Tab Hunter- One of the last Studio Movie Stars Enjoys a Centered Life

By George Khoury

Some movie goers might think that Tab Hunter has had a charmed and easy life. He had it all. He starred with Natalie Wood, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Sophia Loren, Debbie Reynolds and the ever glamorous Tallulah Bankhead. During the 1950s Tab was seen with beautiful ladies at every Hollywood event. He even had a hit rock and roll song. He burned up the screen and his personal appearances were the stuff only an agent could dream about. All was perfect or was it? Tab was living a lie to the public and shielded his sexuality.

“During those days I had to stay focused on my work. My real focus was tending to my horses. Working with an animal that depends on you for existence centers you as you go through any journey”, Hunter recently told us.

In 1956, Tab received 62,000 Valentines. By 1957 his hit record, “Young Love” swept the country-even with Elvis selling records.

It was his love of horses as a young man that led him to Hollywood fame “While I was at the Riding Academy I got friendly with an actor, Dick Clayton. Dick introduced me to his agent who handled Rock Hudson, Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun. I remember the day I was given my stage name. The agent said, “We’ve got to tab you something. Ok, Tab is your new first name. What do you like to do.? “When I told him I like riding horses, he said I was a hunter and jumper.”

“I was just trying to learn my craft and succeed. I was never comfortable in Hollywood except to work. Horses have been my touch of reality in an unrealistic world.”
Born in New York City to two German immigrants it was a tough life. The love Tab received came from his Mother. The Father was abusive and the Mother took her two sons to California to avoid further problems. Tragedy followed. Tab’s brother Walt, a medical corpsman, was killed in Vietnam. As a young man Tab tracked down where in New York his father was living. Tab located the apartment and knocked on the door only to be rebuffed by a woman who answered the door. She slammed the door in his face without meeting his Dad.

In recalling his leading ladies, the 81-year old Hunter said, “Debbie Reynolds was the average American girl. She was bawdy. Sophia Loren was statuesque. She had a beautiful aura and had childlike qualities. Tallulah was sad; she had a gift that she let escape.”

When asked when he felt he had made it Tab said, “I never thought I made it. For me it was the journey and the learning process.”

When I reminded Tab that he had a connection to Lee Harvey Oswald, his interest grew. He was surprised to learn that when Oswald was captured in the Dallas movie house, Tab’s film, “Battle Cry” was on the marquee.

In 1958 he starred in “Damn Yankees. From 1955 to 1959 he was Warner’s top grossing star. When things slowed down in the United States, Tab made films in Europe. He became a cult star after starring in John Water’s “Polyester” Still performing in films as well as regional theater, Tab’s biography became a New York Times Best Seller.

Surviving a quadruple by- pass, a prostate problem and a stroke Tab can’t wait for each day to dawn. “By 7:30 in the morning, I am running on the beach with my dogs and thinking about what I have to do for the day. After breakfast I am in the barn with my horse.”

It seems Tab Hunter continues to be at peace in charting his own course and surviving the pressures of Hollywood-thanks to his horse, close friends and an occasional project.

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