7:45pm PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Remembering Tab Hunter
"In life we have to be contributors," Tab Hunter, the legendary star of Hollywood's Golden Age, said when we sat down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter in March 2015 to record an interview. "It's very, very important. And I look up there and I think I've contributed." Indeed, he did. Hunter, who died July 8, just three days shy of his 87th birthday, is being remembered not only for the work that he did during the waning days of the studio system — he, James Dean and Natalie Wood were the last three actors put under contract by Warner Bros., and he was Warner's top star from 1955 through 1959, anchoring hits like 1955's Battle Cry and 1958's Damn Yankees! — but for what he had to endure in order to achieve that. Hunter, unbeknown to the public, which saw him paired on and off screen with female movie stars, was actually a gay man who was unable to be open about his sexuality and was constantly under the threat of having his career destroyed because of it. In later years, and in interviews like this one, he was finally able to acknowledge and embrace it.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 28:30], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Andy Lewis, THR's books editor, about the best Hollywood-related books of 2018 so far.
Click here to access all of our past episodes, including conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Lorne Michaels, Gal Gadot, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Jerry Seinfeld, Barbra Streisand, Aaron Sorkin, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, Natalie Portman, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Alicia Vikander, Justin Timberlake, Reese Witherspoon, Tyler Perry, Judi Dench, Tom Hanks, Mandy Moore, Michael B. Jordan, Emilia Clarke, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Fonda, Bill Maher, Claire Foy, Michael Moore, Amy Schumer, RuPaul, Jennifer Lopez, Robert De Niro, Margot Robbie, Ryan Murphy, Emma Stone, Ricky Gervais, Kris Jenner, James Corden, Sally Field, J.J. Abrams, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Lena Waithe, Jake Gyllenhaal, Elisabeth Moss & Bill Maher.
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Hunter, at the height of his stardom, could seemingly do no wrong. Thanks to his serviceable acting chops, breathtakingly good looks and all-American persona, he was box-office gold. He appeared on the cover of every major fan magazine, referenced in some as “The Sigh Guy” because of the effect he had on much of the moviegoing public. And though he wasn't even a singer, when he recorded a song, “Young Love,” in 1957, it knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the Billboard charts and remained there for six weeks, going gold and prompting Jack Warner to form Warner Bros. Records.
But, even as Hunter quietly double-dated women with the likes of Anthony Perkins (only to go home with Perkins at the end of the night), he also lived in constant fear of being outed and, as a result, having his career ruined — something that very nearly happened on at least one occasion. By the late '50s, frustration with being under the thumb of Warners and a belief that he would find better parts as a freelancer led him to buy out his contract. But he soon found himself out of work, and largely faded from the public eye.
In the '80s, Hunter experienced a strange career revival of sorts when the eccentric indie filmmaker John Waters cast him in a couple of projects opposite the transvestite performer Divine, and the films became cult classics. But mostly, he lived out the rest of his life quietly and happily, spending the last 35 years of it with his beloved personal and professional partner, the producer Allan Glaser, and his horses in Montecito. "I have a wonderful life," he said during this interview. "I don't care about being in the public eye. I've been there, done that, thank you very much." He added, "I'm very grateful for this road that I've been on — it's been a good one."