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Friday 24 May 2019

1950s movie heartthrob Tab Hunter dies aged 86

The star appeared in a number of hit movies and even topped the pop charts in his 1950s heyday.

Tab Hunter. Hunter, the blond actor and singer popular in the 1950s has died aged 86 (AP)
Tab Hunter. Hunter, the blond actor and singer popular in the 1950s has died aged 86 (AP)

By Shawn Marsh

Tab Hunter, the blond actor and singer who was a heartthrob for millions of teenage girls in the 1950s with such films as Battle Cry and Damn Yankees! before receiving new attention decades later when he revealed that he was gay, has died aged 86.

Producer and longtime partner Allan Glaser said Hunter died of a blood clot in his leg that caused cardiac arrest.

Glaser called the death was “sudden and unexpected”.

Hunter was a star for several years, topping the Billboard pop charts in 1957 with his recording of Young Love, in addition to his hit movies.

Tab Hunter, with actress Tuesday Weld (AP)

But in his 2005 memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making Of A Movie Star, Hunter recounted the stresses of being adored by millions of young women when he was actually gay.

He wrote: “I believed, wholeheartedly – still do – that a person’s happiness depends on being true to themselves.

“The dilemma, of course, that was being true to myself – and I’m talking sexually now – was impossible in 1953.”

Born Arthur Andrew Kelm, his screen tab (slang for “name” at the time) was fabricated by Henry Willson, the same talent agent who came up with the names Rock Hudson and Rory Calhoun.

The legend goes that Willson said to the young man: “We’ve got to find something to tab you with. Do you have any hobbies?”

His client answered: “I ride horses. Hunters.”

“That’s it!” his agent replied. “We’ll call you Tab Hunter.”

Hunter, pictured in 2005 (AP)

With no dramatic training, Hunter was cast in a minor role in the 1950 drama, The Lawless. The fuss over the young actor began two years later when he appeared bare-chested opposite Linda Darnell in the British-made Island of Desire.

Soon his handsome face and muscular build appeared on magazine covers. Warner Bros, alert to the increasingly important youth market, signed him to a contract.

Hunter made a flurry of movies in the latter half of the 1950s, aimed at capitalising on his popularity with young girls.

The films included such war dramas as Battle Cry (with Van Heflin) and Lafayette Escadrille (featuring Clint Eastwood in a small role).

He made the Westerns The Burning Hills (with Natalie Wood) and They Came To Cordura (alongside Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth). He also made romantic comedies like The Pleasure of His Company, with Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds.

A highlight was the 1958 film Damn Yankees!, an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.

After his career declined somewhat from the 1960s onwards, Hunter won new fans in the 1980s by appearing in cult movies alongside Divine, the 300-pound transvestite, in John Waters’ 1981 film Polyester and Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust (1985), co-produced by Hunter himself.

Of Polyester, Hunter wrote: “Everybody got the joke. … For both John and me, our collaboration paid huge dividends: I’d helped ‘legitimise’ his brand of movie, and he made me ‘hip’ overnight.”

In his memoir, he said that his career flourished despite some innuendo and smear articles in the scandal sheets – “clear evidence that despite its self-righteous claims, Confidential magazine did not influence the taste and opinions of mainstream America”.

Press Association

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