Tab Hunter Tells All

Tab Hunter
(This program originally aired Oct. 23, 2005)

A good-looking kid with the improbable name of "Tab Hunter" rocketed to Hollywood stardom in the early 1950s.

He was often on a horse and frequently without a shirt and soon cornered the market on hysterical teenage girls, says 48 Hours correspondent Susan Spencer.

Today, Hunter is a fit 74-years-old and seems both proud of, and slightly mortified by, his movie star past.

When he tells you he'd have been just as happy training horses, you actually believe him, Spencer says.

"When you're a big movie star and all that hoopla is being thrown at you, I'm not really all that comfortable," Hunter says.

But he's still as gracious to fans as ever and those one-time hysterical teenagers are flocking to book signings.

The book, "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star" describes a shy boy, abandoned by his father, raised by a domineering mother. His real name is Art Gelien. An agent simply made up "Tab Hunter" saying he needed to "tab" him something.

Asked when he first accepted the name change, Hunter says, "Probably when I got a check that said 'Pay to the order of Tab Hunter.' I thought, wow, $250."

Those first big bucks came for a potboiler called "Island of Desire" in 1952. Veteran actress Linda Darnell, he writes, had to teach him how to kiss on screen.

"I just remember after kissing, she said, 'Relax. I'm good luck for newcomers.' Then, after I kissed her, she pinched me and she said, 'That was nice,'" Hunter recalls.

He definitely mastered kissing scenes and soon Hunter had a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers.

"Once I was under contract to Warner Brothers, they had a whole publicity wing that was devoted to selling that product," Hunter tells Spencer.

The product, in this case, was Hunter himself.

"Tab Hunter, to me, is a fabrication. I mean, it's me, but it's the Hollywood fabrication," he says.

He says he was sold like Spam, but he cheerfully went along with the hype.

"I was embarrassed," Hunter admits, "but by the same token, I was loving it. Because, I mean, my gosh, I mean who would, at 20 years of age, starring in motion pictures.

"I mean, it's all so overwhelming. You know, you can't say 'No.' If they'd say, 'Lie down in the middle of the road, the truck rolls over you,' you'd say, 'Where would you like me to position myself.'"