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SANTA FE, N.M. — In the days when homosexual acts were illegal and scandal sheets screamed news of any suspected straying from the straight and narrow, Tab Hunter trod a careful line between his screen persona and his private life.
WHEN: “Tab Hunter Confidential” screens at 2 p.m. Sunday
“Lust in the Dust” screens at 7 p.m. Sunday
WHO: Actor Tab Hunter will be at both showings
WHERE: CCA Cinematheque, 1050 Old Pecos Trail
HOW MUCH: $20/$15 for members per show; $30/$25 for members for both shows
FOR TICKETS: ccasantafe.org, 982-1338
In the movies, he romanced gorgeous leading ladies and served as a sunny blond poster boy on many a female fan’s bedroom walls.
At home, he had serious relationships with fellow ice-skater Ronnie Robertson and actor Anthony Perkins.
But things have changed now that the word “gay” is not a pejorative, right?
“Today, there are no leading men who are gay,” said Hunter in a telephone interview from the Santa Barbara, Calif., home that he shares with movie producer Allan Glaser. “There are character actors, there are roles as ‘best friends,’ but there are no leading men out there.”
Or at least none that are openly gay.
The pressure still exists for gay actors to stay in the closet, he said, with huge, corporate-owned studios unwilling to countenance any behavior that might rock the boat.
For the longest time, Hunter himself believed in keeping his private life private, until he collaborated on a memoir and now a movie, both titled “Tab Hunter Confidential.”
Hunter will come to Santa Fe, a one-time home, Sunday for the screening of that film, released this year, at the Center for Contemporary Arts Cinematheque.
That screen also will show “Lust in the Dust,” a spoof of Westerns that was filmed in Santa Fe and that included drag diva Divine as one of its stars, with whom Hunter also appeared in John Waters’ “Polyester.”
“That was great, great fun!” Hunter enthused of the “Dust” filming.
During his visit to Santa Fe, he said he’ll have a day free, which he’ll spend visiting a dear friend, Caroline Stevenson of Invicta Farms near Santa Fe, and her daughter, who is his goddaughter. “I look forward to that,” he said.
“The other thing I must, must do: have some green chile, of course,” Hunter said, adding that he loves the rellenos at Tomasita’s.
Thrown under the bus
But after almost a lifetime of guarding his privacy, why has Hunter “come out” in his later years, first with the book published in 2006?
After all, he said in the movie, “It was difficult for me my whole life to talk about that side of me … I didn’t want my homosexuality to define who I was. I just didn’t talk about it. If I don’t want to share that with you, I won’t.”
In his interview with the Journal, Hunter, now 84, said he was inclined to “let sleeping dogs lie.”
But Glaser, his partner now of more than three decades and 30 years his junior, urged him to write his story, saying there was talk of someone working on a biography of Hunter.
“Why shouldn’t someone get it from the horse’s mouth and not a horse’s ass?” Hunter said.
In turn, Glaser also pressed him to do the movie. “What the heck – movies are such a visual thing. I guess that’s why I did it,” Hunter said. “If it was just about Hollywood, it would have been pretty boring.”
Instead, it encompasses his whole journey, incorporating a life’s passage through the mental, physical and spiritual, those aspects that are “really important to every single one of us,” he said.
So it tells how he looked up to his older brother, an outgoing lad who helped pull Hunter out of his shell of shyness – and how he learned about his brother Walter’s death in Vietnam as Hunter was seated on a horse awaiting the call into the ring for his turn of competition.
How his mother was abused by his father, left him and worked hard to support her sons – and how Hunter felt compelled to commit her to an institution and electroshock treatments after her mental health took a downward spiral.
How he was arrested near the start of his career, along with other patrons at a gay bar – and how he felt thrown under the bus by his former agent who leaked that information to a reporter in exchange for the reporter keeping quiet on rumors about the homosexuality of Rock Hudson, another of the agent’s stars.
But how Warner Brothers Studio still protected his image and fed photos to movie magazines of Hunter on dates with co-stars such as Natalie Wood.
Once, Hunter said in the movie, he considered marriage to a woman, French actress Etchika Choureau. But, he said, “I felt if I was with a man, I would be sinning. If I was with a woman, I would be lying.”
A young boy who found solace in the Catholic Church and escapism in the movies, Hunter’s relationship with the church was long strained over its stand on homosexuality.
But he later came to a place of peace with his religion, telling the Journal that his friend and former actress who entered a convent, Mother Dolores Hart, said to him once, “There is no hetero; there is no homo. There is only love.”
And Hunter recalled Pope Francis’ comment on the question: “Who am I to judge?”
“I think that’s what it’s all about: you and your Maker and your relationship,” he said.