Tab Hunter
Tab Hunter

R.I.P. Tab Hunter, One of Our Favorite Sex Symbols From the Golden Age of Hollywood

This post is also available in: Français

Actor Tab Hunter died three days before his 87th birthday. He was a gay icon, both for his own long-closeted homosexuality and roles like starring opposite Divine in John Waters‘s Polyester.

Tab Hunter was born Arthur Gelien in 1931. He was one of the biggest stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood, but he long had to hide his homosexuality. This was sadly common at the time — Rock Hudson was another heart-throb who spent the majority of his life in the closet.

Hunter didn’t come out until 2005, in his book titled Tab Hunter Confidential; the book was adapted last year by Zachary Quinto. In the book and documentary, Tab Hunter confessed his romances with pretty actresses were all due to the studio controlling his image.

Debbie Reynolds, one of Hunter’s “girlfriends,” explained that whenever she went out with him, there was always a photographer. She said, “I was naive, I couldn’t imagine he was gay.” Hunter himself confided, “I had the capacity to live behind a wall.”

Hollywood was very homophobic during the heyday of his career. In fact, a scandal almost ended his career in 1955. That year, the infamous gossip magazine Confidential ran an article about Tab Hunter’s 1950 arrest for “Disorderly Conduct.” The story was leaked by Harry Wilson, Hunter’s own agent, in order to protect Wilson’s main client, Rock Hudson, from being outed by the tabloid.

Luckily, the scandal was soon forgotten, and his career continued. He played opposite Natalie Wood in several films. He also starred as a baseball player in the musical Damn Yankees.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Hunter’s career was on the decline. No longer in A-films, he started appearing on TV shows and in B-movies — including San Francisco Interational, which went on to be riffed on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

But his career got a huge boost after John Waters cast him as Divine’s husband in 1980’s Polyester. Thanks to the camp comedy, Tab Hunter underwent a resurgence, and he became a cult star, appearing, again with Divine, in 1985’s Lust in the Dust.

Tab Hunter lived with his longtime companion, Allan Glaser, whom he met in the 1980s.

As the news broke, there was an outpouring of love on Twitter. Our favorite tribute was from Daniel Franzese:

The tributes are numerous. Let’s mention that of the openly gay actor Daniel Franzese:

Well said.

What was your favorite Tab Hunter role?