You Be The Judge!
Back in 1951, when writer Jerry Asher first met him, Tab Hunter was tall, gangling, self-conscious Art Gelien. . . . Unknown, inexperienced, painfully inarticulate when he tried to express the churning emotions within him. He faltered: “I’m taking off for Jamaica tomorrow to play opposite Linda Darnell in ‘Island of Desire.’ They know I have never acted before, but they had to f ind someone who looks like a naive boy who’s stranded—supposedly on a desert island— with an older woman. So I got the part—but I’m scared silly. I’ll try to hang on, I’ll hope and pray to do my best. But at this moment I feel like running in the opposite direction!”
Then he wondered where he’d be and “what I’ll be like ten years from now.” Art—Tab—promised to tell all, if he and Jerry both happened t o be around in 1961. True to his word, and on his recent thirtieth birthday, he took time out to explore the depths of his innermost thoughts. Following; Tab Hunter’s intimate revelations in his own uninhibited words told to Jerry just before he left for Rome to make a picture.
Who am I . . ?
After kicking around for thirty years, what a question to be asking one’s self ! But at least I know why I’m asking. Personally and professionally, I think I’ve hit the crossroads. Run out of identification, as it were. Art Gelien sure got lost along the way, and Tab Hunter seems to have deserted me. Temporarily—I hope!
Like I said, I know why—if that helps. For one thing, losing my TV series after only one season really rocked my soul. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest, but I loved doing it and I learned a lot. There’s a story behind the story. They kept putting on new writers and producers, so we never got any place. Stanley Shapiro, of “Operation Petticoat” and “Pillow Talk” fame, created the idea and we were rolling. When Stanley pulled out, other writers failed to understand the original concept and the show became consistently inconsistent. I keep telling myself that most of the biggest names in television lost their series, too. Like June Allyson, Loretta Young and Steve McQueen. Still doesn’t make up for that gnawing, unmitigated sense of defeat.
About Work . . .
it’s my secret weapon for survival. Even felt this way back then when I was squeezing oranges behind that juice stand on Hollywood Boulevard. And always felt great doing my series. Literally thought I’d explode—just waiting for dawn to break, to dash off to the studio and to work.
Now I wonder if my luck is running out. Sure I’m handed Scripts. Mostly dull, no-challenge, nothing-type parts. But I’m geared for hard work, which is why I’m off to Rome and Egypt to make “The Golden Arrow.” Maybe it isn’t a dream part, but it’s work—and who has a choice? Insecurity sets in when you’ re out of a job, when you don’t feel needed and wanted—period. Hate leaving the local scene, but Europe has the action these days. Will still pay taxes in U.S.A. and that’s for sure. Whether you’re learning to pilot a jet 707, or learning to walk—just knowing you belong somewhere is terribly important for morale.
Home Life . . .
How I love it—even though everything’s in storage and I’m fresh out of a roof overhead. Love possessing but not being possessed by my treasured collections. Japanese panels, bronzes, screens from Tibet, wooden Buddahs and such. I knew how much I’d miss them, but had to escape fast from that nightmare house I formerly occupied in the valley. Needed to recapture a feeling of freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from “neighborly” prying eyes that caused all the trouble. From man’s intolerance toward man—from injustice and persecution that exposed me to all the indignities of a public trial on a dog-beating charge. A not-guilty verdict still leaves invisible scars. all you have to do is learn to live with them—while they sting and burn. Poor Fritz, the innocent cause of it all. Here he is at this very moment, lying happy and contented at my feet. Must remember not to show him off to friends. Threw a ball for him to retrieve recently. He brought back a high-heeled slipper!
As a kid moving constantly from basement apartments to furnished rooms, there were no roots. A new job for Mom to support brother Walt and me, and we’d move to a new city. Always moving—from nowhere to nowhere. Like ten times a year. Some day, I promised myself, only one city and one place to call home. God is good. Today Mom works it and when she wants. Walt has a wonderful home at the beach and kids that make him ache with pride.
When I get set again, I’ll repeat my favorite pattern. Six or eight good friends sitting around a low sandalwood sukiyaki table, Japanese style. Always very informal. Talk about horses, dogs, music, world events. About everything but Hollywood gossip. Who cares who’s doing what to whom and why? Like to play records and games, too.
Miss my two horses like the devil. Had to board them out, up the coast at Pleasantville, California. How do you explain to a horse that you’ve got to make a buck? Some day, God willing, I’ll have my own little farm, complete with stables for hot-and-cold-running four-footed friends.
Guess you’d pretty much call me a Hollywood hermit. I do try to subscribe to all those things that are supposed to be “good” for an actor, but good for what? After ten years and ten thousand Hollywood parties—give or take a few thousand—I still come away feeling empty. Feeling ill-at-ease, embarrassed, depressed. Always wonder, who is everyone trying to impress? The answer is—themselves.
I sure dropped a bomb recently, when Maria Cooper took me to sit-down dinner at Rosalind Russell Brisson’s. Everyone except me agreed that Natalie Wood has no competition. I held out for Tuesday Weld. Think Natalie is terrifically talented—but don’t sell Tuesday short. She’s got that indefinable, God-given something—so loaded with Creative talent she’s headed right for the moon.
Like I said, I’m not the Hollywood party type! For a loner like me there has to be one person in your life—the person. Without someone to love, without mating, we’re cheating ourselves out of life’s truest treasures. I’m cautious—maybe too cautious, because I’ll only marry once. But I’ve observed that marriage to the wrong woman can be hell on wheels, and who needs it? I miss companionship when I drive to a mountain top . . . when I travel . . . when I gulp my way through a solitary meal. I miss companionship when I stretch out in front of a roaring fireplace . . . when I play Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald late at night. I miss sharing me.
I rarely run around with Hollywood girls. No prejudice—just a lack of mutual interests. Most Hollywood girls like to talk about their last picture, or their next. I did have a ball being with exotic France Nuyen in Hong Kong. We dined and danced on a terrace until dawn came up like thunder across that magnificent bay.
I’m fond of—but was sure annoyed at —that cute trick, Vicki Trickett. Actually saw her first at a horse show and suggested her for pictures to my agent and best friend, Dick Clayton. So what happened? So suddenly Vicki played hard to get! Wouldn’t make a date, avoided my phone calls, acted like she was a fugitive from the FBI. About the time I was ready to tell her off, she invited me to see her new house in the hills. Started to burn when a rugged gent named Richard Herre opened the door. Really roared when I learned he was Vicki’s “secret” husband—had been for fourteen months while he was in the Army. Why the big mystery bit? Seems some slob told Vicki that marriage would ruin her career. Too bad someone didn’t warn Elizabeth Taylor! (Joke!)
Don’t see as much of Tuesday Weld since Gary Lockwood stepped into the scene. She’s still a special favorite. The girl with the wild eyes, I call her. Tuesday’s still young and headstrong, she takes a lot of understanding right now and we argue a lot. First we tell each other off, then kiss and make up.
Another special favorite is Maria Cooper—sweet, gentle, genteel Maria. She’s so unspoiled. so completely untouched by the exposure of being a celebrity’s daughter. Just being a young woman like Maria would make any young woman exciting enough. Sometimes we sit in silence and take long drives after dinner. Other times we talk for endless hours, and I feel very close—perhaps because I sense a loneliness that hasn’t quite found outlet for expression. Maria has feeling for all things living, and it reflects in her lovely face. Whenever I leave her I come away feeling I’m a much better person. She has such a wonderful way with people.
Those far-away places haunt my dreams. And even if they are unrealistic, dreams do give us the courage to carry on. Japan . . . Hong Kong . . . Thailand . . . all are tucked away in a corner of my heart. On buying trips for my Beverly Hills shop, “Tab Hunter’s Far East,” the juices of life flow freely for me. Orientals have such quiet splendor, I derive great peace of mind when I mingle with them. The Oriental mind knows who they are and where they are going—all accepted with great serenity. Orientals find great love in such simple things that life is like an expression, like a plant. One day I saw a motorcycle and bicycle collide at a busy intersection. The man jumped off his bicycle, bowed three times—then drove off. How simple. How nice. And how I wish that what I’ve learned in the Far East could serve me as well in the Far West.
My one aversion to traveling is flying. Guess it stems back to the time the Everly Brothers, Sal Mineo and I were returning from appearances in Australia. First our plane lost one motor. Another time it caught on fire. A third time it refused to leave the ground. We were stranded on the Fijis and couldn’t get a boat back for fifteen days. Scared? Absolutely petrified—but prayers helped a little.
Idleness, lack of interests, boredom—these are the devil’s tools. I have never liked idle people—which makes me dis- like myself when I’m unemployed. Even doing lousy movies—and I’ve made my share—wasn’t a total loss. They kept my body active, my brain alive. The body and brain are geared to give. For me, not to give is to be half alive. Even a guy fishing by the ocean is productive and with purpose. Being thirty, I tell myself, isn’t the end of the line.
So it must be the picture business that makes me feel this way. It’s been a relatively short time since I’m free from contractual binds, and this takes terrific adjustment. I love everything about acting, but the sitting and waiting drives me nuts. That waiting for the phone to ring—waiting for a producer to nod his noggin in my direction.
Many people have extended a helpful hand along the way, and I’m eternally grateful. But in the final analysis, you really have to make the scene yourself in the local rat race. I’ve paid dearly for my mistakes—sometimes in dollars, other times in sense—which all adds up to experience.
It cost me $100.000 to buy off my Warner Brothers contract—paid in full at long last. How I hated those immature Smiling-Sam roles that seemed to be my lot on the Warners lot. I wanted to work for teachers, with directors where I could learn. I needed to learn. Since then I’ve luckily worked with such directors as Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn and George Seaton, who directed “Pleasure of His Company.” So I know I did the right thing. Am positive my long-drawn-out hassle with Warners could have been settled much quicker had I kept my mouth shut. Alas, my temper and my stubborn jaw-bone betray me. But I am learning self-control.
Far be it from me to knock Hollywood. It’s given me much more than it’s taken away. Still, I guard against becoming material-minded, against becoming smug and spoiled. It can happen here! Our fans, bless their hearts, spoil us. Studios spoil us by lavish build-ups—flattery and attention out of all proportion. They create their own “monsters” in a certain sense. When you spring up out of nowhere and too much happens too fast, you’re scared stiff. You try to please everyone, try to live up to it all. Being new and green and anxious to please, you’re afraid to fight back. Wish I’d had the guts to fight against the name they gave me. All those lousy jokes still make me cringe. But I compromised, so I’m stuck. The answer is—I guess—become such a damn good actor that everyone respects you as much as you hope to respect yourself.
Getting out of town helps to reduce ego and put values in their proper place. One memorable trip was a three-day trek through the jungle by jeep, before we reached a factory in northern Thailand where the natives live in shacks on stilts. No electricity, no sanitation, no nothing. We came across a ragged kid walking along a dirt road. He carried a stick, dangling from the far end—a dead cobra. When our interpreter asked what he was going to do with it, the boy answered: “It is a present for my mother. She is very hungry.” Pride was written all over his face. I guess that horrible snake really was going to be served for supper. From that native boy I learned a real lesson—the great joy of giving.
So these are the truths about me as I am today—if anyone cares. I hope someone cares. These are my thoughts and feelings as I face the future and ask the good Lord. “What next?” Professionally, I may remain in Europe for a cameo role along with Bill Holden, Robert Wagner, Fabian, Tommy Sands, etc. in Darryl Zanuck’s “Longest Day.” Personally, I guess I can only hang on and pray. At least all is quiet on the ulcer front—and brother am I cursed with one that acts up when the going gets too rough! Obviously, confession is very good for the soul.
It takes an eternity to learn how to live with one’s self, does it not? Seems like. There is an Oriental saying, a great favorite of mine that says it all so simply: “We cry when someone comes into the world, but it is beautiful when they are going away.”
I can only add—ah so!
Tab’s in “The Golden Arrow,” M-G-M.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1962