Book Review: Readings

Tab Hunter and Eddie Muller

Readings

Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star

by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller

Algonquin, 378 pp., $24.95

1943: As Hollywood sputtered its last wheeze of the studio system, desperately hacking up hunks of young actors to run through the movie-star mill, a strapping young Arthur Gelien was discovered at the tender age of 12, shoveling horse dung. The tousle-haired son of a Teutonic immigrant single mother had no idea where that shovelful of manure would take him – no idea that it would eventually spade him across the glossy covers of so many tattletale tabloids. Better known as Tab Hunter, Gelien, (also dubbed Fifties "Sigh Guy" and "Squeal Appeal Fella") tells almost all in this autobiography co-authored by Eddie Muller, the "Czar of Noir" and "Adults-Only" film curator.

The "almost" is important to note, as Hunter relates life as a closeted Hollywood homo while delivering dish on colorful personalities like bitchy diva Tallulah Bankhead, flirtatious Lana Turner, and the real dirt on the Duke. He was an actor besieged by controversy: He survived a potentially career-killing outing (at a gay party raid) only to be devastated by a fabricated smear campaign (in which he allegedly beat his dog). Yet in this autobiography, he manages a gracious take on the glamorous life. He issues a dignified drubbing to the Hollywood that took him to the matinee mountaintop, then kicked him in the nuts.

Hunter reserves his most scathing rapier for those most deserving, like weasely manager Henry Willson, whose eyes he describes as "a pair of piss holes in the snow." His story is also tender, as he open-heartedly takes on the father he never knew, the stern but devoted mother who gave him "protection more than affection," and his awkward struggles and close friendships with studio-imposed beards like teen idols Tuesday Weld, Natalie Wood, and Debbie Reynolds. He lets us see him "swimming in the Hollywood fishbowl" alongside lover Tony Perkins; a career resurrection thanks to John Waters' Polyester and his favorite co-star, Divine; and his current life with producer "Baby Mogul" Allan Glaser.

Ultimately, Tab Hunter Confidential is itself a wink, a nod, and a middle-finger salute to the celebrity scandal rags of his heyday. Hunter reveals how Hollywood handles black sheep in a sooty stable. Tab's true tale of celebrity survival self-references all in third person, acknowledging "Tab" as construct, while commenting on the preposterous path of pre-fab superstars. For a man whose public life was prescribed to him, and whose treasured private life was relentlessly exposed, Hunter gets the last word in releasing his memoirs: "Better to get it from the horse's mouth, I decided, and not from some horse's ass."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Kate X Messer
LBJ Library at 50: All the Cake
LBJ Library at 50: All the Cake
Getting some free cake on LBJ's birthday is a rich tradition

Aug. 26, 2021

The Gay Place: It's Aliiive!
It's Aliiive!
You can't keep a Gay Place down; just ask Sarah Marloff

Jan. 20, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Tab Hunter Confidential:The Making of a Movie Star, Eddie Muller, Algonquin

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle