Tab Hunter was a movie star and matinee idol in the 1950s. His blond good looks and chiseled body skyrocketed the California native into fame. He played Robert Mitchum’s younger brother in The Track of the Cat and also starred in movies like Battle Cry and The Burning Hills. Later on, Hunter became a chart-topping musician with a single called “Young Love.” He was probably best known for playing John Hardy in the movie Damn Yankees. Much later, he appeared in cult favorite John Waters movies alongside the drag queen Divine.
Hunter, who was born Arthur Gelien in 1931, was a gay man at a time when homosexuality was taboo. In an effort to blend in with the mores of his time, he carried on a fictitious relationship with the actress Natalie Wood, even as he had love affairs with Anthony Perkins and others.
In 2005, Hunter officially “came out” to the world as a homosexual in an autobiography called Tab Hunter Confidential: the Making of a Movie Star. Hunter has been in a relationship with Allan Glaser, a producer, for 35 years.
On Monday, a Facebook page closely associated with Hunter reported that the actor had passed away at the age of 86. No cause of death was announced.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Hunter Was In a 35-Year Relationship With the Producer Allan Glaser
Hunter met Allan Glaser in in early 1980s, when Hunter was 52 and Glaser was 23.
The two men live in a cottage near Santa Barbara, not far from Oprah Winfrey’s 55 million dollar mansion. Glaser and Hunter keep horses and whippets.
In 2015, the two men worked together to produce a movie about Hunter’s life called Tab Hunter Confidential.
2. Hunter’s Mother Left His Abusive Father And Moved the Family to California
Hunter was born in New York City. His parents were both German immigrants. His mother, Gertrude Gelien, was a nurse. His father’s name was Charles Kelm. Hunter had one brother, Walter. Hunter has said that his father was so physically abusive that his mother fled with the two boys when they were very young. They moved to California and lived in San Francisco, Long Beach and Los Angeles. His mother changed their last name to Gelien, which was her maiden name.
Hunter told the New York Times that when was a teenager, serving in the Coast Guard, he went to his father’s apartment in New York and knocked on the door. He introduced himself to the woman who answered the door. She slammed the door in his face, and he never came back.
Hunter has described his mother as “a very strong religious German mother.” He said that, thanks to her, he remained a devout Catholic throughout his life.
Hunter also said his mother taught him to be very private about his sexuality and his romantic life.
“I was brought up very quietly, very privately,” Hunter told the New York Times. “My mother was a very strict German, religious, and so you just didn’t discuss things like that.”
3. Hunter’s Only Brother, Walter, Died While Serving in Vietnam
Hunter had one older brother, named Walter. Walter, mutual funds salesman, joined the Navy and served in the Vietnam War. He was killed in Quang Nam in 1965. Walter had apparently volunteered for a dangerous assignment in order to earn extra money for his family. He was married with seven children.
Susan Gelien Kilby, Walter’s youngest child, was just ten months old when her father was killed. She wrote the following on his virtual memorial wall:
Walter Gelien is my father who died when I was just 10 months old, the youngest of seven children. I see through his letters and those that share stories that he was a man of high standards and integrity. I have tried to live my life in a way that would make him proud, and have raised my children the same way. He has two grandchildren from me: Andrea a pediatrician in Florida who is about to give birth to my first grandchild, and Madison a ballet dancer, an Anthropology major and pre-med student. “Dad: I wish you were here to experiance life with my children and me. It’s been hard without you. Love, Susie”
Tab Hunter has said that he felt a responsibility to work hard so that he could help provide for Walter’s wife and children after Walter’s death.
4. Hunter’s Mother Had a Nervous Breakdown
When Hunter was 22, his mother, Gertrude, had a nervous breakdown. Hunter describes the breakdown in chapter 11 of his autobiography, Tab Hunter: Confidential. He says that when he returned home after filming the movie “Battle Cry,” his mother was like a different woman. He said he was ranting and spouting incoherent religious statements; she did not respond to him when he spoke to her or embraced her. At one point she tore off all her clothes and ran half-naked and screaming down the street. Hunter committed her to a mental hospital where she received electro-shock therapy. She was just 46 years old.
Even after her release, Gertrude continued to suffer from poor mental health.
According to Tab Hunter: Confidential, Hunter affectionately referred to his mother as the “poor man’s Marlene Dietrich” and he took good care of her when her mental health declined.
5. Hunter’s Grandfather Was a Chef Who Helped His Mother Escape Her Abusive Husband
Hunter’s autobiography explains that Gertrude Gelien, his mother, came to America when she was just 16. Her father, John Gelien, was a chef for a steamship company and spent a lot of time away at sea. Gertrude’s mother, Ida, was very harsh, especially in her treatment of Gertrude. Hunter speculates that this is why Gertrude married Charles Kelm at a young age.
Hunter writes that when his grandfather — whom he called “Opa” learned that Charles Kelm was beating Gertrude, Opa helped the family to escape. He bought new clothing for Tab and Walter. And he got Gertrude a job as a shipboard stewardess for the steamhip line, so that she could afford to leave her husband and start a new life.
Hunter wrote that he owed everything to “Opa”, who freed the family from the abusive Charles Kelm.