by Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)
1950s post-war America was a shiny-happy time, a period in our country's history when "love and marriage" ruled our collective dreams. There had yet to exist a counterculture, a safe haven for the alternative. And Tab Hunter may as well have been the official poster boy for that era.
With his golden locks, enviable jawline and swimsuit-ready physique, he was the ultimate Abercrombie model well before there ever was an A&F. Raised by a single German mother, the fresh-faced 19-year-old Arthur Gelien (his birth name) arrived in Hollywood at a time when America's youth (the adolescent Baby Boomers) was thirsty for a clean-cut heartthrob to chase. And that's what they did to the newly monikered -- and very closeted -- Tab Hunter for nearly a decade.
Tab Hunter Confidential is the big-screen docu-adaptation of Eddie Muller's 2005 book of the same name, and it chronicles the actor's ascent to stardom and gradual descent into a quietly accepted near-anonymity. There's a lot to cover, and director Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine, Vito) does his best to squeeze in every detail, movie clip, soundbite, and photograph to paint a fascinating portrait of the hardworking artist as fearful young man who did whatever it took to pursue his often conflicting passions: acting in front of a camera and expressing his love for other men behind closed doors. Much like the decade that ushered him in, Confidential is a shiny-happy exercise in nostalgia that doesn't get too caught up in any nitty-gritty. That said, the book may be your best bet for more dirt and inside access.
Peppered with interviews from Clint Eastwood, Portia de Rossi, Connie Stevens, Debbie Reynolds, Don Murray, and plenty of Tab's former on-screen love interests, the documentary not only offers a peek into the double-sided life of one man, it provides a look at the evolution of Hollywood. While some things haven't changed (the strategic manipulation of actors, money-hungry studios, etc.), some have arguably changed for the better (more transparency and openness) or worse (little-to-zero privacy).
Hunter himself comes off as surprisingly conservative, most likely due to his Catholic upbringing which is delicately showcased as the film transitions into his later years. (Look out for some cheeky fun courtesy of the Master of Camp, John Waters.) The actor who never liked talking about his private life has now eased into a confidence that has allowed him to share his true self with the world. And while it would be unfair for younger audiences not familiar with his name to write him off as an old man speaking his mind, there remains somewhat of a filter through which the actor discusses his colorful "past life." (He's currently enjoying nearly 30 years with his partner Allan Glaser, a producer on the film.) There's no "get off my lawn" type of resentment whatsoever.
On the contrary, he's an approachable, historic figure you'd want to chat with over a cup of coffee...or a glass of whiskey. But there's still a sliver of restraint there, perhaps the residuals of a bygone era and business that once valued discretion and celebrated mystique.
Tab Hunter Confidential will be theatrically released and distributed this October.