He was a Hollywood hunk and – later in life – a gay icon. Tab Hunter, known for his roles in ‘Damn Yankees!’ and ‘Polyester,’ has died following a heart attack, so get to know about him.
1. He passed away days before he would have been 87. “Tab passed away tonight three days shy of his 87th birthday,” a Facebook post on a page linked to Tab Hunter shared on June 9, saying that the Damn Yankees! star had passed away on July 8. “Please honor his memory by saying a prayer on his behalf. He would have liked that.” While the post didn’t clarify how he died, his romantic partner, Allan Glaser, told The Hollywood Reporter that Tab died in Santa Barbara after suffering a blood clot that caused a heart attack.
2. Tab wasn’t his real name. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York City, Tab grew up in California. The young man developed an “Adonis-like” body that had girls chase him throughout high school. He enlisted in the Coast Guard but was kicked out when they discovered he was underage. Upon leaving, he gave acting a try. His first agent, Henry Wilson, was the one who gave him the “Tab Hunter” name.
3. He beat out James Dean for a role. “They labeled me the all-American boy,” he once told the New Yorker. His first roles include The Lawless, Island of Desire and Return of the Cat. When he beat out James Dean for the role of Dan “Danny” Forrester in 1955’s Battle Cry, Warner Bros. picked up his option and signed him to a seven-year contract. From there, he would become a Hollywood heartthrob, appearing in films like The Girl he Left Behind and Burning Hills. His most noted role came in 1958, when he played Joe Hardy in the 1958 film adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical, Damn Yankees!
He would also record a handful of songs. His recording of “Young Love” reached the No. 1 spot and stayed there for six weeks, knocking out Elvis Presley’s “Too Much” out of the top spot. The single, originally recorded for Dot Records, prompted Warner Bros. to start their own record label – thus Warner Bros. Records was born. So, Tab not only beat James Dean for a role, kicked out Elvis from the top of the charts, but he also is the voice that launched a legendary record label.
4. He acted in two movies with Divine, a famous drag queen. When the 1960s rolled around, the roles for Tab dried up and he was considered a relic from a different era. While he continued to do B-movies and dinner theatre, he received a boost in the 1980s when he got a call from John Waters, director of Pink Flamingos, Girl Trouble, and other cult films. John wanted to cast Tab across his friend and frequent collaborator, Divine. “He said, ‘One question: How would you feel about kissing a three-hundred-and-fifty-pound transvestite?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sure I’ve kissed a hell of a lot worse!’ “
Divine and Tab’s chemistry in Polyester led them to work again in Lust In The Dust. It was on that film that he met his future love, Allan Glaser, who was one of the films producers. By the end of the 1980s, Tab withdrew from Hollywood, living a private life with his love, their whippets and horses in Santa Monica.
5. Tab came out in 2005. The man whose chiseled body made women swoon in the 1950s hid a secret for most of his life: he was gay. He and Psycho star Anthony Perkins had a three-year romance that they kept a secret. He was arrested at a “limp-wristed pajama party,” described by Confidential at the time (his former agent ratted out Tab in order to protect his other client, Rock Hudson.)
“I know that when Tony Perkins and I were seeing each other, Paramount told him they didn’t want him to see me anymore,” he told Slant, per Deadline. “But Warners didn’t say anything. They just were supportive of you.” Tab confirmed the longstanding rumors in his 2005 autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential. “I thought, ‘Look, get it from the horse’s mouth and not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone,’ ” told THR in 2015. “I didn’t want someone putting a spin on my life.”