He Couldn’t Fail
Christmas was just around the comer.
As usual at that festive time of year, the shipping department of Barker Bros, on Hollywood Boulevard was churning like an angry beehive.
Conspicuous among the employees, was a handsome, blond six-footer who looked like a fugitive from a college campus. His strong fingers pounced upon the endless parade of packages, and quicker than you can say, “Happy holiday,” he had them packed, labeled and on their merry way. Suddenly a name and address caught his eye.
“Holy Cow!” exclaimed Tab Hunter (he was then Art Gelien—pronounced Ga-leen). He held a package up and gazed at it rapturously.
“What is it—a time bomb?” cracked the guy on his left.
“It’s a present for Linda Darnell,” said Tab. “Brother, wouldn’t I love to deliver this myself and have a good look at her!”
Two years, four months and a million dreams later, Tab Hunter was getting about the best look at Linda Darnell that a man can get. She was in his arms, very close and very tight in his arms. Her breath was warm on his lips as his blue eyes mirrored the painful self-consciousness he felt.
“Don’t worry, honey,” she whispered. “just relax. I’m lucky for newcomers.”
He drew her to him, pressed his lips against hers. Tenderly, he eased her away again. His cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. She smiled a broad, approving smile.
“That was nice, honey,” she said soothingly. Kiss included, the screen test was just what the casting director ordered. And Linda Darnell had a new romantic leading man for “Island of Desire.” It was the first time Tab Hunter ever faced, a camera, though producers Pine and Thomas had once used the back of his head for a scene—in “The Lawless.”
“Good things are always happening to me,” twenty-one-year-old Tab earnestly reflects— so earnestly, in fact, that on first meeting him one wonders if he’s for real. He’s so fantastically forthright, he shames the most seasoned skeptic.
The “good things” that happen to Tab, he sincerely and honestly believes, are the result of good thoughts.
“These were instilled in me,” he says, “long before I was born. My mother has it right here.” (He points to his heart.) “Divorce divided the family when my older brother, Walter, and I were just babies. With no help to count on, most women would have despaired. But instead of sobbing, my mother smiled.
“Mom believed then as she believes now: Good constructive thinking brings good results. Those who are deserving will receive. To be loved, one must love. To have friends, one must give friendship. During our darkest moments—and she rarely even mentions them now—her faith remained unshaken.”
One amusing episode Tab remembers seems to show how well that faith could be counted on in a pinch. On this particular day, the cupboard was barren—if not bare. It was a long time before Tab’s mother be-came a physiotherapist (she now has a successful career), and the Geliens were still living in New York City where the boys were born. Mrs. Gelien worked here, there, anywhere to support her sons.
Tab tells the story as it was told to him. “Walter was at home in our one-room basement apartment. My mother was pulling me on a sled through the snow to the grocery store. She just knew she’d return with enough food, even though she had less than a dollar in her purse.
“A block or so along the way, Mom looked around. No baby! She was frantic as she rushed back to where I had tumbled off. But I was having a wonderful time. I laughed up at her, and waved a pretty piece of paper I had dug out of the snow. The paper was—a five dollar bill!”
Retracing the footsteps that guided Tab Hunter to good fortune is like jostling a jigsaw puzzle into place. Tab’s a little sheepish when he enumerates all the family’s moves and changes.
“We moved around so often,” he grins, “the postal authorities must have hated us. Mom always wanted us to have the best. So the second she saw a better chance, job-wise, she’d pack us off to some new place.”
W hen possible, Gertrude Gelien put the boys into day school, and they would live nearby. And when she had to leave town to work, she boarded them out. Tab’s grandfather, who was with the Matson line, was very concerned with his daughter’s struggle to support her sons. As soon as he could—the boys were two and three then—he financed a family move from New York, first to San Francisco, later to Long Beach.
“Grandfather was just great,” Tab recalls. “He paid our transportation and he made it possible for Mom to train for physiotherapy. When she became a nurse, he arranged for her to go out on ships for the Matson Line.”
Eventually, Los Angeles became home base for the Geliens. Tab attended St. John’s Military Academy and St. Paul’s Parochial School; and in the ninth grade, he registered at Mt. Vernon Junior High. There, in a musical called “The Wedding Song,” he played an eager-beaver Dutch boy in love with a giggling Dutch girl.
This would make a much better story if Tab’s urge to act had been born right then and there. But it’s just not so. Though he transferred to a part-time school for kids who work in the theatre, his reasons for making the move were athletic and not artistic. A love for horses and figure-skating on ice all but consumed his life. He wanted more time for both.
“When my brother first took me to the stables,” Tab laughs now, “I wasn’t the least bit interested. Imagine! But then I started learning to ride jumpers, and suddenly it hit me—hard! Mom used to give me a sandwich to take to school, fifteen cents for hot soup and a dime for milk. I ate the sandwich and put the soup and milk money into a fund for renting horses.
“Poor Mom! She worried about my being undernourished. And what’s worse, I wasn’t any too popular with her personally. When I’d come home, she’d have to hold her nose with one hand.”
When he wasn’t hanging around stables, Tab was hanging around ice rinks. In the course of time, he competed in State, Pacific coast and national figure-skating contests. The speed and precision of skating fascinated him, and the feeling of freedom was a soaring challenge to his imagination. Like being in another world, he describes it. Like flying through space on your own power and heading for the moon.
From November, 1946 to November, 1947, Tab was a member of the U. S. Coast Guard. He was as tali then as he is now, and he kidded the authorities into believing he was of military age—at fifteen and a half! The less said about his skulduggery, the better. He still blushes over it—and over his summary mustering out, once the ruse was discovered.
During his period in service, Tab was stationed at a training school in Connecticut. Weekend leaves found him in New York, quartered with his best friend, Dick Clayton (he’s now an agent, and—on the romantic side—a regular date of Ann Blyth’s), who was then appearing in a play on Broadway.
“Tab was always starved,” Dick sums it up. “The typical teen-age boy. There was never even a lemon left in the refrigerator when he went back to his base.
Back in Hollywood, when Tab received his discharge papers, the friends got together again. Tab took up where he left off at the stables and ice rinks, squeezing in these pleasures between various jobs—as a shipping clerk or a soda jerk, mowing lawns or helping out in a sheet metal works. But he was thinking seriously about his future. And acting suggested itself to him as a possibility.
Brief as his career has been, there have already been a dozen conflicting stories about how Tab Hunter got his break. Here’s the way he tells it himself:
“I liked acting—what little I knew about it. To be very honest, I also knew that it paid well. And I wanted to make a lot of money so things would be easier for Mom. So I began making the rounds of the studios. But nothing happened—except that back-of-the-head bit.
“In the meantime, I was studying. Then, one day, a friend took me to a rehearsal of ‘Skin of Your Teeth’ at the Coronet Theatre. I never dreamed that would be an important turning point.
“That day, I met Paul Guilfoyle, who was directing the play. Later, he became a casting director, and—wonderful guy!—he remembered me. When director Stuart Heisler wanted somebody of my type to play opposite Linda Darnell in ‘Island of Desire,’ Paul arranged for me to meet him. I went to Mr. Heisler’s house—and I was scared silly. As I left home, Mom said, ‘Don’t worry. You’re going to get the part.’ That gal and her faith!
“I walked in Mr. Heisler’s door, and Steffini Nordli, who wrote the story, took one look at me and said, ‘This is the boy I want.’ Just like that!
“So they tested me. And after I got the part, they changed my name to Tab Hunter cause nobody could ‘tab’ me as anything else. I don’t like it much myself, but people who are wise in this business keep reminding me that a name is only as important as its owner makes it. And I certainly can’t complain about how things have been going since people started to call me Tab.”
One of the most heartwarming things that has happened to him under his new name was a gift from the readers of Photoplay—top place in the “Choose Your Star” contest. You took one look at him in “Island of Desire” and decided, in vast numbers that he was a sure bet for stardom. U-I thinks so, too. They have cast him in “Johnny Ringo”—his second film.
His first movie was filled with rewards— before, after and during the shooting. He still looks back wide-eyed on one wonderful day while it was being made.
“I had my twentieth birthday while we were in Jamacia working on the picture. And Linda Darnell gave me a party. Yes, I got another kiss. And this time I was on my own—with no cameras turning.”
The company worked in Jamaica for twelve weeks, and then spent seven more in England, finishing the picture. Pinching himself black and blue in disbelief, Tab saw Paris—and vice-versa. He sailed for home from the south of France, and another one of those “good things” happened aboard ship. There was the usual pool among the passengers to guess the exact time they’d spot Ambrose Light.
“I hit it right on the nose,” Tab exclaims. “The ninety bucks I won paid for my New York theatre tickets and left enough for another present for Mom. I bought her a sensational hat, one she’d never pick out for herself. She looked more glamorous than Marlene Dietrich!”
Dreams have a way with Tab—and with all his heart, he believes his will come true.
“Mom has worked so hard all her life,” he says with feeling. “I’d like to take her out of hospitals forever. But I know she could never be idle, so I hope to buy her a little apartment house that she can live in and manage.”
Currently, Tab and his mother share an apartment in Beverly Hills. It has one bedroom, and a pull-down bed, not quite long enough for Tab’s long legs. Brother Walter is married now, and in the Navy.
Unlike the many mothers who resent losing their hold on devoted sons, Gertrude Gelien urges Tab to “watch for the right girl and settle down.”
The right girl?
“Does it sound corny to say she’ll have to have beauty from within?” Tab asks anxiously. “Of course, I hope she loves sports,” and then Tab colors a little, “and she’ll have to be cuddly.”
That’s all in the future, though. For the time being, Tab is turning all his tenderest emotions in another direction. Not long ago, he fell in love with a horse.
“I’d never owned a horse.” (He says it as if everyone else does.) “And when I saw Out on Bail, I just had to have him. And the price was sensational—irresistible. So I didn’t say anything to any one. I just bought him.”
There are some die hards, no doubt, who’d say that at this stage of the acting game, Tab can’t afford to be thinking about either a horse or a wife. But now that he’s managing to support the one, he’s sure things will work out just as happily when the time comes to budget for the other.
And with Tab Hunter’s luck—or is it courage?—or is it faith?—there’s no doubt that he’ll get what he wants, just exactly when he wants it.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1953