Tab Hunter Confidential is based on the actor's 'tell-it-all' book. Don't expect a Hollywood version of 'Dorian Grey'; of a young drop-dead Adonis who, at 85, has lost his looks. Far from it, he may be an 'old man', but he has exercised his druthers throughout his life to let us into his closeted life.
Today, we cannot imagine the Hollywood of the Eisenhower era, when young premiers like Hunter captured the hearts of millions of young girls (and boys).
Director Jeffrey Schwarz has smartly recovered those days of the '50s through studio photographs, magazines and Hunter's films.
Hunter had piercing blue eyes that held you as though against your will; his smile, his seemingly white perfect teeth sparkled, and his bare muscled chest aroused strange feelings of pleasure that in those days, if publicly expressed, would not garner approval.
And what's more, Hunter plied his trade through hard work and an inner enthusiasm that made him a star. As his fellow actor Robert Wagner remarked he was a spark that caught fire, for his role in the film version of Leon Uris' bestseller 'Battle Cry'. In a way, his Danny Forrester commits adultery with an officer's wife, a no-no subject of those days, which to a moderate degree stepped on the Screen Code.
He was under contract to Warner Brothers, and Jack Warner used all the studio's resources to bolster his career.
Tab Hunter had talent as clips from Playhouse 90, a live television show, that proved he was a 90-day wonder, nor go against teenybopper idol type. Furthermore, he had a talent for song: his version of 'Young Love' (which Pat Boone also sang) stayed on the charts at number 1 got six weeks, knocking even Elvis off his pedestal.
He had a short-lived television, that bombed for its mindlessness.
But Hunter had a secret: he was a homosexual, when, homosexuality was, according to medical authority, a mental disease. Tightly locked in his closet, Warner Brothers publicity department did everything to project an image of him as a boy any mother would want for her daughter. Anything and everything was done to protect the studio's cash cow!
For a good idea of 'gay' Hollywood way back then, it is worthwhile to see Bill Condon's 'Gods and Monsters'.
The secret got out in the tabloids when he left his agent, and his career dried up when he bought himself out of his contract. As his career dried up, he was forced to take any role he could in very bad films. He found financial stability in equestrianism and dinner theater, but at a price on his health. The strain of doing that form of acting that rewards him handsomely but left him little time for a life was costly, and in early middle age he had a heart attack, and subsequently left the theatre.
We get a glimpse of Hunter's love life, that is, as much as he wishes to tell us; he had a good/so-so-good tumble with Anthony Perkins. And at 53, he found his long-time companion Allan Glaser, who produced 'Tab Hunter Confidential'.
Abandoned by his father, he was the good son who took care of his mother who had severe mental problems until she died well into advanced age. Brought up a Catholic, he eventually made peace with his church.
The spark of his career flamed up again when paired by John Waters with Divine in 'Polyester' and more so in 'Lust in the Dust'. But by then, Hunter sought his life in the comfort of his privacy, making rare appearances.
Lightly touched on is his champion-like ability as an ice skater, other than his affair with a star ice skater. And nary a word is spoken of the utter disaster that was in performance with Tallulah Bankhead in Tennessee Williams 'Under Milk Wood'.
Eighty-five this July, Hunter has had a full live, a lover of more than 30 years, 30 years his junior, and takes daily pleasure in caring for his horse and riding. Stiff with that stiffness old age brings, he is at peace with himself and looks back on his life with a keen eye and an blue eye on the morrow.