Teen Idol Revisited and Remembered
Channelling Tab Hunter
The other day we were watching an old 1960’s comedy called “Tall Story”.
This starred a very young Jane Fonda in her first movie role, and an amazingly cute Anthony Perkins. Also featured was Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian). Once we had watched the movie, which was quite hilarious, I got curious about Ray Walston and checked other movies he’d been in.
Lo and behold the first thing I found was “Damn Yankees” which was billed as a comedy/musical (perfect for us). Additionally, the choreography was by a fave of ours, Bob Fosse. It starred Gwen Verdun, Ray Walston and Tab Hunter.
Tab Hunter? The name was familiar but I couldn’t for the l life of me recall why. (Well, those days are quite far back, so sue me.)
Anyway, we watched “Damn Yankees” in which Walston plays the machiavellian Devil, Gwen Verdun plays his sexy and wicked side-kick and Tab plays the brilliant young baseball player who has been regenerated from his older self in return for his soul. It was a fun and well-done comedy and Tab was perfect for the part.
Once I saw the handsome young Tab in that show, I remembered. Naturally, I had to follow up.
So a search for Tab Hunter revealed that he was a teen film idol in the 50’s and 60’s and had also recorded some pop songs, the first one of these becoming a hit. Now the penny really began to drop. Tab Hunter recorded a song called “Young Love” which was a huge hit for him in 1957, and which we girls would play incessantly on the Jukebox in one of the assorted Cafes in Estoril, Portugal. (Much to the annoyance of other patrons who prayed we would run out of change for the machine.)
Of course, now I totally remembered.
Tab Hunter was the blonde, blue-eyed beefcake movie star and singer that all the girls, myself included, drooled over.
We also drooled over singers like Frankie Avalon (Venus), Pat Boone, (Aint that a shame) Ricky Nelson (Poor Little Fool), and Dion (Run-Around-Sue) to mention a few.
Yup, we loved them all and fantasized about going out with them, but Tab was at the top of the list for most of us. Including for my best friend, Florindo, who although physically a boy, was really one of the girls. (Florindo, by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Tab, something that got him to trouble with the guys, who were all jealous of his outstanding good looks.)
Remembering all that stuff was fun, and of course, as usual, one thing led to another, and I found out that there was a documentary about Tab called Tab Hunter Confidential and we decided to watch it. Well worth the watch. Very nicely directed and produced.
This documentary is based on Tabs’ book of the same name and it reveals some of the problems he had leading a double life. On the screen, he was the highly sexy and desirable male film idol. In private he was gay. Gay was not acceptable in the 50s.
Tab and his brother were both cute-looking kids, but Tab was the cutest. It seems that his looks earned him female adulation from a very early age. One former schoolmate reveals that Tab got mobbed by girls as soon as he appeared anywhere at the school.
Tab did not have a very nice childhood. His father was physically abusive to his Mom, Gertrude, and she and her two sons moved in with her parents.
Tab did figure skating as a child and young man. Judging from the clips shown in the documentary, he was pretty darn good.
As a teen, Tab got a job at a stable where he mucked out stalls and took care of the horses. He learned how to ride and quickly showed his ability to handle horses. He loved horses. (Now there’s something I didn’t know. I was horse mad as a kid, and yet I never knew that one of my teen idols was a horse person. The documentary showed plenty of photos of Tab with assorted beautiful horses.)
While working at the stable, Tab made some valuable contacts that would eventually lead to helping him in landing work at a film studio. Not surprisingly, it seems that once they saw him, they saw the enormous box office potential he had. Tab managed to get an agent who was good at hustling parts for him.
Hunter’s first film role was a minor part in a film noir called The Lawless (1950). Tabs’ friend, Paul Guilfoyle, a character actor, then suggested him to director Stuart Heisler who was looking for an unknown to play the lead in Island of Desire (1952) opposite Linda Darnell. The film was a hit. Tab began to get noticed.
From 1950 to 1954 Tab had a series of small parts in assorted movies. In 1954 Tab landed a contract with Warner Brothers which got him started into better parts.
In 1957, Tab recorded what would become our favorite song, “Young Love” for Dot Records which was owned by rival Paramount Pictures). It became a huge hit.
Tab had another hit single, “Ninety-Nine Ways”, which went to №11 in the U.S. and №5 in England. Jack L. Warner became aware of Tab's singing success and came down hard on him by enforcing Tab’s contract with Warner Bros. Jack Warner actually ended up banning Dot Records, from releasing a follow-up album Tab had recorded for them. Instead, Jack established Warner Bros. Records specifically for Tab.
I thought that was particularly interesting that the studio actually became a music label, just for Tab!
Tab was in assorted movies while he was with Warner Brothers, but eventually decided he wanted to buy out his contract with them because he felt they were not fully exploring his potential as an actor. A really bad move for his career it seems since once he was no longer protected by the studio, the rumours of his homosexuality began to have a negative effect on his getting decent movie roles.
Tab took whatever roles he could get to pay the bills, B movies and all. He was taking care of his Mom who was experiencing some rough times. Tab made sure she was always looked after. The documentary shows Tab as a caring son — so not just a good-looking heartthrob — also a very nice person.
In the 1980s and Tab began a wonderful relationship with producer Allan Glaser, that would span more than 30 years. Allan Glaser was responsible for encouraging Tab to write his autobiography “The Tab Hunter Confidential” upon which the documentary was based. Alan was also responsible for being the driving force behind making the wickedly funny “Lust in The Dust” happen in 1985. (Watching Tab channelling Clint Eastwood is priceless, and the many nods to classic westerns — totally hilarious.)
As a follow up to the documentary on Tab, we have been making a point of watching some of his movies and have been impressed with him as he matures from the gorgeous tanned young hunk to the handsome, sexy more mature dude, who still has all the moves and all the charm of his younger self, but with the polish that maturing brings.
Tab was a teen idol, but endures as an admirable and very talented person, leaving a legacy of fantastic memories. Thankfully for all of us fans, Tab Hunters’ spouse, Alan Glaser, has set up and maintains a beautiful website dedicated to Tab. A big “thank you” to Alan Glaser for his loving dedication.
“Young Love”written by Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner, and published in 1956, Young Love was originally recorded in 1956 RIC Carty. It failed to chart. then a version was recorded by singer Sonny James. The track peaked at №11 in the UK Singles Chart. It sold well over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[11.