Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller
A fascinating look at a man and an era
Story blurb: Welcome to Hollywood, circa 1950, the end of the Golden Age. A remarkably handsome young boy, still a teenager, gets “discovered by a big-time movie agent. Because when he takes his shirt off young hearts beat faster, because he is the picture of innocence and trust and need, he will become a star. It seems almost preordained. The open smile says, “You will love me,” and soon the whole world does.
The young boy’s name was Tab Hunter—a made-up name, of course, a Hollywood name—and it was his time. Stardom didn’t come overnight, although it seemed that way. In fact, the fame came first, when his face adorned hundreds of magazine covers; the movies, the studio contract, the name in lights—all that came later. For Tab Hunter was a true product of Hollywood, a movie star created from a stable boy, a shy kid made even more so by the way his schoolmates—both girls and boys—reacted to his beauty, by a mother who provided for him in every way except emotionally, and by a secret that both tormented him and propelled him forward.
In Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, Hunter speaks out for the first time about what it was like to be a movie star at the end of the big studio era, to be treated like a commodity, to be told what to do, how to behave, whom to be seen with, what to wear. He speaks also about what it was like to be gay, at first confused by his own fears and misgivings, then as an actor trapped by an image of boy-next-door innocence. And when he dared to be difficult, to complain to the studio about the string of mostly mediocre movies that were assigned to him, he learned that just like any manufactured product, he was disposable—disposable and replaceable.
Hunter’s career as a bona fide movie star lasted a decade. But he persevered as an actor, working continuously at a profession he had come to love, seeking—and earning—the respect of his peers, and of the Hollywood community.
And so, Tab Hunter Confidential is at heart a story of survival—of the giddy highs of stardom, and the soul-destroying lows when phone calls begin to go unreturned; of the need to be loved, and the fear of being consumed; of the hope of an innocent boy, and the rueful summation of a man who did it all, and who lived to tell it all.
Review by Gerry Burnie
Although I can’t remember being a star struck fan of Tab Hunter (being “star struck” was a condition limited to “bobby soxers” in 1950s’ Pefferlaw), at 74 I am of the right generation to appreciate an autobiography like this one, i.e. “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Move Star” by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller [Algonquin Books, 2006].
For one thing I much prefer a behind-the-scenes view of things, which is especially justified after reading about some of the unadulterated hype generated by the Hollywood PR mills in Hunter’s case. Admittedly I’ve never understood the type of mass hysteria demonstrated by “fans” of anyone, be it Elvis, The Beatles, or Will and Kate. Therefore, the first good thing I’ll say about Tab Hunter’s biography is that he didn’t start believing his own press releases. Consequently, we do get a pretty fair glimpse of the man behind the image.
Beyond that I would say that this story will be of interest mainly to people of my generation, movie buffs, and modern historians (apologies for the term, Tab). However, for those of us who qualify it is a delightful walk down Memory Lane. For example, remember this:
“The Arlington Theatre, home of all my film-infused fantasies was now the neighbourhood’s big make-out. I figured I should get in on the action, be like the guys, even though I had little in common with them. [My experience as well].
“Four or five guys, cruising in a pack, would surround one of the local girls. They’d guide her to the back of the theatre, the way animals isolated and heard one of their own. They’d take turns nuzzling her and fondling her breasts.
“I did it too—even though I was always afraid the girl would call the police on me, the way Lois had [A false complaint]. As I copped a few sheepish feels, my brain disconnected. I should be out at the barn, with the horses! That’s where I belong!
“The guys ribbed me, of course, for my lack of enthusiasm. I didn’t care. I didn’t want any part of it.30-31.”
And that first time:
“One of those nights at the Arlington, as I was sitting alone in the dark, a man swooped down into the seat beside me … This guy knew exactly what he was doing.
“I let him do it. Hard to say why—I was scared, stupid, and excited. When he was finished, he gave me a dollar and wrote his phone number on a card. “If you every want to do it again,” he said, “call me.”
“No chance of that, I told myself, buckling up. But despite the shame already suffocating me, I tucked his card inside my little rawhide-stitched wallet.”32
“I entered the anonymous confines of the dark confessional, my heart pouding. Because of my acute claustrophobia, confession was already difficult for me. I thought I’d die as I haltingly explained to the priest what had happened. Saying the words was torture, but confessing was the only way I could go on living with myself.
“I never finished. Through the latticework boomed the priest’s voice, branding me the most despicable creature in the world. I was unfit to receive God’s forgiveness, unfit to set foot in His house, unfit to live. On and on this “man of God” went, mercilessly, until I ran shaking from the confessional. Instead of offering sanctuary, the church I loved now felt hateful and oppressive.”32-33
I think those passages speak for themselves about how it was to be a gay teenager in the 1950s, so perhaps the reading list should be expanded to include those supporters of DOMA, etc., who want to return to the bad old days.
For those who have an interest, however, I highly recommend this story as a fascinating look at an era through the eyes of someone who saw if from the mountain. Five stars.
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I’m happy to say that after a long struggle, Amazon-Canada is now listing Nor All Thy Tears as both available and in stock–although it’s hard to understand how a ‘print on demand’ book can be “out of stock.” Moreover, it is also displayed with a product description. Hallelujah!
Nor All thy Tears is now #2 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” List.
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