He was a teen idol in the 1950s and was one of the last products of the Hollywood studio system. The New York Times reports that Tab Hunter died Sunday in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 86.
Hunter reportedly died from cardiac arrest after a blood clot moved from his leg to his lung.
“Arthur Gelien was 17 when the agent Henry Willson gave him a new name and added him to a roster of clients that included Rock Hudson, Robert Wagner and Rory Calhoun,” The Times reports.
The report quotes Hunter in his 2005 autobiography, “Tab Hunter Confidential,” written with Eddie Muller, saying: “Acting skill was secondary to chiseled features and a fine physique.”
The Times adds: “He might not have had the skill, at least not yet, but he had the look; he was the epitome of the sunny all-American boy enshrined in decades of Hollywood films. His first audition for ‘Island of Desire’ (1952) consisted of taking off his shirt. The screen test came later. On the basis of that movie, in which he played a brash Marine corporal marooned with Linda Darnell on a South Seas island, the readers of Photoplay magazine voted him the year’s No. 1 new male star.”
He had a breakout role, again playing a Marine, in the 1955 film “Battle Cry.”
“It was not until 50 years after ‘Battle Cry,’ when he wrote his autobiography, that Mr. Hunter publicly discussed his homosexuality; his love affair with the actor Anthony Perkins; the rage and wrath of his parish priest when, as a 14-year-old boy, he haltingly confessed what had happened in the dark of a movie theater; and years of being ‘painfully isolated, stranded between the casual homophobia of most “normal” people and the flagrantly gay Hollywood subculture — where I was even less comfortable and less accepted,'” The Times adds.
His many film roles included working with Natalie Wood in the 1956 films “The Burning Hills” and “The Girl He Left Behind,” and a star turn as Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees” in 1958.
After failing to win the role of Tony in “West Side Story,” Hunter agreed to do a TV sitcom. “The Tab Hunter Show,” which had the misfortune of airing opposite the juggernaut “Ed Sullivan Show,” lasted one season on NBC in 1960-1961.
He made an unlikely late-career comeback in 1981 in John Waters’ offbeat “Polyester.”
Here’s a clip from 2005 posted by “CBS Sunday Morning” …