When young Arthur Gelien agreed to having his name changed to Tab
Hunter he effectively sealed any chance of ever being taken seriously
as an actor. At the time he certainly had no reason to ask to be taken
seriously as an actor. He was taken on by the studios for his golden
boy looks which attracted a large teen audience, no matter what the
quality of the film. For the studios he was simply bait, which for a
number of years did the trick. When younger bait appeared in the form
of Troy Donahue, Tab's time was up.
Looking over Tab Hunter's filmography there is scant reason to take him
seriously as an actor. And yet, there was a time towards the end of the
fifties, when Hunter really did aspire to be a serious actor. He was
greatly frustrated by the studio's refusal to offer him decent roles,
to the point where he bought out his contract for an exorbitant sum,
just to attain his freedom. The fifties had been an amazing period for
young male actors. Brando and Dean (in the wake of Montgomery Clift)
had completely changed the perception of what screen acting could be
for young male actors. Hunter desperately wanted to be like them.
It was not to be. After leaving the studios, he coasted on the
celebrity of his name, through forgettable TV appearances, B grade
European films and a career in dinner theater. Tab Hunter was not an
exceptionally talented actor, but he did improve vastly from the
incredibly amateur debut starring role in "Saturday Island". He
responded extremely well to good directors but sadly very rarely
enjoyed that privilege. Under Sidney Lumet he gave one of his best
performances in "That Kind Of Woman" and years later an as yet unknown
Curtis Hanson elicited a strong showing from him in "The Arousers". His
best shot at being taken really seriously as an actor came when a young
Arthur Penn chose him for the Playhouse 90 episode titled "Portrait of
a Murderer". Being live television with no second takes, this was a
huge challenge. All in all it's a challenge Tab Hunter met commendably.
He may not be as riveting as a Brando or a Dean, or even a Paul Newman
or a Ben Gazara, but he does turn in a strong performance and largely
proves that he did have what it takes to be a fine actor. The fact that
this never happened is a combination of factors beyond his control and
the poor choices he made.
He is partnered beautifully by a young Geraldine Page. They share some
truly touching moments together.
"Portrait of a Murderer" is a genuine curiosity item. While its
satisfying to see Hunter doing his best, (although the problem is that
he seems to be trying too hard), in retrospect it's a little sad to see
how things panned out in his career.
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