Sunday, October 16, 2005

Triumphant return of Tab Hunter at 74

Tab Hunter was the idol of my youth--the all-American boy, who happened to be gay (as the Hollywood grapevine correctly assessed). Arthur Gelien (as Tab was originally known) and I both went to Mount Vernon Junior High School in Los Angeles, though we just barely overlapped. Shortly thereafter, the future actor lied about his age and went into the Coast Guard. He had had a rough childhood, as his father abandoned his mother in the maternity ward.

For reasons that are still not entirely clear Tab Hunter’s movie career was truncated. Now, with the publication of a new book, he is making a triumphant return. Larry King interviewed him for one hour the other night. Hunter’s poise and articulateness struck me. As he indicated, he was rushed into stardom without being able to mature. But he took care of that: he matured and educated himself. Would that some of my college students could handle themselves as well in discussion.

He looked and sounded wonderful. His account of his closeted life during his days of stardom rang a bell--that was the way many of us lived. It is hard to imagine Tab attending an early Mattachine meeting.

So my early admiration for him was justified.

Tab and his costar, the gorgeous Natalie Wood, were icons of America. It turns out that this was true in a deeper sense. Wood was the child of Russian and French immigrants. Tab's mother was a (pre-)holocaust survivor. In those days we believed in the melting pot, now regarded as such a naive assumption. But Tab and Natalie showed that it could and did work. No one asked about his or her "ethnicity."

It turns out that the fifties were not so bad after all.

On October 14 Tab Hunter appeared at the Lincoln Center Barnes and Noble stores. The event was SRO, and I was lucky to get a seat.

Less tall than I would have expected, Tab was wonderfully trim and had a becoming California tan. The paparazzi were out in full force, and he was frequently interrupted by applause from the audience. Beaming from the sidelines was his partner, Alan Glasser. Glasser is a petit twinky type. Even without opening his mouth, he seemed very charming. (Tab apparently doesn't go for rough trade.)

The interviewer chose to ask Hunter about various Hollywood personalities. Apparently, the star long ago perfected the art of never saying anything bad about anyone who might be able to take reprisal. Always a good policy, this reluctance probably also reflects the brittleness of his closet in the early days. No stonethrowing from that vulnerable redoubt! Eventually this caution became a way of life. For those seeking gossip, though, there were slim pickings.

The only person he admitted he was not keen on was John Wayne--and even there Tab had no mean anecdotes. He opposed gay marriage (though not DP--has he heard of civil unions?), but gave no reason, except his conservative temperament.

I didn't get a chance to ask if he remembered me from Mount Vernon Junior High in LA. Gracious as he is, he would probably have said yes. What I really wanted to know was how much sex did he have and what kind before he met Tony Perkins.

I didn't buy the book, as I think I got the gist of it. All the same, Tab Hunter is a grand, grand guy.


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