Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tab Hunter: Confidential (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Tab Hunter: Confidential

The actor known as Tab Hunter, whose real name is Art Galien, was a pop phenomenon in the 1950s. He had All- American blond hair, blue eyes and a winning smile to match. Girls swooned. He first rose to fame in the film "Battle Cry," starring Aldo Ray. Hunter, having a smooth matinee-idol voice, was also a singer with many popular hit singles. Yet despite his fame, a Sword of Damocles hung over his head: he was gay.

The studio molded him as Natalie Wood's Valentine and cast him in two films with the female star:  "The Girl He Left Behind" and "Burning Hills." Hunter broke ground, playing against type as a psychopath in "Gunman's Walk."

 After the klieg lights were out, however Hunter sought the company of Anthony Perkins. The two were twin opposites: one outgoing and gregarious, the other inward and shy. Both were handsome actors and gifted singers, embodying the new young wave of Hollywood, in contraast to Dean and Brando. The romance came to a bitter end when Perkins manuevered the hot film project "Fear Strikes Out" away from his friend.

This pointed and lively documentary by Jeffrey Schwarz (the director of  "I Am Divine" about the John Waters comedian and star, Divine) shows a charismatic and engaged Hunter, who nonetheless battled to keep his personal self intact, dealing with the pressures of a closeted actor. John Waters is featured here. The added bonuses are Debbie Reynolds, Star Trek's George Takei, a very tan Robert Wagner and last but not least, the actor who became a nun after kissing Elvis, Dolores Hart.

The film has a smooth and bouyant rhythm   throughout, yet it is not without poignance. Hunter's mother was institutionalized for many years, and the actor had difficulties with unemployment after his youthful successes. Luckily, the genre of camp gave Hunter a second life when John Waters cast him in his melodrama "Polyester" as Divine's husband. Hunter co-starred with Divine again in the novelty Western "Lust in the Dust."

Aficionados of 1950s cinema will enjoy "Tab Hunter: Confidential," as well as those manic for our dreamboat teen idol past. Hunter is alive and well at 84. Now retired from Hollywood, he is happily with his partner, Allan Glaser along with being the apple in many a horse's eye.

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