In the 1950s, Tab Hunter’s all-American good looks set the hearts of girls and young women ablaze. He was a movie star and a singing teen idol.
But Hunter, a star frequently photographed on the town with gorgeous starlets, had a secret. And it wasn’t the trivia revealed on game show “I’ve Got a Secret” — one of many ironic moments in “Tab Hunter Confidential.” Hunter, the dreamy teen idol of millions, was gay.
This documentary usually applies a light touch. It’s especially entertaining when it’s dealing with Hunter’s 1950s-era deception. The film channels the actor’s years of pretending into subversive amusement. “Six feet of rugged manhood to stir the heart of every woman,” a vintage promotional line proclaims.
“Tab Hunter Confidential” also has the benefit of the now-retired actor’s cooperation. His partner of more than 30 years, Allan Glaser, co-produced the film.
Hunter, relaxed and looking younger than his early 80s, straightforwardly tells his story to director Jeffrey Schwarz. Many others, including former starlets Debbie Reynolds and Dolores Hart, offer their insight, too.
“I was a naïve, young, innocent girl,” Reynolds says. “I would never think that the most handsome boy would be gay.”
“I had the ability to live behind this wall,” Hunter says. He adds that he’d never do anything to let down Warner Bros., the movie studio to which he was under contract.
In addition to new interviews, Schwarz and Glaser exploit a library of film and TV clips. Hunter probably was among the most photographed men of the 1950s. Many of those photos appeared in movie magazines eagerly consumed by his apparently unsuspecting female fans.
“Tab Hunter Confidential” is named in part after the scandal magazine Confidential. Specializing in sleaze and gossip, Confidential featured stories such as “That blonde sharing Nick Ray’s pillow was MARILYN MONROE!” and “Why Liberace’s theme song should be ‘Mad About the Boy!’ ”
Exposing a movie star such as Hunter, Rock Hudson or Anthony Perkins as homosexual was right up Confidential’s alley. Although Hunter was exposed, albeit in suggestive words, his career survived. But he soon suffered a more mundane fate. Hollywood moved on to a new heartthrob.
There would be a comeback, thanks to Hunter’s leading man performance opposite Divine in director John Waters’ 1981 cult hit, “Polyester.”
“It was the first time ever we had a real movie star,” Waters says.
“Tab Hunter Confidential” eventually follows Hunter to the happy life he’s still living. Throughout the film, the retired actor comes off as an amiable, honest fellow who’s earned the contentment he’s found.