Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter (born Arthur Andrew Kelm; July 11, 1931 – July 8, 2018) was an American actor, singer, film producer and author. He appeared in over 40 films and was a well-known Hollywood star and heartthrob of the 1950s and 1960s, known for his blond, clean-cut good looks.

Tab Hunter
Arthur Andrew Gelien[1][2]

(1931-07-11)July 11, 1931
DiedJuly 8, 2018(2018-07-08) (aged 86)
Other namesArthur Gelien
  • Actor
  • singer
  • film producer
  • writer
Years active1950–2015
Spouse(s)Allan Glaser (partner since ca. 1983)[3]

Early life

Hunter was born in Manhattan, New York City,[1] the son of Gertrude (née Gelien) and Charles Kelm. His father was Jewish and his mother was a German Catholic immigrant, from Hamburg.[4] He had an older brother, Walter. Hunter's father was reportedly abusive, and within a few years of his birth, his parents divorced. He was raised in California living with his mother, brother, and maternal grandparents, John Henry and Ida (née Sonnenfleth) Gelien, living in San Francisco, Long Beach and Los Angeles.[4] His mother re-assumed her maiden surname, Gelien, and changed her sons’ surnames, as well. As a teenager, Arthur Gelien, as he was then known, was a figure skater, competing in both singles and pairs.[5] Hunter was sent to Catholic school by his religious mother.[6]

He joined the United States Coast Guard at age 15, lying about his age to enlist. While in the Coast Guard, he gained the nickname "Hollywood" for his penchant for watching movies rather than going to bars while on liberty.[7] When his superiors discovered his true age, they discharged him. He met actor Dick Clayton socially; Clayton suggested that Hunter become an actor.[8]



Clayton introduced Hunter to agent Henry Willson, who specialized in representing male stars such as Robert Wagner and Rock Hudson. It was Willson who named him "Tab Hunter".[9]

Hunter's first film role was a minor part in a film noir, The Lawless (1950). He was friends with character actor Paul Guilfoyle, who 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, essentially a two-hander between Hunter and Darnell, was a hit.[10]

Hunter supported George Montgomery in Gun Belt (1953), a Western produced by Edward Small. Small used him again for a war film, The Steel Lady (1953) supporting Rod Cameron, and as the lead in an adventure tale, Return to Treasure Island (1954). He began acting on stage, appearing in a production of Our Town.[11]

He was then offered, and accepted, a contract at Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

One of Hunter's first films for Warners was The Sea Chase (1955), supporting John Wayne and Lana Turner. It was a big hit, but Hunter's part was relatively small. Rushes were seen by William A. Wellman, who cast Hunter to play the younger brother of Robert Mitchum in Track of the Cat (1954). It was a solid hit and Hunter began to get more notice.

His breakthrough role came when he was cast as the young Marine Danny in 1955's World War II drama Battle Cry. His character has an affair with an older woman, but ends up marrying the girl next door. It was based on a bestseller by Leon Uris and became Warner Bros.' largest grossing film of that year, cementing Hunter's position as one of Hollywood's top young romantic leads. He was in the third (Battle Cry) and tenth (The Sea Chase) most popular films of the year.[12]

In September 1955, the tabloid magazine Confidential reported that Hunter had been arrested for disorderly conduct in 1950. The innuendo-laced article, and a second one focusing on Rory Calhoun's prison record, were the result of a deal Henry Willson had brokered with the scandal rag in exchange for not revealing the sexual orientation of his more prominent client, Rock Hudson, to the public.[13] The report had no negative effect on Hunter's career. A few months later, he was named Most Promising New Personality in a nationwide poll sponsored by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations.[14] In 1956, he received 62,000 valentines. Hunter, James Dean and Natalie Wood were the last actors to be placed under an exclusive studio contract at Warner Bros. Warners decided to promote him to star status, teaming him with Natalie Wood in two films, a Western, The Burning Hills (1956), directed by Heisler, and The Girl He Left Behind (1956), a service comedy. These films also proved to be hits with audiences and Warners planned a third teaming of Hunter and Wood. Hunter rejected the third picture, thus ending Warners' attempt to make Hunter and Wood the William Powell and Myrna Loy of the 1950s. Hunter was Warner Bros.' most popular male star from 1955 until 1959.

Hunter received strong critical acclaim for a television performance he gave in the debut episode of Playhouse 90 ("Forbidden Area", 1956) written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer.[15]

Music career

Hunter had a 1957 hit record with the song "Young Love," which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks (seven weeks on the UK Chart) and became one of the larger hits of the Rock 'n' Roll era.[5] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[16]

He had another hit single, "Ninety-Nine Ways", which peaked at No. 11 in the United States and No. 5 in the United Kingdom. His success prompted Jack L. Warner to enforce the actor's contract with the Warner Bros. studio by banning Dot Records, the label for which Hunter had recorded the single (and which was owned by rival Paramount Pictures), from releasing a follow-up album he had recorded for them. He established Warner Bros. Records specifically for Hunter.

Hunter's acting career was also at its peak. William Wellman used him again in a war film, Lafayette Escadrille (1958). Columbia Pictures borrowed him for a Western, Gunman's Walk (1958), a film which Hunter considered his favorite role.

Hunter starred in the musical film Damn Yankees (1958), in which he played Joe Hardy of Washington, D.C.'s American League baseball club. The film had originally been a Broadway musical, but Hunter was the only one in the film version who had not appeared in the original cast. The show was based on the best-selling 1954 book The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop. Hunter later said the filming was hellish because director George Abbott was only interested in recreating the stage version word for word. He starred in the films, They Came to Cordura with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth and That Kind of Woman (both 1959), with Sophia Loren.


Hunter's failure to win the role of Tony in the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) prompted him to agree to star in a weekly television sitcom. The Tab Hunter Show had moderate ratings (due to being scheduled opposite The Ed Sullivan Show) and lasted for only one season of 36 episodes. It was a hit in the United Kingdom, where it ranked as one of the most watched situation comedies of the year.

Hunter had a starring role as Debbie Reynolds's love interest in The Pleasure of His Company (1961). He played the lead in a swashbuckler shot in Italy, The Golden Arrow (1962) and was in a war movie for American International Pictures, Operation Bikini (1963).

In 1964, he starred on Broadway opposite Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.

Ride the Wild Surf (1964) was a surf film for Columbia, followed by a movie in Britain, Troubled Waters (1964). He stayed in England to make another picture for AIP, War Gods of the Deep (1965). Back in Hollywood he had a supporting role in The Loved One (1965) and Birds Do It (1966). He made a film with Richard Rush, The Fickle Finger of Fate (1967).

For a short time in the late 1960s, after several seasons of starring in summer stock and dinner theater in shows such as Bye Bye Birdie, The Tender Trap, Under the Yum Yum Tree,[17] and West Side Story with some of the New York cast, Hunter settled in the south of France, where he acted in Spaghetti Westerns, including Vengeance Is My Forgiveness (1968), The Last Chance (1968), and Bridge over the Elbe (1969).[18]


Hunter had the lead role in Sweet Kill (1973), the first movie from director Curtis Hanson. He won a co-starring role in the successful film The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) with Paul Newman. He had small roles in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold (1978). In 1977 he played George Shumway, the father of Mary Hartman on Forever Fernwood, a spinoff of the soap like sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.


Hunter's career was revived in the 1980s[1], when he starred opposite actor Divine in John Waters' Polyester (1981) and Paul Bartel's Lust in the Dust (1985). He played Mr. Stuart, the substitute teacher in Grease 2 (1982), who sang "Reproduction". Hunter had a major role in the 1988 horror film Cameron's Closet.

Later years

Hunter wrote the story for, and starred in, Dark Horse (1992), his last film.

An award-winning 2015 documentary about his life, Tab Hunter Confidential, was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and produced by Hunter's husband Allan Glaser.[19] As of June 2018, a feature film about Hunter was in development at Paramount Pictures to be produced by Glaser, J. J. Abrams and Zachary Quinto. Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning writer Doug Wright is attached to create the screenplay.[20]

Personal life

Hunter's autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (2005, co-written with Eddie Muller), became a New York Times bestseller,[21] as did the paperback edition in 2007. The book was nominated for several awards. It re-entered The New York Times' bestseller list for a third time on June 28, 2015, upon the release of a documentary film based on the book.

In the book, Hunter acknowledged that he was gay, confirming rumors in circulation since the height of his fame. According to William L. Hamilton of The New York Times, detailed reports about Hunter's alleged romances with close friends Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood during his young adult years had strictly been the fodder of studio publicity departments. As Wood and Hunter embarked on a well-publicized but fictitious romance, insiders had developed their own headline for the item: "Natalie Wood and Tab Wouldn't".[3]

Regarding Hollywood's studio era, Hunter said, "[life] was difficult for me, because I was living two lives at that time. A private life of my own, which I never discussed, never talked about to anyone. And then my Hollywood life, which was just trying to learn my craft and succeed ..." The star emphasized that the word "'gay' ... wasn't even around in those days, and if anyone ever confronted me with it, I'd just kinda freak out. I was in total denial. I was just not comfortable in that Hollywood scene, other than the work process."[22] "There was a lot written about my sexuality, and the press was pretty darn cruel," the actor said, but what "moviegoers wanted to hold in their hearts were the boy-next-door marines, cowboys, and swoon-bait sweethearts I portrayed."[3]

Hunter had long-term relationships with actor Anthony Perkins and champion figure skater Ronnie Robertson before settling down and marrying his partner / spouse of over 35 years, film producer Allan Glaser.[23][1]

Hunter was raised in his mother's Catholic faith. Except for a period in his youth, Hunter was a practicing Catholic for the rest of his life.[18][24][25] Hunter was a Republican and supported the campaign of Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.[26]

Hunter has a star for his contributions to the music industry on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6320 Hollywood Blvd.[27] In 2007, the Palm Springs Walk of Stars dedicated a Golden Palm Star to him.[28]


Three days before his 87th birthday, Hunter died after suffering cardiac arrest which arose from complications related to deep vein thrombosis.[29] According to his partner, Allan Glaser, Hunter's death was "sudden and unexpected".[30]

Chart performance

Year Title Chart positions
1957 "Young Love" 1 1
"Red Sails In The Sunset" 57
"Ninety-Nine Ways" 11 5
"Don't Get Around Much Anymore" 74
1958 "Jealous Heart" 62
1959 "(I'll Be with You) In Apple Blossom Time" 31
"There's No Fool Like A Young Fool" 68

Selected filmography

1980 - Charlie's Angels - Episode "Nips and Tucks" - Role - Bill Maddox/Brad Collins

Year[31] Film Character Notes
1950 The Lawless Frank O'Brien also released under the title The Dividing Line
1952 The Island of Desire Marine Corporal Michael J. "Chicken" Dugan also released under the title Saturday Island
1953 Gun Belt Chip Ringo
1953 The Steel Lady Bill Larson also released under the title Treasure of Kalifa
1954 Return to Treasure Island Clive Stone
1954 Track of the Cat Harold Bridges
1955 Battle Cry Danny Forrester
1955 While We're Young Gig Spevvy Episode of Ford Television Theatre, with Claudette Colbert
1955 Fear Strikes Out Jimmy Piersall 2 episodes of Climax!
1955 The Sea Chase Cadet Wesser
1956 The People Against McQuade Donald McQuade Episode of Conflict"
1956 The Burning Hills Trace Jordan
1956 The Girl He Left Behind Andy L. Shaeffer
1956 Forbidden Area episode of Playhouse 90 directed by John Frankenheimer with Charlton Heston
1957 Mask for the Devil episode of Climax!
1958 Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates Hans Brinker TV movie
1958 Portrait of a Murderer episode of Playhouse 90 directed by Arthur Penn
1958 Gunman's Walk Ed Hackett
1958 Lafayette Escadrille Thad Walker
1958 Damn Yankees Joe Hardy Also released under the title What Lola Wants in the UK
1959 They Came to Cordura Lt. William Fowler
1959 That Kind of Woman Red Directed by Sidney Lumet
1960–61 The Tab Hunter Show Paul Morgan Star of regular series
1961 The Pleasure of His Company Roger Henderson
1961 Summer on Ice Himself TV movie
1962 The Golden Arrow Hassan
1962 Three Columns of Anger episode of Saints and Sinners
1962 The Celebrity Del Packer episode of Combat!
1963 Operation Bikini Lt. Morgan Hayes
1964 Ride the Wild Surf Steamer Lane
1964 Troubled Waters Alex Carswell
1965 City Under the Sea Ben Harris released as War Gods of the Deep in US
1965 The Loved One Whispering Glades Tour Guide
1966 Birds Do It Lt. Porter
1967 The Fickle Finger of Fate Jerry AKAS: El Dedo del Destino and The Cup of San Sebastian
1967 Hostile Guns Mike Reno
1968 Vengeance Is My Forgiveness Sheriff Durango
1968 The Last Chance Patrick Harris
1969 Bridge over the Elbe Richard
1970 The Virginian Cart Banner
1971 Hacksaw Tim Andrews TV movie
1972 Treasure of St. Ignacio Bob Neal
1972 Sweet Kill Eddie Collins
1972 The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean Sam Dodd
1975 Timber Tramps Big Swede
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood David Hamilton
1978 Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold Elliot Bender TV movie
1978 Hawaii Five-O Episode: "Horoscope for Murder" Mel Burgess
1979 The Kid from Left Field Bill Lorant TV movie
1981 Polyester Todd Tomorrow
1982 Pandemonium Blue Grange
1982 Grease 2 Mr. Stuart
1982 And They're Off Henry Barclay
1982 Natalie: A Very Special Tribute to a Very Special Lady Himself Made-for-TV documentary
1985 Lust in the Dust Abel Wood
1988 Out of the Dark Driver
1988 Grotesque Rod
1988 Cameron's Closet Owen Lansing
1988 James Stewart's Wonderful Life Himself Made-for-TV documentary
1992 Dark Horse Perkins
1995 Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick Himself Documentary
1996 Ballyhoo: The Hollywood Sideshow Himself Documentary
1998 The Best of Hollywood Himself/Presenter/Narrator Made-for-TV documentary
2002 Elvis Forever Himself Made-for-TV documentary about Elvis Presley
2003 Rita Himself Made-for-TV documentary about Rita Hayworth
2007 The Brothers Warner Himself Documentary
2008 Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical Treasure Himself Made-for-TV documentary
2013 I Am Divine Himself Documentary about regular co-star and drag queen Divine
2015 Tab Hunter Confidential Himself Documentary about Hunter's life as a matinee idol, based upon his book of the same name


  1. "Tab Hunter, 86, 1950s Hollywood heartthrob, is dead". The New York Times. July 9, 2018. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  2. Bergan, Ronald (July 9, 2018). "Tab Hunter obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  3. Hamilton, William L. (September 18, 2005). "Did Success Spoil Tab Hunter?". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2010.
  4. Weinraub, Bernard (September 9, 2003). "A Star's Real Life Upstages His Films; Tab Hunter Looks Back on Sadness and Success and Ahead to a Book". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  5. Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock N Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 38. CN 5585.
  6. Hunter, Tab (September 8, 2006). Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. With Eddie Muller. Algonquin. p. 174. ISBN 978-1565128460. Retrieved February 25, 2019 via Google Books.
  7. Piccalo, Gina; Saad, Nardine (July 9, 2018). "Actor Tab Hunter dies at 86; '50s heartthrob's career ranged from Battle Cry to Polyester". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  8. Feinberg, Scott (March 13, 2015). "SXSW: Tab Hunter opens up about life as a closeted gay star during Hollywood's golden age". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  9. Hofler, Robert (2005). The Man who Invented Rock Hudson: The pretty boys and dirty deals of Henry Willson. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 978-0786716074 via Google Books.
  10. Hopper, Hedda (February 13, 1955). "A critic's remark and hard work put Tab Hunter on top: Critic and work spur Tab Hunter". Los Angeles Times. p. D1. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  11. Scheuer, Philip K. (November 5, 1953). "Drama: Skip homeier returns, Murvyn vye with U-I; MGM rushes POW job". Los Angeles Times. p. B11.
  12. "1955's Top Grossers". Variety. January 25, 1956. p. 1.
  13. Hunter 2005, p. 172.
  14. Hunter 2005, pp. 116–118.
  15. Wolters, Larry (March 17, 1957). "Playhouse 90 – And why it is a great series: Key to success is its young producer". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 78.
  16. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 978-0214204807 via Google Books.
  17. Hunter 2005, p. 297.
  18. Raymond, Gerard (October 21, 2015). "Interview with Tab Hunter". Retrieved February 25, 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. "Tab Hunter Confidential". IMDb. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  20. Feinberg, Scott; Kit, Borys (June 6, 2018). "Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins forbidden love drama in the works from J.J. Abrams, Zachary Quinto". Exclusive. The Hollywood Reporter.
  21. McNary, Dave (June 6, 2018). "JJ Abrams, Zachary Quinto Developing Tab Hunter-Anthony Perkins Movie". Variety.
  22. Parks, Tim (December 15, 2005). "The many lives of Tab Hunter". Gay and Lesbian Times. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  23. Bayard, Louis (October 9, 2005). ""The Celluloid Closet"". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  24. Fillo, MaryEllen. "Hollywood's all-American boy Tab Hunter brings his documentary to Warner Theater". Hartford Courant. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  25. Lattanzio, Ryan (October 12, 2015). "Tab Hunter, Out of the Hollywood Closet and in His Own Words". IndieWire. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  26. "[no title cited]". Motion Picture and Television Magazine. Ideal Publishers. November 1952. p. 34.
  27. "Tab Hunter". Hollywood Star Walk. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  28. "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated". Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  29. Stolworthy, Jacob (July 9, 2018). "Veteran Hollywood actor Tab Hunter dies aged 86". The Independent. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  30. France, Lisa Respers; Chan, Stella (July 11, 2018). "Tab Hunter, iconic 1950s actor, dead at 86". CNN. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
  31. "Tab Hunter". IMDb. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
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