On July 9, 2018, Hollywood legend Tab Hunter unexpectedly passed away at the age of 86, just two days shy of his birthday on July 11.
“I had his birthday card on my desk. He had a blood clot in his leg that nobody knew about, and it dislodged and went into his lung, and he had a heart attack. And that was it,” Hunter’s partner of 35 years, Allan Glaser, recalls to NewNowNext.
“There was nothing wrong with him," Glaser continues. "He wasn’t sick; he wasn’t ill. He had just ridden his horse the day before. We had lunch 20 minutes before he collapsed in my arms. I mean, in a weird way, I think his time was up.”
Hunter was a blond Hollywood heartthrob who lit up the screen in a string of popular movies in the 1950s and ’60s, including Damn Yankees, Battle Cry, and Ride the Wild Surf. In the ’80s, he had a career resurgence thanks to the "Pope of Trash" John Waters, who cast him in Polyester, opposite Divine. Hunter also appeared in the 1982 cult classic Grease 2 and in 1985’s Lust in the Dust. It was during the creation of Lust that he met his future husband, Glaser, a Fox producer to whom Hunter pitched the idea for the film.
Hunter stepped out of the spotlight again until 2005, when he publicly came out as gay in his tell all-memoir Tab Hunter Confidential, co-written with Eddie Muller, noted film noir expert and host of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
“Tab was not really comfortable talking about his sexuality," Muller tells NewNowNext, recalling the early days of his collaborative process with the prolific onscreen heartthrob. "He was just very, very private in that regard. Honestly, I think he felt more comfortable having a straight guy be his collaborator than a gay guy because he didn’t want that [his sexuality] to be the be-all and end-all of the book.”
Muller explained to Hunter that the book was being published in the first place because he was “the biggest living gay movie star. But I promise you that by the time we finish the book, that’s not going to be all that people take away from it."
Hunter and Muller's book was eventually made into an eponymous documentary, which will make its TCM debut on Hunter’s birthday, July 11—kicking off a marathon of his movies, including Gunman’s Walk, That Kind of Woman, and Battle Cry.
“Tab had a wonderful relationship with TCM because they were always so good to him over the years. They would occasionally do a birthday salute, or invite him to come to something they were doing,” Glaser says. “And Tab was very friendly with [TCM host] Robert Osborne. He was a lovely man.”
Thanks to the cable network, Hunter and Osborne eventually became friends, catching up at TCM events. “They both loved classic films," Glaser adds. "Robert was a walking encyclopedia; he knew everything about everything. And he was a gentleman, and so was Tab. They both never discussed sexuality, anything like that. They were just two old-fashioned gentlemen who enjoyed each other’s company.”
Osborne never spoke publicly about his sexuality, but after his death in 2017, it was revealed he had been in a relationship with theater producer David Staller for the past 20 years.
Glaser and Muller will be co-hosting the TCM premiere of Tab Hunter Confidential, with the pair sitting down before and after the film to discuss Hunter’s life.
"It’s something Tab would have loved," Glaser says. "When I told Tab about a year ago that I wanted to [screen Confidential on TCM]—because the rights were expiring—I said, 'Would you go talk with one of the hosts?' And he agreed. I’m actually taking Tab’s place as one of the co-hosts because it was one of the last things he agreed to do to promote the documentary. It was supposed to be Tab and Eddie discussing it.”
When asked how he plans to celebrate Hunter's birthday this year, Glaser explains that he plans on "having some of his closest friends over to the house to watch the documentary premiere on TCM." He also notes that he visits Hunter's grave every week to lay fresh flowers, so he will be doing that as well.
"I wanted to create a legacy for Tab that went beyond his Hollywood 1950s image. That’s why I wanted to do the documentary," Glaser says. "Tab was very hesitant even to do the documentary, but I talked him into it. And I’m really glad I did, because it left a legacy behind for him, so people can actually see who he was and what his contributions were."
In the end, Glaser says Hunter was glad he'd agreed to make the documentary, too. In fact, what he loved most about the final product "wasn't any of the movies we talked about."
"It was about his mother, and his brother, and his love for horses, and everything that went outside of the world of show business," Glaser notes. "That’s what he appreciated because that’s who he was as a person. Society—and Warner Bros.—built a wall around Tab that he had to deconstruct one brick at a time, and I think the first brick in that deconstruction was writing his autobiography. I do think the last brick, having that wall come down, was doing the documentary."
Tab Hunter Confidential premieres July 11 on TCM.