Monday, July 09, 2018

TAB HUNTER - the “YOUNG LOVE” that couldn’t be mentioned in 1961

     Tab Hunter missed reaching his birthday by just a few days. That's sad for fans of the actor...admired for his acting career as a likable hetero hero...and for coming "out of the closet" late in life to discuss what it was like in an era when, as in Oscar Wilde's time, there was a type of love "that dare not say its name." There probably aren't many who miss the guy for his singing! And that's why he's on this blog of less renown. 

      Tab Hunter (July 11, 1931-July 8, 2018) began his career as an actor, taking a name almost as ridiculous as Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, Guy Madison, Troy Donahue, Rip Torn, Dirk Bogarde and Touch Connors. [Touch Connors managed to switch back to being Michael Connors and ultimately Mike of “Mannix,” which at least wasn't the detective's first name.]

      Hunter was born Arthur Kelm, a half-Jewish New Yorker who had a mean father and a doting mother. He was only 21 when he as cast opposite Linda Darnell in “Island of Desire” (1952). He was Robert Mitchum’s younger brother in “Track of the Cat” and had a meaty role in “Battle Cry” (both in 1955).  He and Natalie Wood became a team when Warners cast them together in two 1956 movies. The studio cooked up a fake romance between them, and the following year, Pat Boone’s record label signed him for a  recording (below) of “Young Love.” He’s not quite Fabian. He’s an adequate singer, similar to his somewhat bland boyfriend for a while, Anthony Perkins. Perkins released several albums (but is hardly remembered for his music). Unlike Perkins, Tab scored a #1 hit thanks to “Young Love.” No, Tab doesn’t seem too convincing in his depiction of boy-meets-girl delights, but it’s not an easy song to sing. Morrissey could do it well as a bit of camp, but at the time, sugary songs with awkward vowels stretched over several notes, were quite welcome, including choirboy high notes on songs that didn’t have the angst of  Johnnie (gay) Ray. Dot now had two puppy-love vocalists to dominate the charts: Pat Boone and Tab Hunter. Or, did they?  

        In an amazing bit of music trivia, Warner Bros. decided to start up a record division just to exploit Tab Hunter. Tab had to end his contract with Dot and be exclusive to Warners in both music and movies. He combined music and movies with his next film, the only one that made any impression on me:  “Damn Yankees.” Hunter hadn’t starred in the Broadway version, and probably didn’t have the singing chops for 8 performances a week, but he had the perfect “look” for the movie. He was believable as an All-American baseball hero, ironically looking like one of those “Damn Yankees,” sort of in the ballpark with fair-haired Mickey Mantle and Tony Kubek. The movie didn’t require all that much singing or dancing from him. Like many a female star, all that he had to do was stand around looking pretty.  

      Hunter’s bland good looks were an interesting contrast to older woman Gwen Verdon as Lola. The film’s director didn’t want Gwen in the movie, pronouncing her “ugly,” but she had made the Broadway show a hit. One of Tab’s next leading ladies would be Sophia Loren in the 1959 drama “That Kind of Woman.” Hunter moved on to safer leading ladies, co-starring with Debbie Reynolds in the fluffy 1961 film “The Pleasure of His Company.” He also had a sitcom which lasted a year.  After that, he was another journeyman actor with decent credits, revived in 1981 by John Waters’ “Polyester,” a campy (of course) item that fueled the rumors that Hunter was gay. Gays happily filled blogs with pix of Tab posing with other "hunks" of the day, and sharing "girl dating" advice with Roddy McDowall, who was notoriously well endowed and had no trouble finding playmates on either side of the sexual equator. He officially “came out” via his 2005 autobiography. 

      Many obits on Hunter simply headlined that he was a well-known movie star. Some mentioned he was also a "gay icon." Nobody mentioned his #1 single. And leave it to the London Daily Fail to headline that he had a relationship with "Psycho star" Anthony Perkins. Couldn't put "Psycho" in quotes, or italics, you lot of loonies...

     At this point, the “Damn Yankees” soundtrack is memorable for Gwen Verdon’s “Whatever Lola Wants,” and for eccentric Ray Walston’s cheerfully black ode to Jack the Ripper and the stock market crash, “Those Were the Days.” Likewise, Hunter’s #1 hit and other recordings are as forgotten as so much of Dot’s other pop idol, Pat Boone. And so, for the blog of less renown, Tab Hunter — The Singer — fits right in. The golden boy may not have had a golden throat, but his tunes certainly reflected the times…fairly light-hearted and naive and…gay mostly in the old sense of the word. Tab missed his birthday by only a few days, and many still miss those days when all a movie needed was a nice guy and a nice girl and a happy ending.

Tab Hunter sings of YOUNG LOVE -- come on, Morrissey, cover it, just for fun

No comments: