Passage: Tab Hunter and Nancy Sinatra


Actor Tab Hunter, c. mid-1950s. The teen heartthrob and cult movie star would later write a revealing autobiography about living as a homosexual in Hollywood.


It happened this past week ... the loss of a Hollywood heartthrob-turned-cult movie star. For we learned of the death last Sunday, from cardiac arrest, of actor Tab Hunter.

Hunter was a teenager by the name of Art Gelien, with no acting experience whatsoever, when an agent recruited him and invented his screen name – a transformation he recalled for our Susan Spencer back in 2005:

Spencer: "Do you remember when you sort of, in your mind, ceased being Art Gelien and became Tab Hunter?

Hunter: "Probably when I got a check that said: 'Pay to the order of Tab Hunter.' I thought, 'Wow!  $250!'"

From 2005: The confidential Tab Hunter

"Island of Desire" was his 1952 screen debut, the first of many movies to feature his boy-next-door good looks and his hunky physique.  No shirt?  No problem!

Tab Hunter and Linda Darnell in "Island of Desire" (1952). United Artists/Photofest

Teenage girls were his biggest fans, and movie magazines touted Hunter's purported love affairs with Hollywood starlets.

That wholesome image was briefly threatened by a Confidential Magazine story in 1955 that insinuated Hunter was gay:

"I was living a lie, absolutely," Hunter told "Sunday Morning." "I was another person. I mean, my sexuality was my sexuality. And it was not what people, you know, perceived. You know, people believe what they want to believe. But it was very difficult for me."

The story did him no immediate harm - and in 1956 he recorded a hit song, "Young Love":

Tab Hunter - Young Love (1957 Live at The Perry Como Show) by TheLandOfMarcos on YouTube

And he starred opposite Gwen Verdon in the 1958 film musical "Damn Yankees":

Whatever Lola Wants, Damn Yankees. by hardballget on YouTube

But after he left Warner Brothers in 1959, things started going south: "You don't have that [publicity] machine behind you," he said. "You know, today's headlines, tomorrow's fish wrap."

A failed TV show, a few "B" movies, and years of dinner theater followed – a cycle broken in 1981 when underground film director John Waters cast Hunter opposite the transvestite actor Divine in the movie "Polyester":

"I've got a date with an angel!" Tab Hunter courts Divine in John Waters' "Polyester" (1981). New Line Cinema

"I think the important thing was that it introduced me to an audience who didn't know what a Tab Hunter was, or who a Tab Hunter was," he said.

Tab Hunter told his own candid life story in an autobiography in 2005, making his life, quite literally, an open book. 

And he lived out his final years in California with his long-time partner Allan Glaser.

Tab Hunter was 86.

We also learned of the death, on Friday, of Nancy Sinatra, first wife of singer Frank Sinatra, and the mother of his three children, including singers Frank Jr. and Nancy Jr.

Frank Sinatra and Nancy Barbato were married in Jersey City back in 1939, when he was a young unknown. After hitting the big time, his sensational affair with actress Ava Gardner led to the couple's divorce in 1951. 

Even so, they remained friends right up to Frank's death in 1998. He'd even stop by for a plate of pasta. 

In 2007, the two Nancys, Senior and Junior, attended the unveiling of a postage stamp in Frank's honor.  

Nancy Sinatra Sr. was 101 years old. 

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Story produced by Cai Thomas.