic, had enough and left Hollywood to raise horses on a ranch in Santa Barbara, he said “I’m happy to be forgotten in Hollywood.” 


REVIEWED ON 7/13/2019       GRADE: B