Now 85 years old, Tab Hunter is living the life he's always dreamed of. He and Allan Glaser, his partner of 33 years, share a home in Central California where Hunter – a top box office star of the 1950s – raises horses.
Hunter was the top billed star of many hit films. He also enjoyed a successful recording career--millions swooned at the mere mention of his name. In the 1980s he staged an unlikely comeback after co-starring with legendary drag queen Divine in John Waters' "Polyester." Many people assume that "Polyester" served as Hunter's official coming out, but Hunter continued, for many more years, to keep his private life private.
Hunter, born Arthur Gelien in 1931, was a man with a secret. At a time when coming out would have meant career suicide, Hunter lived deep in the closet. It wasn't until the publication of his 2005 autobiography "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star," that Hunter publicly came out as a gay man.
Even today, as an out gay man, Hunter chooses his words carefully. In the acclaimed documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential," newly out on DVD, Hunter recalls the film industry he remembers. It was a Hollywood, which forced him to go out on a fake "date" with fellow movie star Natalie Wood. Wags at the time coined the phrase "Natalie Would but Tab Wouldn't."
Hunter also speaks eloquently about some of his most painful memories: an estranged father who refused to speak to him, his mom's battle with mental illness, and the death of his brother in Vietnam.
"That was tough," Hunter said, speaking to SFGN by telephone. He was referring not only to his decision to have his beloved mom committed, but also to going public about it. He explained his reasons for revealing something so deeply personal.
"Compassion and understanding are important," he said. "People are very quick to criticize what they don't know."
He said he has no regrets about his film career, or about his decision to walk away from it. "I loved the Hollywood hoopla," he said. "But sometimes you have to pull back. It's like you can't have too much chocolate cake."
When he was in Hollywood, the pressure to conform – to date women and to present a "wholesome" image, was enormous. As "Tab Hunter Confidential" illustrates, Hunter was the subject of many tabloid rumors and innuendos. Undaunted, Hunter pursued his craft, which he took quite seriously. He studied with Jeff Corey, a top acting teacher of the era whose students included many of the period's biggest stars.
"It was so wonderful to study with such top people," he said, adding that he had no interest in making a late in life comeback. "What's the point?" he asks. "I've done that. I have two lovely horses that I love to take care of and take to shows."
We wondered if Hunter had any thoughts on the changes in society he's lived to see, such as the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. "I've never confronted anything like that," he replied. "Things are so 'in your face' these days, which is not my comfort zone. If someone wants to get married, that's their choice. Make the best choice you can and keep it simple."
Now back in the spotlight as "Tab Hunter Confidential" garners acclaim on the film festival circuit and begins to sell via digital media, Hunter has no regrets about going public with his very personal tale.
"I'm thankful it's been well received," he said of the film. "I've gotten letters from all over the world – it's very touching. I'm thankful but I'm keeping it simple. I spent this morning with my yearling – that's where I'm the happiest."
"Tab Hunter Confidential" is now available on DVD. Hunter's book remains available at Amazon.