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“It really isn’t important,” Tab Hunter said of the fact that he’s gay — which he acknowledges in the new Oscar long-listed documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, which was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and produced by Hunter’s partner of 30-plus years, Allan Glaser — when I moderated a tribute to him on Monday night at the Savannah Film Festival, which is hosted by SCAD. “It’s a thread in the tapestry of my life. It’s not my life.”
The 84-year-old, who was among the last movie stars signed to a specific studio during Hollywood’s Golden Age — in his case, Warner Bros. — reflected on a life and career of ups and downs not only in the doc, but also on the stage of Savannah’s historic Lucas Theatre, where he was joined by Glaser and greeted with a standing ovation. (You can watch video of the entire ceremony at the top of this post.)
“I had heard somebody was going to be writing an unauthorized biography of Tab about 10 years ago,” recalled Glaser, “and he’s so private he’d be devastated if somebody just took a bunch of those Confidential magazine stories and sort of put them together and made a book out of it. I said, ‘You really have to think about doing your own autobiography.’ And he said, ‘Who would want to read a book about me?’ ” Fortunately, Hunter took Glaser’s advice and, despite his doubts, wrote it anyway, because the book became a New York Times bestseller and inspired the documentary. “I thought, ‘Get it from the horse’s mouth rather than some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone,'” Hunter said, to laughter.
“It was very difficult to do it because I’m a very private person,” Hunter confessed. Indeed, even after the book was published in 2005 and the film premiered at SXSW in March, he has demonstrated a reluctance to directly address their biggest revelation. He recounted, with delight, how Glaser recently explained the situation: “Someone asked Allan about how he got me to do the documentary, let alone the book, and Allan said, ‘Tab came out of the closet to do the documentary, then he turned right around, walked back in and shut the door.’ “
That’s fine with Glaser, who feels the doc is about much more than Hunter’s sexuality anyway. He mentioned that people who attended previous screenings of the film had told him how struck they were by Hunter’s discussion of his mother’s mental illness and his own religious faith. “There are all kinds of messages that people have been able to pick up and take away with them,” Glaser emphasized.
Hunter, for this part, mentioned how much it meant to him when, following a screening of the doc in Connecticut earlier this month, Mother Dolores Hart — the Elvis-kissing actress-turned-nun — took the mic to offer her reaction: “She came down the aisle — not flying, like a nun, but walking on down — and she said something really interesting. She said, ‘I have to tell you all: Hetero? Homo? It’s all about love.’ “
That’s a message that apparently hasn’t gotten through yet to Hollywood, Glaser lamented. “There is still no gay leading man in Hollywood that’s a romantic lead. Yeah, you can be the best friend, you can be a comedian, you can be a leading romantic gay man on television. But nobody of Tab’s [level of] stardom today — still — is out.”
Hunter, however, made it abundantly clear that he is focused on living his life rather than fighting for gay rights in Hollywood or anywhere else — just, he suspects, like his fellow closeted actors Rock Hudson and Anthony Perkins would be if they had lived into this very different era. “I’m tired of the negativity,” he sighed.
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