Tab Hunter photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter photo from Jud Newborn

By Stacy Santini

Studebakers, drive-ins, saddle shoes and ice cream parlors will instantly conjure up images of a decade that most people remember fondly and others wistfully wish they could visit. Iconic television programs such as “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best” were viewing staples in most living rooms and matinée idols such as Ricky Nelson, James Dean, Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds graced the big screen before the term “celebrity” found its way into our vernacular. It was the 1950s, an era known for Truman and Eisenhower politics and innocence savored.

Tab Hunter was a star that seemingly endorsed the mainstream value system and fulfilled every notion that Hollywood was projecting at the time. Unbeknownst to his droves of fans, he was living a secret life that, today, wouldn’t have had to be so secret. “Tab Hunter Confidential,” a documentary exclusively premiering at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, on Wednesday, October 14th, bravely tells Tab’s story and is a brilliant peek into Hollywood during that time; an epoch that simply will not fade away.

Director Jeffrey Schwartz has adapted Tab Hunter’s memoir into a riveting narrative that clues the viewer in on the struggle this dashingly handsome, sun-kissed, all-American screen darling dealt with through most of his career. Fearful of shattering his well sought after image, Tab Hunter lived openly as a heterosexual, having well-publicized romances with numerous Hollywood starlets while knowing he was unequivocally gay. Not only is this acclaimed documentary a fascinating depiction of Hunter’s impressive career, but with same sex marriages recently legalized in many states, the world’s mindset is rapidly changing and the story is well suited for the times.

Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn

While living in the closet, Hunter was consistently number one at the box office and often the same on the music charts. Movies such as “Damn Yankees” and songs like “Young Love” quickly propelled him from stable boy and figure skater to heartthrob. Later taking on the role of Todd Tomorrow, opposite Divine, in John Water’s cult classic, “Polyester,” only further secured his role as Hollywood royalty.

Curating the event is Jud Newborn, an international multimedia lecturer who has a formidable list of credentials, one of which happens to be curator for special programs for Cinema Arts Centre. He began his studies at New York University, became a residence writer at the University of Cambridge, Clare Hall, and capped off his impressive education with his dissertation on the hidden cultural meanings of the Holocaust at University of Chicago, where he received his doctorate. Often considered an expert on Nazi warfare and the Holocaust, he not only co-authored the book, “Sophie Scholl and The White Rose,” but also founded and curated The Living Memorial to the Holocaust at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Newborn has a knack for recruiting prestigious and very famous guests to Cinema Arts Centre, and his reputation as curator is well earned. Securing Tab Hunter is no surprise. Always considering the Centre his second home, Newborn states, “It is so diverse, so stimulating. It is a joy to bring in these exciting programs for the audience.” Elaborating further, “ Adding to the Cinema’s already outstanding roster prior to my post here, I have brought in Christopher Plummer, Tony Curtis, Dick Cavett, Norman Lear, Leslie Caron, Erica Jong, Rita Moreno, Steve Guttenberg and so many more. It has been such a pleasure.” When asked what his secret is, he jovially says, “I’ll never tell.”

Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn
Tab Hunter in his youth. Photo from Jud Newborn

Cinema Arts Centre is a true cultural gem for Long Island. With more than 10,500 members, it has served as the template for prominent film festivals ,such as Sundance. Started in 1973, it parallels the Film Forum and The Film Society of Lincoln Center. The venue has three state-of-the-art theaters, the aesthetically pleasing Sky Room for receptions and patio gardens. At 7:30 p.m., the Cinema will screen “Tab Hunter Confidential” as part of an alluring program. The documentary will be followed by an interview with Hunter conducted by famed author and lecturer, Foster Hirsch, which will include an audience Q&A. Afterward, there will be a dessert reception in the Sky Room, with a performance by jazz guitarist Mike Soloway.

Tab Hunter might be considered an anomaly for Hollywood, surviving a culture that was once known for devouring their young stars, and rising above what was once considered an obstacle. He has embraced a lifestyle that was true for him and fearlessly tells the world about it. Witnessing such integrity is a rare opportunity and should not be missed.

Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Tickets are $25, $20 members. For more information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

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