That’s Sex! Girls—Tab Hunter
“I only saw her once,” Tab Hunter was saying. “It was four years ago, and I came to the rink early in the morning and sat down to lace on my skates. When I looked up, she was on the ice. Flashing. That’s the only word for it. I don’t think she was very pretty, but she had more sex appeal than any woman I’d ever seen before. It was the way she cut the ice. It was the strength of her body as she skated, the classical grace of her legs as she whirled. It was a feeling of happiness she almost radiated. It was as though she felt there was nothing finer than skating at seven o’clock in the morning on a cold day.”
Tab stopped for a moment. “Maybe I’m not expressing it very well, but what I mean is that the dictionary’s right.”
A few minutes earlier, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which is a handy, if ponderous, conversation starter, had provided the start of the conversation. On page nine hundred and twelve, in the left hand column, can be found:
“sex appeal. Quality, esp. personal charm, which serves to draw together individuals of opposite sexes.”
“What I mean,” Tab said again, “is that sex appeal isn’t necessarily something exaggerated. It isn’t necessarily a sly word. The dictionary doesn’t say anything about half-closed eyes or wet lips or overly tight low-cut dresses. Those are artificial things. Like grease paint, they’re things that you put on. You can’t put ‘personal charm’ on with a paint brush. It comes from within. And so does real sex appeal.
He sat silently for a few minutes, trying to group his words.
“There’s Mary Lou Valpey,” he said. “She was the first girl I ever really liked. I was in the seventh grade when she transferred to my school. She had scrawny red hair and braces on her teeth, was skinny as a rail and wore glasses. The first week in school, she was classified as a drip.
“The second week, the cafeteria was crowded, and I had to sit next to her at lunch one day. We started talking. And once Mary Lou started talking, you didn’t seem to notice what she looked like. She seemed to understand the things you told her and to somehow consider them very important. Before the end of the week, I had taken her horseback riding and invited her to the movies.
“Of course,” he grinned, “the Hollywood ending would be that I had to fight all the other boys in the class to take her to those movies. I didn’t. Half the boys never looked beyond the braces. But I sure had to fight the other half. There is a Hollywood ending to the story though. In three months, the braces came off, the doctor found she didn’t need glasses permanently and her figure suddenly filled out. By that time, I don’t think that more than four or five boys in the class knew that she hadn’t been beautiful all along.”
Tab twisted a little in his chair, made himself more comfortable.
“Of course there are some men,” he said, “who think sex appeal is wearing a dress two sizes too tight or having blond hair and blue eyes. And there are some men who don’t think any girl is sexy unless every part of her is perfect.” He grinned again. “I’d be crazy if I said I didn’t like to look at a pretty face and a good figure. I do. But to me, at least, beauty from within is more important.
“Let me tell you about Lori Nelson,” he said. “Lori is very beautiful. I had seen her at the studio, and I had admired her beauty. But I had never asked her for a date. She was so shy and quiet when I spoke to her that I was afraid we’d have nothing to talk about. I asked Pat Crowley for a date instead. Pat isn’t beautiful, but from the moment you meet her, she sparkles like one of those wands they use on the fourth of July.”
Then Photoplay asked Tab to take Lori to the “Choose Your Stars” ‘party. And the trip to the party was just as miserably quiet as Tab had expected. Neither of them could think of anything to say.
“Nice night,” Tab tried.
“It is,” Lori said sweetly.
“Nice night to get an award,” Tab tried again. “Congratulations, Lori.”
“Same to you, Tab.” (They had both won awards in the contest.)
After the party was over, Tab offered to take Lori to a night club. It was a gesture he couldn’t afford, and Lori knew it.
She held up the awards. “I don’t think we’d better pawn these so soon,” she said, still shyly.
They ended at a hamburger joint, and when her hamburger arrived, Lori looked at it curiously. “Tab,” she said, “tell me why hamburgers always taste so much better in hamburger joints anyway.” Tab couldn’t answer, but they spent a good time debating it, and by the time they arrived at Lori’s house, Tab had already asked for another date.
“By the end of the evening,” Tab continued, “I discovered that Lori had a wonderful charm, a rare sense of humor. It was Lori’s sense of humor that made me ask her for another date. It was that sense of humor that constituted Lori’s sex appeal for me—not her beauty.
“Sex appeal, like beauty, I think, is in the eye of the beholder. And like beauty, it cam be almost intangible. The skater I saw that morning at the rink. With her it was harmony and grace and the sheer joy of skating. With Alice Green, it was something even more intangible. You’ve never heard of Alice Green. She used to be a nurse with the Ice Capades. Then she moved to Frankfurt, Germany. She wears thick glasses and she isn’t beautiful, but when I knew I was going to be in Frankfurt last year for ten minutes between planes, I wrote and asked her if she would come to the airport. She came.
“ ‘Hi, Tab,’ she said.
“And it was as though we had seen each other eighteen days before instead of eighteen months. Within five minutes, we were laughing together, and there were no months between. And that’s where the intangible comes in. When Alice laughs, her face lights up, and she is beautiful.”
Tab thought for another moment. “A skater skating perfectly; a scrawny girl who knew how to talk and listen; a sense of humor and laughter. Four funny things to group together. And yet they were the things that attracted me. These are the things that symbolize sex appeal.”
Tab moved again, as though to get comfortable on the hard chair would be impossible.
“One hot day at the beginning of the summer,” he said, “the set was so hot that I thought the lights would melt away.
“Then the door opened, and Gloria Gordon walked in. It was as though the temperature had dropped twenty degrees. She was wearing an off-the-shoulder summer dress with a full skirt and carrying a parasol to match. She looked as though she and the dress had just stepped out of a shop window—an air-conditioned shop window—cool, neat. She’s the only woman I know who possesses that particular sexy quality.” He thought for a moment.
“Dorothy Malone has the sexiest eyes,” he said. “They seem to show everything she’s thinking. And they can change expression in a fraction of an instant. They can be smoldering, and then you’ll look away. And when you look back, they’ll be teasing you or laughing at you.”
He stopped for breath, drank a little water and seemed disturbed. “You know it doesn’t seem quite fair,” he said. “The girls don’t get a chance to talk about me. And I’ve got faults—plenty of them.
“Debbie Reynolds,” he said, “is not a real beauty, not like Lori or Arlene Dahl.” Tab rates Arlene for being both brainy and beautiful and feminine. “But as far as I’m concerned Debbie’s got more sex appeal than half the glamorous women in Hollywood put together.” He pointed to the dictionary. “Every word of this fits Debbie,” he said. “Her personality—there’s only one word for it. It shines. I’ve tried to analyze it.” He grinned again.
“I’m afraid I haven’t done a good job,” he said. “But I think it’s a devilish quality. As though there’s still a little bit of the tomboy left in her—enough to keep her honest and sincere and unaffected. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I met Debbie . . .”
Tab and his date were double-dating with one of Tab’s best friends and Debbie. They were all dressed pretty casually—even though they were going to a premiere. And when they got to the theatre and saw the well-jeweled and well-minked ladies and the well-tuxedoed gentlemen, hey all felt a little strange. Debbie got out of the car first. Flinging her cloth coat over her shoulders, she turned to her date and said.
“Dahling, you should have told me it was a dress affair. My cat’s got to die sometime.”
After that remark, they filed proudly into the theatre between the ranks of tuxedos and fur coats.
“Debbie is never at a loss for words,” Tab said. “No matter where she is or whom she is with, she’s always right for the occasion. She makes the man she is with feel important, but she doesn’t do it by pretending that everything he does is right. She’ll argue with you if she thinks you’re wrong. But beneath the wisecracks and the arguing is a wonderful warmth.
“I’ve gone over to Debbie’s house feeling so blue that I’m hardly sure whether the sky has fallen on me or not. Debbie would take one look, and then somehow it would seem as though she was just waiting for me to tell her what the trouble was.
“Okay, Tab,” she would say. “Let’s have it.” And there wouldn’t be any wisecracks. It would be almost as though she was sharing my troubles, not just listening.
“She can share your happiness, too. When we went to the Cocoanut Grove for Jane Powell’s opening, Debbie was so happy for Jane that she started crying.
“ ‘Don’t look at me,’ she sobbed. ‘I’m a mess.’
“But she wasn’t a mess. Even when she was sitting there with tears running down her cheeks, applauding as though she wanted to bring the roof down by herself. Even then, she wasn’t a mess.
“ ‘Debbie, you’re wonderful,’ I said.
“That stopped the tears at least. She reached for my handkerchief. Thanks for the . . . the compliment. I guess I’d better dry off .. .. She touched her face ‘. . . before I drown in it.’ ”
He stood up a minute and then sat down again and turned his thought in another direction. “Personality. That’s more the key to sex appeal than most of the external features. And it’s the key to Marilyn Erskine’s appeal, just like it is to Debbie’s. Marilyn’s appeal is a mature understanding. She knows how to handle a man. She can tell you things—like how lousy you were in the last scene—and you don’t get angry at her.
“I had only met Marilyn once when I learned that I was to co-star with her in a play. And the first time I walked onto the rehearsal stage I admit I was scared. I had never been on the stage, and it seemed to me that everyone else in the cast was seasoned by years of experience. They weren’t, of course, but that was the way I felt. And the first day on-stage, I was blinded by the footlights. I stumbled through my part.
“Marilyn stayed on-stage after that first rehearsal. ‘You know, Tab,’ she said, ‘you’re going to be good in this play. You’ll have to work at it, but you’re going to be good.’
“I did work. And so did Marilyn. If there was an afternoon rehearsal, we’d sometimes go over to her place, have coffee and a sandwich and work half the night. If there was a night rehearsal, we’d work most of the afternoon. We’d argue over the characters and the interpretations.
“ ‘That’s the wrong emotion, Tab,’ she would say. ‘For this scene. That comes next. After he finds out.’
“Marilyn gave me the confidence she had, the confidence that I needed. She did it by helping me, by leading me until I realized why I was doing something wrong and why something else I did was right.
“A man can’t know everything,” he said. “It seems to me that in every relationship there’s a point where the girl has to take the lead in something, and the man has to follow. If a girl has enough maturity to lead in the right way—the way Marilyn taught me—no man can resent it.”
“I was just thinking,” he said “that a man can’t see sex appeal in every girl he meets. If we did,” he laughed, “the world might be in even more of a mess.”
But Tab admitted that of all the different types of women in the world there are two that have always intrigued him at first sight. Since the days when he saw his first movies, he has been attracted by the mature woman who has been around and shows it just a little—like Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan. The second type is one that he has met more often in real life than in the movies—the very young girl who is just beginning to look at the world around her, who is still too young to be sure of herself, too in love with life to see any defects in it. In the second category he places Kitty Wellman, daughter of director William Wellman.
“Kitty has that wonderful shy quality that makes you want to protect her. It’s not the shyness of an Ann Blyth or a Lori Nelson. It’s something else—the shyness of a teenager who’s not quite sure how she should act.
“I took Kitty to a dance at her high school once. ‘Tab,’ she said when I called for her, ‘I know how boring this must be to you. After all, it’s just a school dance.’
“Yet, she let me know how really excited she was, how much she liked school dances.” He thought for another minute. “So many of the girls I’ve liked have had this quality. It’s a combination of enthusiasm and, well, I guess, of a first look at the world around them, almost of an innocence of the world.”
He stopped. “I’m talking too much,” he said, grinning again. “I always do. It’s something I’ll have to get over, I guess.” He was silent again for a minute.
Then, “Of all the actresses I’ve seen on the screen, Lana Turner is the one who has always epitomized sex appeal for me. Finally, a few months ago, I got a chance to work with her in a movie, ‘The Sea Chase.’ And, of course,” he said wryly, “the only thing I said to her in the entire picture was, “Thanks, Miss Keller, for doing my laundry.’ And even then I was so excited that I kept saying, “Thanks, Miss Turner, for luing my daundry.’
“And, yet, I discovered that in person her sex appeal is summed up for me the way it is summed up on the screen—in a voice that sounds like cold champagne. It’s not an artificial way of speaking. It’s a voice that seems to be talking to you alone, to no one else, a warm voice that seems to spring from deep inside.
“Inside,” he said reffectively. “We always come back to that. The key word. Inside. So many things can be a part of sex appeal—the way a dancer moves, the way an ankle looks, a cool summer dress on a hot day, a smile at the corner of a mouth. And yet, after the first look, they all have to be backed up by something inside.”
Tab looked at his watch and stood up abruptly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve got a date. I promised to show someone my new car. Mar . . . she’s never seen it.”
He left. On top of the empty table in the empty room, as he left it, the dictionary put a final punctuation point to the conversation:
“Sex appeal. Quality, esp. personal charm, which serves to draw together individuals of opposite sexes.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1955