Lee reviews Tab Hunter Confidential, a revealing doc on the former star.
Closet homosexual. The term could be used to describe several of Hollywood’s greats. In the golden era of film, many gay men kept their personal lives a secret for the sake of their careers, or did so by strong armed studios who were afraid the truth would hurt their box office income. Tab Hunter Confidential brings to light the slimy actions of the once mighty movie kingdom, and the lengths many actors went thorough to keep their private lives private.
At the height of his career, Tab Hunter was the face of Warner Brothers. Benefiting from the post WWII baby boomers generation, his films were released during the teenage revolution - the largest recorded teenage population in America. His good looks made him an instant heartthrob, and girls plastered their walls with photos of Hollywood’s dreamy new star. When he wasn’t making movies, Warner sent him across the states on publicity tours to generate excitement. Tab Hunter, a stage name given to him to replace his birth name Art Gelien, was an industry made personality. Tied to the multiple responsibilities of a studio contract, Hunter was required to make appearances and endorse products on Warner’s behalf. And there was always a studio hired camera to capture every moment. In an era before the paparazzi and social media, studio owned fan magazines provided the adoring public with behind the scenes looks at their favorite stars. Warner Brothers paired Hunter with the biggest leading ladies of Hollywood, capturing every dinner date and walk in the park, and fans ate up every juicy picture.
Tab Hunter Confidential is a fascinating look at one man’s inner struggle to maintain a personal life despite being the biggest star in Hollywood. “The word gay was not around when I was a kid,” Hunter explains, “they only used derogatory terms.” Homosexuality was considered a mental disease in the ‘50s, and was against the law. While many gay actors of today’s generation flaunt their sexuality, the idea never appealed to Hunter. Even during the “coming out of the closet” boom of the ‘90s. What he did behind closed doors was his business, and no one else's. It was a tough door to keep shut for Warner Brothers highest grossing actor (1955 - 1959). Mirroring his inner conflict, his troubles with Warner Brothers are equally fascinating. The dirty practice of studio contracts caused suffering for many in Hollywood. While Hunter’s all American good look helped make him a star, they also hurt his career. Much like Elvis, he was cast for his appearance, playing the same good guy character over and over again. The roles Warner gave him provided little challenge to grow as an actor. It was a frustrating operation for a man who wanted to improve his skills and range. It eventually forced his retreat from the silver screen.
Confidential follows Hunter’s single parent upbringing to his rise to fame with some incredible photo montages. Several pictures are often spliced into one long seamless transition. The collage storytelling is enhanced with colored backgrounds and cut and paste imagery. These panning still scenes are beautifully done and help bring to light Hunter’s eye opening story. The documentary also includes testimonials from John Waters, Debbie Reynolds, and George Takei. The lasting impression of Confidential is inner peace and happiness. It’s an interchangeable definition for many. In Hunter’s case, it is the isolation of privacy. He only lets you know what he displays to be seen. In a world obsessed with over sharing every intimate detail of one’s existence, it is a refreshing lesson many could learn from.
Lee L. Lind