Hollywood Heart Throb
not to mention competitive equestrian, skater and singer
By the age of fourteen his movie-idol good looks attracted hordes of giggling school girls and made all the boys jealous. When playing the lead in his junior high school’s play, his role called for planting a kiss on the female lead just before the final curtain. On opening night the kiss incited a riot, with students jumping on their seats and throwing hats, books and sweaters. He was just learning the effect his looks could have on people, although he forever remained embarrassed by it.
However, the life of 19-year-old Art Gelien changed forever in 1951, when he was invited to take a screen test at Samuel Goldwyn studios for the role of a marine in God’s Little Island. The female screen writer took one look at the gloriously fresh and handsome novice and said, “That’s the boy I want,” before he had so much as opened his mouth. He was asked to take his shirt off, and the next thing he knew the film’s director said, “If this kid can read his name off a sheet of paper, we want him.” His entire screen test consisted of planting a smoldering kiss (while shirtless) on Linda Darnell, a major female star of 20th Century Fox during the 1940s. Art Gelien was dubbed “Tab Hunter” by his agent, Henry Willson, and the rest is Hollywood history.
Instead of mucking stalls and practicing skating maneuvers, Tab Hunter was on a plane to Jamaica for three months of filming, followed by seven weeks of interior shots in London. The film’s name was changed to Island of Desire, and Hunter’s screen kiss with Linda Darnell launched a major career as a male heart-throb, even though his reviews as an actor were scathing. On the plus side, he looked great without a shirt. A handsome face, flawless skin, sparkling blue eyes, perfect teeth and natural blond hair didn’t hurt things a bit.
Hunter's breakout film was 1954’s "Battle Cry," in which he played a young Marine recruit. In one scene he embarks on a midnight swim with an officer's wife, played by Dorothy Malone. He wears her husband's bathing trunks, giving the waistband a tug to show how much slimmer he is than his rival, while a wolfish grin lights up his face. Hunter was sensationally sexy and attractive as he strode toward sexual conquest. Women all across America melted in their seats (see clip at end of post).
In all, Hunter has made over fifty films, but there were long stretches of underemployment while making the rounds of dinner theater. His “comeback career” revolved around campy films, such as 1981’s “Polyester” (directed by John Waters) and “Lust in the Dust” (written by Tab Hunter himself).
Tab's career includes many stage and television performances. He starred in his own television series for NBC, was nominated for an Emmy for his performance opposite Geraldine Page in Playhouse 90’s "Portrait of a Murderer" and guest starred in over 200 television series episodes. He also appeared on Broadway with Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams’s "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," an experience he'd rather forget, since Miss Bankhead played her role for camp, making a mockery of the other talent sharing the stage.
In his autobiography “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star” he acknowledges that he is gay, confirming rumors that had circulated since the 1950s. Hunter also confesses to having two serious, but unconsummated affairs with women. He was passionately in love with co-star Etchika Choureau, while simultaneously secretly dating actor Anthony Perkins. Hunter wanted to marry Choureau but called it off after realizing he would not be able to suppress his homosexual proclivities. He also had a relationship with Joan Cohn, widow of Columbia Pictures mogul, Harry Cohn. She proposed to Tab Hunter after her divorce from her second husband. No dice. These days Hunter lives in Santa Barbara, California, with his partner Allan Glaser; both men continue to work on producing film projects while surrounded by Tab Hunter's beloved dogs (whippets) and horses.
Scene from Battle Cry: Tab Hunter & Dorothy Malone 1954
Dorothy malone in battle cry scene 1 by tobiagorrio