Monday, July 9, 2018

Tab Hunter and the Nature of Love

A movie star died.  1950's Warner Brothers movie star Tab Hunter died just a few days shy of his 87th birthday.  Teen girls would scream at the sight of his big, blond beefcake presence.  He was handsome.  He became a very good actor.  He had to learn how to emotionally and spiritually balance stardom with his off-screen life because he was gay man.  Onscreen, he was doing love scenes with luscious beauties such as Sophia Loren, Natalie Wood and Linda Darnell.
One of his boyfriends was actor Anthony Perkins who gained international fame as Norman Bates in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, PSYCHO.  A few years ago, a big and brawny straight buddy of mine (a fellow classic film fan) urged me to see the documentary TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL.  He said "Dude, if I love him, you will love him even more after seeing that documentary."  He was right. Hunter is so warm, so honest and forthcoming in that doc. He talked about his past boyfriends and his current longtime partner.  Besides the very interesting look at Hollywood's sexual politics and repression when he was a 1950s movie star, you get the sense that he was a great boyfriend to have.  He went for content and character, not just looks.  Check out Netflix for TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL.
I was a child of the 60s when television was still pretty much in its infancy.  A TV was usually a big heavy box of lights and wires that you put in the living room.  There were only three networks to watch -- ABC, NBC, CBS -- you had your local network affiliates and a few independent stations. There were no cable channels, no VHS or DVR capabilities.  If you missed a network show, you waited until it was repeated.  Color TV was rare.  There was no remote control.  You had to get up and walk over to the TV set to change the channels and adjust the volumes.  We paid attention to the shows as they aired. There was no live tweeting during a telecast which, in my opinion, is often like texting while driving.  You're not paying full attention to what's happening before you.  With less technology, we paid more attention. But, I digress.

It's now KCAL.  But, when I was a kid, it was KHJ TV/Channel 9.  This independent local Southern California station was attached to the Warner Bros. film library.  Channel 9 carried "The Million Dollar Movie" format.  One film would air at the same time at night during one week and then get a couple of airings on Saturday and Sunday, if I recall correctly.  To me, Tab was terrific with Sophia Loren in Sidney Lumet's THAT KIND OF WOMAN, in THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY with Debbie Reynolds and Fred Astaire, in the fabulously unconventional John Waters' movies with Divine and he was very good as "The Boy Next Door" in a CBS production of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS.  But I dig Tab most in a baseball musical.

When I was in elementary school and on summer vacation, I lived for "The Million Dollar Movie" airings of the Warner Bros. musical comedy, DAMN YANKEES.  Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston repeated their hit Broadway show roles in the film version.  The lead role of the mysterious star athlete who helps the Yankees become champs went to Tab Hunter.  Perfect casting.  He was that wholesome, All American team player.
It's a fantasy musical, a modern spin on the Faust tale.  When we meet Joe Boyd and his wife, he's a middle-aged man with a pot belly.  The wife cannot pull him away from the TV during baseball season.  Joe doesn't realize it, but he makes deal with the Devil to be a young man again so he can play for the Yankees.  Middle-aged Joe Boyd disappears and he's magically turned into a hot new unknown player eager to try out for the Yankees.  He gets signed.  Young Joe returns to his unsuspecting wife (who doesn't recognize him) and the polite, handsome young man rents her spare room.  Joe is so pure of heart that it frustrates the Devil (played by Ray Walston).  The Devil has planned to screw Joe over and see the team fail and....well, you get it.  So, the Devil sends for his ace vamp, Lola, played by the delicious Gwen Verdon.  Lola has ruined men's lives for centuries and figures Joe will be a quick, easy job. But she's wrong.  He is still faithful to his wife.

When you get older, you see different things in movies you've loved for a long time.  Here's what I mean about Tab Hunter and the Nature of Love.  It refers to DAMN YANKEES.  Lola is a hot babe. She pretends to be a Dominican beauty pageant winner.  But young loves his middle-aged Mrs. who wears a simple  house dress and glasses.

There's a sweet and sexy undercurrent, when you think about it, in the scenes of Joe Hardy, baseball star, with Mrs. Meg Boyd.  I didn't pick up on this when I was a kid watching DAMN YANKEES. Meg sees Joe as a clean-cut, sweet young man who's a great baseball player.  He sees the woman who's been and still is the love of his life.  And now, with his youth restored, so is his sexual energy.  There is a sexual chemistry between them but Meg doesn't realize it.  She may feel she's just an ordinary housewife whose husband has mysteriously disappeared for a time but Joe can reveal in his eyes that he has a physical yearning for her, his wife.  He desires Meg, not the shapely vamp, Lola.  Meg is what his heart wants.  That is the nature of love.  When it's the real thing, the attraction is not just about age and physical beauty.  There's something else.  Something sincere, substantial and special.

Here's one of the numbers that made me love this musical time and time again thanks to "The Million Dollar Movie" on KHJ.  Tab Hunter and Gwen Verdon as Joe and Lola are in the locker room after a game for "Whatever Lola Wants."
A big glass of Hawaiian Punch or Kool-Aid, a bag of Laura Scudder's potato chips and DAMN YANKEES on TV.  That was total summertime fun for me when I was a kid in South Central L.A.  Tab Hunter -- he made my heart happy.

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