classic film

Why I created a Patreon account.

Carole Lombard Pencil Typing

I’ve been getting ambitious about Spellbound by Movies. There’s so much I want to do with my blog, I want to invest more time in it to promote classic and silent films. While I say Spellbound is sometimes irregularly, but always lovingly updated, I’d like to get on a regular schedule.

I have expansion ideas. There are more post types I’m itching to get to like more interviews, lists, or my usual obsessive reviews. The last can take my eight hours or more. I watch every film more than once if I can; I start with a rough draft I craft into final form; and I fact check every line I can, including describing action in the movie.

But my expansion ideas go beyond what’s on a page. Eventually I’d like my interviews not just to be conducted via email, but also done over Skype or in person. I want to record those conversations and take their recordings and turn them in a companion podcast called SIT A SPELL.

Even without adding on the cost of podcasting, there are costs associated with my blog. There are the annual hosting, URL, and WordPress redirect fees. While I’m comped some festival passes and books, I pay to attend other screenings and festivals, and I buy books to review and to build my film reference collection. Some of the festivals I attend require travel and/or hotels. All of these costs add up.

Here’s what pushed me over the edge into creating a Patreon account. In the last six months or so, I’ve been hit with two major and unexpected expenses–a large vet bill for a beloved and now passed away cat and losing my apartment to my landlords, who resumed personal occupancy. Having to incur moving costs and suddenly paying current San Francisco Bay area market rent was a double whammy.

I don’t want either to detract from my blogging or from me being able to travel to film festivals and bring you coverage. Between my blog, my Twitter account, and my Instagram, I try to share generously my movie experiences and love. There are two film festivals I’d like to attend in April. Schedule-wise I’d have to choose one or the other. Because of recent expenses, I think I should choose neither.

I blog because I love the process, love sharing my point of view, love lifting some of the movies out of obscurity, and love the community writing connects me to. I blog without pay, but isn’t it better to pay writers than not? Is it egocentric to consider if someone else values my work, then maybe they’d like to be a Patron to help it to continue? I’ve gotten some very nice unpaid opportunities, which I’m extremely grateful for. Maybe some day my blog will lead to a paying gig.

Whatever happens my blog will continue to freely accessible to all, but for the few who become Patrons, you have my sincerest thanks and gratitude. I am the sort who will pay it forward when she can. My most immediate way will be writing more regularly.

To check out my Patreon page, please click the banner below!

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Happy New Year!

In the United States we’ve been lucky to have two New Year’s Days this year–Sunday the actual day and Monday the legally recognized holiday. Before both have been departed too long, I’d like the glamour of the holiday to linger a little longer, at least on the pages of my blog. New Year’s Eve I had fun on Instagram sharing fantasy party outfits worn by actresses of the silver screen. Let’s step into 2017 together by reveling in their fabulous.

Cyd Charisse

Here’s Cyd Charisse in a gorgeous floral print gown that pops in black and white, but leaves me curious to see it in color. Love the unusual decision to place the bold print on opera length gloves to match them exactly to the dress! They elevate the look into something memorable and high impact. Cyd’s glowing. She knows she looks great.

Susan Hayward in I Can Get It for You Wholesale

Susan Hayward looks fiercely glam in a publicity still for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951). She plays a ruthless fashion designer who claws her way up in the industry, from working for a copyist to her own haute couture label. Of course, her character’s wardrobe becomes more fashionable and breathtaking the higher she climbs.

Kay Francis Column Dress Richee

Model tall, Kay Francis had the frame and poise to wear clothes well and earned a reputation as a clotheshorse because costume designers knew she could wear a variety of styles and looked divine in evening wear. The photo’s photographer, Eugene Robert Richee, plays a visual joke. Francis wears a column dress in front of a literal column.

Evelyn Brent in Interference Butterfly Hostess Gown

The final outfit earns its spot by being a showstopper! Actress Evelyn Brent wears a sapphire blue and silver butterfly hostess gown in INTERFERENCE (1928). The dress’s detailing must have been even more impressive in person. Brilliants and crystals were sewn onto its surface to reflect light back at the camera and make her glow like a goddess.

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Celebrating National Classic Movie Day with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon

Monday, May 16 is National Classic Movie Day. As part of its festivities, I’ve joined other classic film bloggers in promoting the holiday with the 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon. I’ve selected five classic movies that would entertain and sustain me on this miraculous deserted island having screening capabilities. I explain my choices below!

Les Vampires Irma Vep Poster in Le Cryptogramme Rouge

Les Vampires (1915-1916)

My first choice is Louis Feuillade‘s silent crime serial Les Vampires. I had been grabbed by its imagery when seeing stills in write-ups of Water Bearer Films‘ VHS release. It looked like Edward Gorey’s drawings come to life, but really the film was an influence on him as I previously wrote. When I finally saw it, the beginning episodes offered a lot of eye candy in costuming and sets, which feature multiple prints and textures. Artists, designers, and other creatives could be endlessly influenced by the movie. Then Musidora playing Irma Vep appeared in its third episode. I like to say she’s one of my two spirit actresses. She’s a modern, charismatic, and feminist presence. While her Irma is number two to the Grand Vampire, the head of her criminal organization, she survives a sequence of Grand Vampires to become the main, almost everlasting villain of the serial. She’s a contrast to the rather dull hero, reporter Philipe Guérande (Édouard Mathé). Les Vampires isn’t supernatural in the slightest. There’s nothing paranormal about the movie, but its action scenes offer plenty of the unusual like secret passageways, a poison ring, and a decapitated head. In its best moments, the film serves up memorable, surreal imagery. Whenever someone asks me if I like action movies, I have to say yes because of Les Vampires. It runs for about 7 hours, and I’ve watched it multiple times in multiple releases. It’s a movie that would continuously entertain me on an island.

Bell Book and Candle Gillian Holroyd Kim Novak and Pyewacket Spell Casting

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

This movie has been a favorite of mine since my girlhood. When I first saw it, I wanted Gillian Holroyd’s (Kim Novak) pre-pastel life. She had a fabulous wardrobe, a devoted and talkative cat, and an unusual life far from the middle class suburbia I was growing up in. I was fascinated by superstition and the supernatural, too. It’s very easy to be influenced the innate gothicism of New England. I’ve worn a lot of black and velvet in my life; I’ve had cats since I was four or five, and they’ve been loving and talkative companions; and I’ve lived in multiple places sometimes participating in and other times promoting the arts that fascinate me. Not a bad early influence then! As an adult, I can’t ignore the unintended warning message for women in the movie. There’s nothing wrong with being a less self-absorbed, selfish person, but a woman needs to know the difference between being matured by love and losing her sight of her core self. Also, Jimmy Stewart‘s love interest portrayal too often slips into doddering instead of simply square making Kim Novak have to simmer overtime to distract from that fact. I would have loved for Cary Grant to have landed the male lead role like he wanted. Moving beyond my casting quibble, Bell, Book and Candle has become a Christmas movie for me. I’m sure the association started because the film’s action starts on Christmas Eve. Gillian’s celebrating the holiday with her odd, sometimes infuriating, but in the end loving family. That actually sounds like a normal holiday for a lot of us! I watch the film at least annually, and with it on for background sound, I’ve trimmed my tree. I’d take this movie to the island to remind me of the girl I was and to help me celebrate Christmas.

Ginger Rogers We're in the Money Gold Diggers of 1933 Number

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

I knew one of my desert island movies had to be a Busby Berkeley! I looked through all my discs, and I picked Gold Diggers of 1933. Mervyn LeRoy is credited with directing the film, and Busby directed, staged, and choreographed its musical numbers. As an overall movie, from plot to musical scenes to performances, it’s one of the strongest in his filmography, and it’s one hell of a fun pre-code. It features some of my favorite performers like Warren WilliamJoan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, and Guy Kibbee. It has saucy and snappy dialogue as expected in a backstage movie focusing on four struggling showgirls in the 1930s. Take this line Aline MacMahon‘s character Trixie says,  “Excuse me while I fix up the old sex appeal. The way I feel this morning I’ll need a steam shovel.” It’s funny, yet acknowledges what work it is to be a woman and have to be appealing to men. The movie straddles the same line. It’s entertaining and offers amazing musical sequences like The Shadow Waltz with its neon-tubed violins, and at the same time the reality of the Depression is allowed moments of expression, like the literal show-stopping number starring Blondell, Remember My Forgotten Man. Gold Diggers of 1933 entertains, provides momentary distraction, and then addresses its contemporary audience’s troubles. It’s a paean to the scrappy American spirit. Despite our troubles, we can take the time to be flippant and clever and sing a song’s verse in Pig Latin. A great movie to help me endure my island time!

My Man Godfrey Carole Lombard William Powell Dishwashing Scene

My Man Godfrey (1936)

My other spirit actress is Carole Lombard, and she helped tip My Man Godfrey making my list over The Thin Man. When I used to have a LiveJournal, its slogan was “When things get tough, she envisions herself as Carole Lombard.” That’s because no matter what pratfall she took or what tricky moment she found herself in, her modernism, verve for life, and zaniness showed her character would overcome her troubles, at least in the comedies. Take a look at My Man Godfrey. She and her co-star William Powell had once been married, but their marriage didn’t work out, yet they remained adult about things and stayed friends. So much so that he insisted Carole be cast instead of Constance Bennett in this film. Their comfortability with each other lets them tap into their natural chemistry for their parts. She’s ditzy, good-hearted, nouveau riche heiress Irene Bullock, and he’s a blue blood living like a tramp while recovering from a broken heart. Of course, these two fall in love, while her nutty family (complete with parasitic gigolo) and her off-kilter approach to romance complicate matters. I can guarantee this screwball comedy will make me laugh, so into the deserted island kit it goes!
Regain Harvest Marcel Pagnol 1937 The Couple Surrounded by the Land

Regain / Harvest (1937)

There are so many romances depicted in Regain–the love of a place, the love of honest labor, the love of family, the love of friendship, and the love of a husband and wife. It’s the last of those loves that provides the catalyst for a dying village to be reborn. Gabriel Gabrio plays Panturle, whose village has only three inhabitants left, and not for long because the others are aged. All the younger people have left for the city seeking work divorced from their agricultural roots. Panturle needs to find a wife. He knows his home can be renewed by having a new founding family, and he is lonely. One night Orane Demazis‘ Arsule camps on his grounds with Fernandel‘s Urbain Gédémus. Arsule is the sort of woman who has given up hope, and she lets men use her in order to physically survive. Urbain, while better than some of the men she meets in the film, isn’t really much better. This is the rare film where comedian Fernandel plays an unlikable creep. Arsule wanders off from a sleeping Urbain and meets Panturle. The raggedy man cannot believe his good fortune at meeting this beautiful angel and begins to woo her. He sees her as everything he has ever wanted in life, and together they will become the best people they could be. The past doesn’t matter. What matters is who they are and what they do now. Regain is a film in which love and goodness transform and triumph. It’s a film that would sustain me spiritually if stranded on an island.

Five Movies on an Island Blogathon

To read more blogathon entries, click on its banner. Be surprised and entertained by other bloggers’ choices. Perhaps you’ll even find flicks to add to your to watch list!

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Spellbound by Movie’s #TCMFF Bésame Cosmetics Giveaway Contest!

When I submitted my media credential application to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF), I told them one of my coverage interests was how fans present themselves, how they dress or adorn themselves to show their love of classic movies and their eras and TCM. I’ve done a bit of that in advance by reporting on how its fans have a button obsession that led to a creative opportunity for an artist. I’m eager to see how many fans go beyond wearing buttons and tees by dressing and styling themselves after specific films, performers, or time periods. I’m going to look for glamour on the TCMFF red carpet and cinema sidewalks. I’m, also, going to contribute to it!

I spoke with one of my favorite vintage-era inspired brands, Bésame Cosmetics, and they have wonderfully agreed to be a sponsor of Spellbound by Movies’ first contest! They are giving me two dozen products to brighten the smiles and faces of lucky TCMFF attendees. Over the four days of the festival, I’ll be giving away six products a day. Before I get into the details of how to win the products, I want to tell you a little more about Bésame.

Gabriela Hernandez

It was founded by Gabriela Hernandez. As a girl, she was “fascinated by her grandmother’s sophisticated beauty routine.” Her passion for the arts and her entrepreneurial drive found inspiration in the memories of her grandmother’s make-up and beauty rituals. Gabriela created Bésame Cosmetics. Every element of the line from product colors to packaging was developed to bring back the romance of earlier eras to make today’s woman feel confident and glamorous. Products are carefully formulated for historical accuracy in color, modern performance, and safety standards that surpass Europe’s. The lipstick range reproduces colors from the 1920s through the 1960s. All items are designed and made in the United States. Bésame started as a handmade, boutique brand, best known among vintage enthusiasts. Its name has spread, and its popularity has increased. Its products now can be found in film and television productions, either worn by performers or dressing sets, and in Sephora.

Now that the backstory has been shared, here are the products to be won!

Besame Red Velvet Lipstick

Red Velvet

Red Velvet draws upon 1946 for its color inspiration. It’s a deeper, semi-matte shade appropriate for everyday wear. The lipstick surged in sales when Hayley Atwell revealed she wore it onscreen when portraying Agent Peggy Carter. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a dozen to give away.

Besame Vanilla Brightening Powder

Vanilla Brightening Powder

Brightening powder does what it says. It brightens the look of its wearer’s skin. Like the name implies, the powder is vanilla-scented. It has a yellow tint to reduce redness, and it works best on light to medium complexions. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a half-dozen to give away.

Besame French Vanilla Brightening Powder

French Vanilla Brightening Powder

The main difference between Vanilla Brightening powder and the French Vanilla version is shade. Both product are yellow-tinted to reduce redness, but French Vanilla works best on medium to dark skin. It normally retails for $22. The ingredient list and further details can be found here. I have a half-dozen to give away.

How Can You Win These Products?

  1. I’m going to give these items away, 6 per day, at TCMFF, so you must be an attendee.
  2. When I’m going to give away a product, I will tweet about it from my account. Either follow my account (@missbethg) or search for the hashtag #TCMFFGlamour.
  3. I may ask a trivia question or ask you to answer a question or simply tell you where you can find me.
  4. Only one prize per person. I want to make two dozen people happy.
  5. If you are a winner, please agree to let me share on social media and this blog that you are a winner. If possible, I would like to share a photo of you holding or wearing the product you win. Bésame has been generous in giving this product for free in exchange for spreading its brand name.
  6. If you are a winner, I’m going to ask you to share on your own social media that you won. Please @ tag Bésame on Twitter and/or on Instagram, mention my blog by name, and use the hashtag #TCMFFGlamour as part of your tweet or post.

For those not attending TCMFF, I hope to do another giveaway in the future that you will be eligible to enter. Thanks for your patience on this!

Good luck to those attending the fest! I’ll see you there or in the Twitterverse!

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Review: Debra Paget, For Example (2015)

Beautiful, classic film era actress Debra Paget never quite became an A-list star. Despite being in some high profile films, she was mostly relegated to genre roles, usually playing exotic parts and often wearing skimpy and skin-tight costuming. Filmmaker Mark Rappaport chose her as the subject of one of his latest video essays, Debra Paget, For Example (2015), that’s part career biography, part examination of studio era Hollywood, and part personal digression into side topics or characters that interest him.


Rappaport performs a sort of archaeology with classic film elements. The majority of his movie is comprised of clips from Paget’s films. He allows some excerpts to play straight through, while with others he creates new scenes by making collages with with his selected images and moments. At times the material shown simply supports the biography. Other times it’s used to illustrate points. Because of the material he’s working with, a video made in his Paris apartment on a Mac with Final Cut Pro has an expensive, glamorous look. Aspirational DIY filmmakers could be inspired by how easy it would be technology-wise to create their own movies without ever leaving home.


When the documentary opens, Rappaport repeatedly superimposes the 2oth Century Fox logo over Paget’s face. This happens first in black and white and then in Technicolor. During her fifteen year film career, she was a contract player for the studio for eight years. Those were her career’s glory years. She once was third in the volume of fan mail received there, only being bested by Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Getting beyond the surrealism of a logo appearing and disappearing through fade and reverse fade over her visage, the imagery suggests she was part of the studio, branded by it, and never bigger than it. She will always be part of its story and vice versa.


The director narrates the documentary and he attempts to provide a female companion voice by having Caroline Simonds periodically speak Paget’s thoughts. Simonds never really says anything to counter to Rappaport’s narration. Instead her lines bolster his point of view. Her lines don’t always ring true or come from a female point of view.


Rappaport brings up that in Paget’s film debut, Robert Siodmak‘s film noir Cry of the City (1948), it is weird that a fourteen year-old is the romantic love interest of thirty-eight year old Richard Conte‘s character. Simonds retrogradely asks, “Why is my mother allowing this?” Paget’s mother was a stage mother and pushed all of her children into performing careers, but her father was part of their family life. Either parent could have reviewed her potential roles and rejected parts or scenes. Ultimately that’s not the perspective of a fourteen year-old girl. Someone that age tends to think they’re more grown-up than they are. Paget might have thought Conte ancient as the young feel about anyone that much older than them, or she might have been so excited about playing such a dramatic role that the age difference might not have been on her mind, or she could have had an age inappropriate crush. Those are possibilities.


The filmmaker points out that Paget is repeatedly cast as older than her age. She later plays a college coed when she’s really high school age. There’s a suggestion that she was pushed into maturity working in an adult business. There’s a suggestion of how movies do sell us illusions. There’s a suggestion that the commodification of her charms had begun.


Rappaport evaluates Paget’s talents. In “her very first shot in her very first film,” he sees skill. “She knows how to walk across a room. Not as easy to do as you might think.” He praises her for being able to cry on demand. Essentially he goes on to say and show she could act, dance, and sing. She might have had a very different career as the musical film biography of John Philip Sousa Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) showed, except musical movies were on their way out.


The dark-haired-but-blue-eyed Paget found herself the studio’s go to woman for ethnic roles. She played Middle Eastern, Native American, South Sea island, and East Indian parts. For some films, she’d wear contact lenses to turn her eyes brown. She hated that because Kleig lights would heat the lenses up. Her thoughts on having her skin darkened for roles might not be recorded. Rappaport creates a sequence showing her many exotic parts. Not only does it highlight the absurdity of the films she was cast in, but also it acts like an odd sort of fashion show, and while the castings and characters were ethnically tone deaf, there’s a pleasure in seeing a beautiful woman wearing outlandish fashions in glorious Technicolor that makes everything prettier than it should be.

He discusses how sexualized her roles were. There’s the aforementioned skimpy and skin-tight outfits. In the Biblically inspired Ten Commandments (1956), her character was a sex slave, and the costuming had her braless. In Fritz Lang‘s The Indian Tomb (1959), she performs a bump and grind dance routine more suited to Las Vegas stages. Because of her image, Rappaport mentions how Paget was the first crush of many a boy. Those crushes may or may not have been innocent. I’m sure there was many a lad (and a lassie) who didn’t know why they adored the actress, who were getting a hint of what their budding sexualities were. Rappaport chooses to focus on the masturbatory fantasies she inspired. No mention is made of those who may have been influenced to be like the Paget they saw on the screen, a very different kind of wanting.

When the director digresses, parenthesis appear on the screen. They look like crescent moons, tying into the exotic mysticism of some of Paget’s parts. Digressions can be relevant, like when he compares Paget to Maria Montez, “The Queen of Kitsch.” Montez’s roles surpass Paget’s in outrageousness of performance and costuming as a montage shows. He appoints Paget “The Princess of Kitsch,” and then he says that one person’s kitsch may be another’s nostalgia, and he seems not to want to rob anyone of their pleasure in that nostalgia. Momentarily, he’ll focus on other performers because of their Jewishness or sexuality, Paget being the launching pad to that discussion. Despite the tangents, Rappaport covers a lot of of her life in little more than a half hour.


Even if I didn’t always agree with Rappaport, Debra Paget, For Example was a fun way to spend time. I’d seen the actress in multiple movies, but I’d never investigated her, and the documentary piqued my interest in seeing more of her films. I enjoy kitsch and camp. Within films not successful at being what their creators hoped them to be and getting remembered for the wrong reasons, there were performers like Paget working hard to make something out of a role and lucking into starring in moments of stunning imagery.

Note: I watched this movie as a paid subscriber to Fandor. You can view it here.

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TCM Classic Film Festival Media Credential Awarded to Spellbound!

TCM Classic Film Festival Logo Banner

This week has been like Christmas to me! I’ve been more excited than Ralphie discovering that last obsessively desired present–his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle–hidden behind a desk. I was awarded my first ever media credential to cover the TCM Classic Film Festival! Attending has been a long-term goal. Expect to see pre-festival coverage, posts during the course of the event, interviews, reviews, live tweets, Instagram pics, and more. You may find my festival writings appearing outside of this blog. Friend and Hollywood historian Karie Bible runs Film Radar, a site focusing on revival and specialty films. She’s asked me about contributing additional festival content to Film Radar. This next month will be an exciting one as we head on the road to Los Angeles and to the TCM Classic Film Festival together!

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Tab Hunter Confidential at CAIFF 2015

Tab Hunter Confidential Poster

Today we know that Hollywood heartthrob Tab Hunter had a secret. While he was working hard to become an actor appreciated for more than his looks, he was a gay man living in the closet, and that fact would have destroyed his career if it became common knowledge. It would have shattered his all-American boy image that peddled teenybopper magazines, records, and the periodic picture. The documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, an adaptation of the same-titled memoir, tastefully and lovingly tells his life story with a heavy focus on his performing career. The movie opened the 2015 California Independent Film Festival, the first time in the festival’s eighteen years a documentary was awarded that spot, at a sold out New Rheem Theatre.

Tab Hunter Confidential Q&A CAIFF 2015

Derek Zemrak, Tab Hunter, and Allan Glaser at CAIFF 2015

The Lamorinda-area crowd skewed older, and a great number of Tab Hunter’s peers and original fans were in attendance. During the screening, they gasped when later studio-era stars’ images from their heyday were flashed onscreen. I detected in the outbursts a mixture of reactions–admiration of beauty, recognition, and youth briefly recaptured. When idols were shown aged while discussing the past, much of the audience momentarily murmured as they discussed with their seatmates performers’ appearances. One of the loudest reactions came from the revelation that actress Dolores Hart had become a nun. Viewing the movie with such a vocal group added to my fun!

Tab Hunter in Grease 2

I wasn’t well-versed in Hunter’s story before the movie, and I was more familiar with his revival period films, like Polyester and Grease 2, than his “glory era” flicks, but I emerged from the screening impressed with his attitude and what he accomplished in his life.

Gertrude Gelien Tab Hunter Natalie Wood

Tab Hunter’s Mother Gertrude Gelien Visits Him and Natalie Wood on the Set of The Burning Hills (1956)

His German immigrant mother fled an abusive relationship and raised her two sons as a single mother. This would result in Hunter’s first name change. He was born Arthur Kelm, but his mother had the whole family revert to her maiden name Gelien. Finances were tight for the family, and Arthur Gelien started working at a young age. He was shovelling manure at a stable when he got word a film was being made nearby. He wandered over to watch the proceedings, and a chat with one of the actors, Dick Clayton, led to an introduction to agent Henry Willson, who specialized in representing pretty beefcake types. Willson invented Gelien’s third name. When Hunter rejected Troy Donahue as a potential moniker, Willson and Hunter agreed on Tab Hunter, a name inspired by the actor’s love of horses. A hunter is a type of competition show horse.

He soon landed his first lead role,  Island of Desire (1952), co-starring Linda Darnell. The stranded-on-a-deserted island plot meant that Hunter didn’t wear much in the part, and he photographed well, but he acted poorly. His embarrassment didn’t discourage him. He was determined to become a better actor and score better parts, but his studio Warner Brothers was content to market him as “The Sigh Guy.”

Tab Hunter Beach Still from Tab Hunter Confidential

There was repetition in the roles the studio assigned him. He was often cast as the younger love interest of an older or slightly older women (Island of Desire), as a soldier (The Sea Chase, Lafayette Escadrille, and The Girl He Left Behind), as a cowboy ( The Burning HillsGunman’s Walk, Gun Belt, and Track of the Cat), or some mixture of the other roles (Battle Cry and That Kind of Woman). He usually played the male lead and love interest and almost always the good guy. Gunman’s Walk gave him the chance to stretch his acting and play a villain, and he’d get a further chance to try edgier roles on TV like in Playhouse 90‘s live episode Portrait of a Murderer (1958).

Hunter had been a singer in his church choir, and to expand his career options, he cut a single for Dot Records called Young Love (1957). Unexpectedly it became a hit on the U.S. charts and knocked Elvis Presley‘s Too Much out of the number one spot. Young Love held the spot for six weeks. It fared even better in the U.K. where it was top of the charts for twelve weeks. Jack Warner was furious! He had Hunter under an exclusive contract, but Warner Brothers had no recording division, not since it sold off Brunswick Records. Warner’s releases were being licensed to other companies’ record labels, something that Jack Warner had been pressured to change by his executives. Hunter’s hit was the catalyst that caused Jack Warner to finally form Warner Bros. Records, and while Hunter never had such a big hit again, he steadily recorded for the label, and his singing inspired Warner to buy Damn Yankees‘ (1958) screen rights for the star.

Confidential Magazine Cover Featuring Tab Hunter

Hunter’s career had survived an attempted outing by Confidential in 1955. He had left agent Willson to be represented by Dick Clayton. The former actor had become an agent, and Hunter was more comfortable working with Clayton, whom Hunter trusted more. Willson’s client Rock Hudson was going to be exposed by Confidential unless Willson could make a deal. In exchange for Confidential dropping their Hudson story, Willson gave them stories on Hunter and Rory Calhoun. In 1950, Hunter had been arrested for disorderly conduct after leaving a pajama party attended by homosexuals. Calhoun had kept secret the time he had served in prison. Neither man’s career suffered. The public didn’t seem to care what Confidential implied about Hunter, maybe they didn’t believe its claim, and Calhoun’s bad boy reputation and roles were further enhanced.

Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood 1956

Jack Warner assured Hunter the incident would soon fade, and Hunter understood the role he was to play on and offscreen. The studio arranged dates for him, usually his latest co-star, and they would go out to functions together. Hunter enjoyed the dates. Even if he wasn’t interested romantically or sexually in the women he escorted, he had fun going with beautiful women to night clubs, parties, and premieres. He especially loved spending time with Natalie Wood, whom he adored like a “little sister.” Natalie never asked him why he never initiated anything romantic with her. They both knew they were out to promote their films and careers. Hunter remarked once they were done being photographed, they’d exit from the rear of a venue, and she’d run off to meet Dennis Hopper, and he’d go off to meet his real date. Debbie Reynolds was another beard, but she didn’t mind. She didn’t know Hunter was gay back then, but she had fun going out with him to events. “He wasn’t on the make, and women like that.”

Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins

Tab Hunter and Anthony Perkins with “Dates”

Living in a time more conservative and traditional about sexual preference and identities and working in a field where he was required to present a very specific image of manhood, Hunter compartmentalized his life. He didn’t let his career prevent him from becoming involved with men, but he didn’t talk about being gay (a word he wouldn’t have known back then), or having lovers or boyfriends, and his studio didn’t ask him about his private life. They would protect him as long as he played his part and was a valuable commodity. Being raised by a strict, traditional German mother, he viewed his private life as something to be kept private whatever his sexual orientation was. In a story shared at the screening, he talked about how he never came out to her, but he’s sure she knew. After a romance with Anthony Perkins ended, she asked her son why she never saw Perkins anymore, and when Hunter explained they had drifted apart as friends, his mother thought for a moment and replied, “I’ve never been in love.”

Operation Bikini Poster

Three things other than Hunter’s sexuality ended his early film career. The studio put him in lesser quality films as the sixties went on. Nothing can hurt a career worse than inferior product. The type of films and roles became an issue. The public’s tastes changed. Leading men were becoming more complicated and less wholesome as American counterculture influenced the movies. Hunter seemed like a throwback to an earlier era as stars like Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson became popular. The biggest blow to Hunter’s career was a strategic move that backfired. Unhappy with the films Warner Brothers was putting him in, he bought his contract and became a freelancer. Film work, good or bad, became even harder to get. He went to Europe and shot spaghetti westerns.

Polyester Promo Still Tab Hunter Divine

When John Waters contacted him for Polyester, Hunter was performing in American dinner theatre, and he was game to take a risk and spoof his former screen image. He treated Waters and Divine with respect, and Waters said Hunter made his part work by never winking at the camera and romancing Divine onscreen as he had his more famous leading ladies like Natalie Wood and Sophia Loren. Hunter’s gamble paid off, and he not only got offers and hired for roles (Grease 2), but also he went into producing, and that led to him meeting his life partner, Allan Glaser. After some health issues like a heart attack and stroke, Hunter retired from performing, even though he could have continued working. He decided that he was done with acting, and he settled back into private life.

Tab Hunter CAIFF Best Documentary Award 2015

Derek Zemrak awarding Tab Hunter for Best Documentary at CAIFF 2015 (From the Tab Hunter Confidential Facebook Page)

What motivated someone like Hunter to tell his life story? He heard somebody else was writing his biography, and he knew since it was unauthorized they’d be able to write whatever they liked, true or not, and not in the way he would. In the film and in interviews, he says, “Why not get it from the horse’s mouth, instead of some horse’s ass after I’m gone?” He co-wrote his memoir with Eddie Muller first, and later Hunter’s partner convinced him to turn it into a movie. While Hunter doesn’t seem comfortable being a gay rights spokesperson, he does seem happy having his career recognized and being accepted by his fans. During the question and answer session post-screening, he told one laudatory gay man, “I don’t understand you young people,” and he went on to say but if you get something from my story then I’m glad.

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Coming Back from Hiatus!

Ever Felt Watched

I confess I took an unannounced hiatus from Spellbound by Movies. That doesn’t mean I’ve not been indulging in my movie love. I had an overwhelmingly good time at the twentieth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and I flew out to New York state for my second Capitolfest, which remains a favorite. I’ll be blogging about both events belatedly here, so don’t worry about missing out on my observations of either. My pre-coverage of the fests here and/or on Twitter was only the start. I’ve been watching a lot of movies, reading about them, listening to some great movie podcasts, and even taking Hitchcock-inspired selfies, like the above. I’ve joined some upcoming blogathons. That means I have a lot to share with you. Watch this writer and blog become more active again!

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