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    Tab Hunter on His Private Life, His Mentor, and Preferring Horses to Hollywood

    Gary

    By Gary M. Kramer

    An affectionate hagiography, Tab Hunter Confidential chronicles the life and career of the “6 feet of rugged manhood” that is Tab Hunter. Director Jeffrey Schwarz shows, through nimbly edited photos and interviews, how this dreamy All-American Boy became a screen and recording sensation. Yet Hunter had to keep his relationships with figure skater Ronnie Robertson and actor Anthony Perkins on the q.t. This documentary, opening November 6, shows Hunter to be extremely likeable in his interviews, and the film’s nostalgia factor compensates for some of the more superficial moments

    In a recent phone interview, the actor spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making Tab Hunter Confidential.

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    Gary M. Kramer: What prompted you to share your story, first in the memoir, now in this film?

    Tab Hunter: I heard someone was going to do a book on me, and Allan [Glaser] said, “Why don’t you write a book?” So I did. I wanted fans to get my life story from the horse’s mouth, not the horse’s ass.

    Gary M. Kramer: You were shy as a kid. How did you handle the sudden burst of attention? You were charming and bashful singing on Perry Como’s show.

    Tab Hunter: When the record came out, they wanted me to sing live. I was a nervous wreck. I’d only sung in the church choir, or in the shower. The more I did it, the more relaxed I became. Getting into the work and divorcing myself from myself was how I learned my craft.

    Gary M. Kramer: You also managed a remarkable film career. How did you stay focused?

    Tab Hunter: When you were under contract, you had a publicity department that built you as an actor. That was all the hoopla. The important thing was to work and grow. Dick Clayton was a great agent, and kept saying I should put head to grindstone, and learn. People are going to be negative. They were mean when I first started out because I couldn’t read my name off a piece of paper. Geraldine Page told me, “If people don’t like you, that’s not your problem— that’s their problem.” As long as you are going down the road, do it the best you can. You only go down the road once. Hopefully you can make it a good journey.

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    Gary M. Kramer: You were photographed relentlessly. Did you tire of that?

    Tab Hunter: That’s your job. If you don’t do what the studio asks you to do, they will get rid of you and get someone else. I don’t think you can live on the so-called importance of that. The important thing is the work. It’s distracting [the attention], and you have to fight to keep your head above water.

    Gary M. Kramer: You found your bliss off screen with horses. You seem to like them more than people!

    Tab Hunter: Yes, horses were stabilizing for me when I was in Hollywood. I was more comfortable with a pitchfork full of manure than with all the hoopla in Hollywood. My best friends were my horse friends. I associated with a few Hollywood people—Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, James Dean—but we all had our

    own lives, which was important to us. There was a movie façade, though; you played the game. When I had problems, I went to Dick Clayton because he had sound advice and sound thinking. He discovered me as a stable boy at 13.

    Gary M. Kramer: Even though you are openly gay, you really don’t talk about your personal life much, even in the film…

    Tab Hunter: I never discussed my private life. It was no body’s business. I grew up in an era where people didn’t discuss it. People don’t understand that. I’m an old man now, and this is my journey. It’s all about growing mentally, physically, and spiritually.

    Gary M. Kramer: You bought out your contract at Warner Brothers, which was a form of career suicide. Can you discuss your decision to do this?

    Tab Hunter: No one knows you better than yourself. The business was changing and there were very few projects at Warner Brothers. Everything runs its course. It was not so much looking for a different career, but survival—

    where your next job is. John Waters’ Polyester was a wonderful shot in my arm.

    Gary M. Kramer: It was impossible for actors to be openly gay back during the studio system era. Do you think actors in Hollywood today should come out?

    Tab Hunter: I think actors should do what they feel they have to do. It’s your business. Everyone wants to know everyone’s business. The sad thing is, you can’t be a leading man if you are out. It’s unfortunate. I can’t conceive of being in the industry today. It was such a different business, back in the studio system days. There was an aura, a mystery, about people in the movie business.

    © 2015 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer