With that fabricated name and those Malibu-beach good looks, Tab Hunter really couldn't hope to be taken seriously as an actor, but he certainly worked hard -- and at times was very good indeed. An early starter, Hunter lied his way into the Coast Guard at the age of 15. Three years later, he was selected on the basis of his physique to appear in a supporting role in the 1950 tale of racial prejudice The Lawless. At 21, Hunter became a major "beefcake" personality after shedding most of his clothes in the low-budget Island of Desire (1952). He was signed to a Warner Bros. contract in 1953, which didn't bring him much in the way of substantial roles but which gave him leeway to work on live television, where he turned in a few creditable performances. Critics wailed when he was selected to star opposite Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston in the 1958 film version of Damn Yankees, but his presence brought in a lot more business from the teenage filmgoing contingent than might otherwise have been possible; besides, he looked like a young Mickey Mantle, which was qualification enough for his role as a baseball player. In 1960, Hunter starred as a bachelor newspaper cartoonist in his own sitcom, The Tab Hunter Show, which opened in an excellent timeslot but failed to please the masses. By the mid-1960s, Hunter was considered something of a "Sonny Tufts" type, best suited for campy, self-mocking roles. Happily, he survived on these terms, proving he could kid himself better than any wiseguy scriptwriter. He was co-starred in several films starring the corpulent female impersonator Divine, including the deathless Lust in the Dust (1985). In 1977, Tab Hunter replaced Philip Bruns on the satirical TV series Forever Fernwood; to answer those who might wonder how the still-handsome Hunter could possibly replace the wizened, chinless Bruns, the scripters contrived to have Bruns fall into a chemical vat, require plastic surgery...and then emerge from the bandages looking just like Tab Hunter.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard at 15 after lying about his age; his comrades nicknamed him "Hollywood" because he saw so many movies.
- Made film debut in The Lawless (1950), but had breakout role that established his beefcake appeal opposite Linda Darnell in Island of Desire (1952), aka Saturday Island.
- Parlayed teen-idol status into a singing career, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. and U.K. charts with a version of Ric Cartey and Carole Joyner's Young Love in 1957.
- Starred as a bachelor cartoonist in eponymous NBC sitcom, The Tab Hunter Show (1960-61).
- In 2005 memoir (written with Eddie Muller), Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, acknowledged his homosexuality, which he hid at the height of his popularity lest it damage his career.
- Was a competitive figure skater in his youth, and has been a lifelong horseman.
- Older brother, Walter, was a Navy medic who was killed in Vietnam in 1965.