Tab Hunter "Had Every Right to Become Bitter and Resentful and Didn't," Recalls Pal Robert Wagner

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Tab Hunter

The 'Damn Yankees!' star and gay icon, who died July  8 at 86, is remembered by his friend and fellow studio player: "He was a big star — the top one in Hollywood, for a while — but he was also a very special human being."

I took a friend to the airport early this morning, and when I came home, my wife, Jill [St. John, the actress], was in tears. She told me about Tab, who was a wonderful friend of mine for so many years.

Tab and I both started out in the early ’50s during the last days of the studio system, and we more or less grew up together. Everyone — colleagues and fans alike — loved Tab not only because he was so handsome and talented, but because he had a kind of purity about him back then that he managed to retain for the rest of his life. He was a big star — the top one in Hollywood, for a while — but he was also a very special human being, a genuinely kind and loving person.

I guess that, even years ago, we all knew that Tab was gay, but it wasn’t something that we talked about. All that mattered was that he was our friend. Natalie [Wood, the actress to whom Wagner was previously married] also adored him. They made a couple of pictures that were very successful — The Burning Hills and The Girl He Left Behind — and they hung out together quite a lot. In those days, they had the fan magazines and all of that, so people always reported that they were a couple. The truth is they were the best of friends.

I imagine that was a very difficult time for young men who were gay, and it certainly couldn’t have been easy for Tab. After all that he had to deal with, he had every right to become a bitter and resentful guy, and yet he didn’t — he was one of the most sunny and positive people I ever knew.

When I think of Tab, I’ll think of him in movies like Damn Yankees!; him and his wonderful partner, Allan Glaser, with whom he had a marvelous personal and professional relationship spanning decades; him and his beloved horses, which he rode until the very end; and how kind he was to me, Natalie, Jill and our daughters [whom he and Allan put in one of their films] and just about everyone he met.

I had the greatest respect and affection for him — he was a first-rate, wonderful person — and I’ll miss him and his smile terribly.

This story also appears in the July 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.