Warner Brothers’ former boy-next-door tells all.
Tab Hunter’s life would have made a brassy melodrama for Warners, where he reigned in the 1950s. He was born Arthur Gelien in New York City in 1931. Escaping her violent husband, Gelien’s mother took her two sons to San Francisco, where Gelien fled to movie theaters, there first having sex with a man. At 15, Gelien lied about his age to join the Coast Guard. On leave in New York City, Gelien, now a smashing, muscular blond, woke up with a wealthy older man. Not wishing to be a “boy toy,” he went West to make movies. Gelien’s manager turned him into Tab Hunter, who took off his shirt to star in Island of Desire. Eager to draw teens, Warner Bros. cast him in Battle Cry, which he stole when he again doffed his shirt. Then scandal rag Confidential claimed cops arrested Hunter at a gay party. As damage control, Warners paired the actor with “beard” Natalie Wood, but after dates, Hunter pursued an affair with actor Tony Perkins. Eager to be taken seriously as an actor, Hunter bought out his Warners contract, donned his shirt and acted in They Came to Cordura and The Pleasure of His Company. More melodrama ensued when he stood trial, in 1960, for beating his dog. Acquitted, he relentlessly worked the dinner-theater circuit. After a heart attack, a stroke and mixed success as a producer, Hunter settled into a happy life with partner Allan Glaser, who suggested that he write his memoirs to head off the revelations of a projected, unauthorized biography. Whether that volume materializes and tells a different story remains to be seen.
A straightforward account of how a gay actor handled the ’50s—alas, not very differently than closeted gay actors manage their careers today.