Hunter was born in New York City to Gertrude Gelien and Charles Kelm. Hunter’s dad was abusive to his mother. His parents eventually divorced with his mother taking her two sons (Hunter had an older brother named Walter) and moving to California. Even as a teenager, Hunter’s good looks got noticed. He got so much attention from the opposite sex in school that he joined the Coast Guard at 15, lying about his age, to escape. He was eventually discharged from the Coast Guard when his real age was revealed. Now a California boy, Hunter was signed by agent Henry Wilson in the early 1950s and eventually landed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. Wilson was also the agent of Hollywood heartthrobs Guy Madison, Rock Hudson, and Rory Calhoun. Hunter appeared in several forgettable films, but caught the public’s attention as a Marine having an affair with a married woman in the World War II drama Battle Cry (1955), one of the biggest films of that year. He was quickly given male lead status in films like The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind (both 1956 and both costarring Natalie Wood). During this time, Hunter was appearing on television, performing in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates (1958) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1959). It’s hard for us to imagine today how popular Hunter was. Not only was he a movie star, but he was a recording artist who sold millions of records. The publicity machine said Hunter was “6" of rugged manhood who stirred the heart of every woman” and he was called “The Sigh Guy” which was based on the reaction of his female fans upon seeing him.
Like many Hollywood idols, Hunter had a secret. He was a homosexual (he recounts that the term gay was never used in his day). Hunter says his homosexuality was the worst kept secret in Hollywood, but the studio publicity machine at Warners kept the rumors at bay by pairing him on dates with young female stars like Debbie Reynolds and Wood. Hunter details his relationships with actor Tony Perkins and champion figure skater Ronnie Roberston (Hunter himself was a competitive figure skater in his teens), as well as with Etchika Choureau, his French costar in Lafayette Escadrille (1958).
In the late 1960s, Hunter worked steadily in dinner theater. In the 1970s, Hunter guest starred on television appearing in shows like The Love Boat, Police Woman, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie’s Angels. His career took a wild turn when John Waters cast him as Todd Tomorrow in Polyester (1981) opposite transvestite drag queen Divine. The attention was short-lived; no major movie roles followed.
Hunter’s last film role was in Dark Horse (1992), based on his original story about Allison Mills, a girl crippled in an accident with her favorite horse, Jet, also crippled. Allison learns to rise above her disability with the help of Jet who eventually runs again.
The above could be Hunter’s story. Introduced to horses and horseback riding by his older brother, Hunter was most at home caring for and riding horses in competition. He’s now retired and living with his long-time partner, film producer Allan Glaser, in Santa Barbara, California. According to Glaser, Hunter’s main joy in life is taking care of his horse Harlow, grooming her and cleaning her stall every day.
Tab Hunter Confidential is available from Amazon.com in DVD and Blu-ray formats.
Run Time 90 minutes
DVD Released August 23, 2016