The smile was perfect. His life? Not quite. A major movie star and heartthrob of the 1950s, Tab Hunter was secretly struggling with the fact that, yep, he was gay. Hunter now tells all in Tab Hunter Confidential, a new documentary based on his 2005 memoir of the same name. Directed by I Am Divine’s Jeffrey Schwarz and produced by Hunter’s longtime partner, Allan Glaser, the doc, which opens October 16, also covers his ’80s comeback as cult star of flicks like Polyester and Grease 2. Calling from his ranch in Santa Barbara, the publicity-shy 84-year-old icon explains why he still won’t be marching in your Pride parade.
By Brandon Voss
Next: Your partner, Allan, says in the film that if one of your old movies is on television, you’ll change the channel. So how does it feel to be revisiting what you call your “past life” as a matinee idol?
Tab Hunter: I’m glad I can talk about now, but it was very difficult for me. It started out with the book, but when I found out that someone else was going to write a book about me, I thought it would be better to hear everything from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead. When Allan wanted to do the documentary, I wasn’t sure about it, but he thought I had a journey that people could relate to. Because everyone’s on a journey.
What message do you hope gets across?
I think about all the young people who are going through turmoil within, and I just want them to be truthful to themselves. If the film can help someone, fine.
When you do look back at your work from the ’50s, can you objectively appreciate how damn attractive you were?
Yeah, but people put too much importance on all the externals in life. What’s a person like as a human being? What are you like on the inside? So I don’t look at it like that at all. I just look at it as a job. I really wanted to develop as an actor and learn my craft.
Although your looks opened doors for you, people often treated you like a piece of meat. Did you see being that handsome as a curse?
Well, the more that happened, the more I wasn’t comfortable in that skin. My comfort zone in Hollywood was being out with my horses, shoveling the real stuff. I was never comfortable in the public eye, but I faked it.
You make it clear in the doc that you didn’t like people making a fuss over you. What’s it like to watch the documentary and hear folks like John Waters and George Takei say so many nice things about you?
It’s very flattering, and I appreciate it very much. I love that Allan got all those interviews with old friends of mine from that era, but I’ve never really been comfortable with accolades. It’s like, let’s get on with our lives.
When speaking in the film about your first gay relationship, you get very shy. Even at 84, a decade since you came out, is it still strange to talk about being gay?
I don’t talk about it. I’ll talk about it with you, because you ask me some questions and I’ll answer them, but basically, my life is my life. I’ve never been one to be in your face.
There is some kissing and telling. You speak at length about dating Tony Perkins, who, when he passed away from AIDS-related illness, was survived by a wife and kids. Were you at all hesitant to reveal details about that relationship?
Well, if you’re going to tell a story, tell the whole story. If you’re going to talk about a journey, talk about it. If there’s something I’m uncomfortable talking about, I won’t, but that’s the road I went down, and hopefully I learned something along the way.
In the ’90s and early 2000s, even when you began to see more and more actors coming out on the covers of magazines, you still didn’t want to be defined by your sexuality. If you knew then what you know now, would you have come out sooner?
I doubt it. I still wouldn’t have felt right about it. I feel OK about it now because, look, I’m an old man. The first line in my book is “I hate labels,” and our society wants to label every person. But we’re all human beings. I couldn’t care less about a person’s sexuality.
Since coming out, have you felt any pressure from the LGBT community to be more of an activist who marches in Pride parades?
That’s not me. I’ve just laid out my life for people, and people will either take what they want from that or totally ignore it. Whether or not you agree, you have to respect a person for their own beliefs.
You were a wildly successful closeted actor at a time when coming out was unheard of, but the climate of acceptance has significantly changed in recent years. How do you feel about gay actors who still remain closeted in 2015?
It’s their choice. God gave us free will, and hopefully we’re not idiots and can make good choices.
It’s hard to believe you’re 84. If I look half as good as you when I’m 60, I’ll be a lucky man.
That’s very nice of you to say. But I was working out in the barn yesterday with my mare and her baby, and I was so stiff when I got home, I thought, Oh, I really feel 86!
Next, October 2015.