I’m back in after the JAMAICA INN (1939) premiere party, winding down and thinking abut what a great night it was. My first red carpet went well. Norman Lloyd, Tere Carrubba, and Katie Fiala were generous interviewees. They were eager to talk about and connect over Alfred Hitchcock. I recorded our conversations, so I may release the audio at some point, but look for a write-up of the event and a review of the film soon. First I’ll be co-hosting a Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD contest. Details will go live at 9 AM PDT!
By msbethg in 1930s, Actresses, Alfred Hitchcock, Directors, Era, Maureen O'Hara, Screening Alert, Series 3 Comments Tags: A Mighty Wind, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, BAFTA LA, Best in Show, Charles Laughton, Charles S. Cohen, Cohen, Cohen Film Classics, Cohen Media Group, family, Fred Willard, granddaughter, granddaughters, Hitch, Hitchcock, Hollywood, Katie Fiala, KCET, KCETLink, Link TV, Los Angeles, Margaret Herrick Library, Mary Stone, Mary Yellen, Maureen O'Hara, Norman Lloyd, redhead, redheads on film, Saboteur, spellbound, Tere Carrubba
Sharing a black and white picture of Maureen O’Hara after and not on St. Patrick’s day might seem like a mistake. The Irish-born actress’s trademark was her flame red hair crowning her head in glory in technicolor pictures, so sharing a color photo of her to celebrate the holiday would’ve been festive, but that’s not what I’m celebrating today.
Tonight I’m in Los Angeles to watch JAMAICA INN (1939) for the first time. I’ve been invited as press to cover a special screening organized by KCETLink, the Cohen Media Group, and BAFTA LA. It celebrates KCET and Link TV’s broadcast premiere of the movie, the last one Alfred Hitchcock shot in the United Kingdom.
As part of the festivities, there’ll be a red carpet, which I’ve been credentialed for, so that marks a first for this film writer and her blog. Celebrity guests include Norman Lloyd (SABOTUER, SPELLBOUND, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS) and Fred Willard (BEST IN SHOW and A Mighty Wind). There’ll be an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs of Hitchcock organized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. All three of the director’s granddaughters will be in attendance, and they’ll participate in a panel discussion moderated by host of the COHEN FILM CLASSICS series Charles S. Cohen.
When I heard that last fact, I had to rearrange my schedule to attend. I’m not sure how often his granddaughters (Tere Carrubba, Katie Fiala and Mary Stone) are in one place, and I can’t wait to hear what they share about their grandfather. I’ll be sure to share what live experiences I can on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and you’ll definitely find more in-depth coverage here at a later date.
For now enjoy this picture of O’Hara as JAMAICA INN’s Mary Yellen. Even after a sub-par screen test, its male lead and producer Charles Laughton insisted she be cast as his co-star. He was bewitched by her eyes, and it’s easy to see why.
By msbethg in Classic Film, Film Festivals, Genres, Series, TCM Film Festival, The Road to TCMFF 2017 4 Comments Tags: 2017, blog, classic, classic film, classic films, classic movie, classic movies, critic, film, film blog, film blogger, film bloggers, film critic, film exhibition, film fanatics, film fans, film fest, film festival, film festivals, film fests, film writer, film writers, films, Hollywood, LA, Los Angeles, media credential, movie, movie blog, movie blogger, movie bloggers, movies, press, press credential, press pass, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, TCM, TCM Classic Film Fest, TCM Classic Film Festival, TCMFF, TCMFF 2017, TCMFF17, TCMFF2017, The Road to TCMFF, The Road to TCMFF 2017, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Classic Movies Film Fest, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, Woman writer, women writers
Wonderful news! For the second year in a row, I’ve been awarded an official media credential to the TCM Classic Film Festival. I’m excited to return to the premiere classic film gathering in the United States. I can’t wait to meet up with fellow film fanatics to experience the camaraderie, special guests, movies, and other events TCM is organizing. Prior to the festival, I’ll be releasing more The Road to TCMFF 2017 pieces. Once the festival goes live, I’ll have daily diaries on this blog; I’ve invested in a digital recorder for on-site interviews; and I’ll be sharing live reactions on Twitter and Instagram. Post-event coverage will include detailed reviews. Prepare to be inundated with updates!
By msbethg in Classic Film, Film Festivals, Genres, Series, Silent Film, TCM Film Festival, The Road to TCMFF 2017 No Comments Tags: Abbott and Costello, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Alice Howell, Bebe Daniels, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Bud Abbott, Buster Keaton, Carole Lombard, Clara Bow, classic, classic film, classic films, classics, comedian, comedians, comedienne, comediennes, comedies, comedy, Constance Talmadge, David Stenn, Dean Martin, duo, Elsa Lanchester, Fatty Arbuckle, film, film festival, film festivals, films, Flora Finch, Get Your Man, Gloria Swanson, Good References, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood, In the Heat of the Night, Jerry Lewis, Laurel and Hardy, Library of Congress, LOC, Los Angeles, Lou Costello, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Make 'Em Laugh, Marie Dressler, Moonstruck, movie, movies, Norman Jewison, Oliver Hardy, Patsy Kelly, Polly Moran, preservation, reconstruction, Red Hair, restorations, restored, Robert Woolsey, short, shorts, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, Stan Laurel, Suzanne Lloyd, TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM Film Festival, TCMFF, team, Thelma Todd, Turner Classic Movies, Wheeler and Woolsey, William "Bud" Abbott, William Abbott, Zasu Pitts
Since only a portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival offerings has been revealed, I’m going to fantasize about what else the festival programmers could schedule. In making my ideal list, I’ll pretend rights or physical print restrictions don’t exist, and I’ll stick to this year’s theme of MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. I’m sure some of the programs and films I’d like to see at the festival will surprise you!
Long-term readers and Twitter followers know I’m a silent film buff, and I know the perfect gateway to introduce others to the medium is comedy. I have multiple suggestions in this category. Harold Lloyd will be shown, but due to his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd‘s activism in preserving and promoting his work, his work screening at the fest is usually likely. I’m a fan, so I don’t object. I’d like more silents at the festival!
I’d love TCM to put together a program of silent film comediennes’ shorts. That way the audience could get exposure to or reacquaint themselves with multiple women stars from that era. There have been recent restorations, including some recently screened on the network, that could help fill the bill. Gloria Swanson, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Flora Finch, Carole Lombard, Alice Howell, Marie Dressler, and Elsa Lanchester are all comediennes with existing silent shorts. If looking for a longer bill, shorts could be paired with Constance Talmadge‘s hour-long, recently found and restored comedy GOOD REFERENCES (1920).
Clara Bow‘s GET YOUR MAN (1927) provides the perfect excuse for a spotlight on the jazziest silent film comedienne. More exposure for Bow, especially with an introduction by her biographer David Stenn, will spotlight why America’s former favorite redhead deserves to be remembered as a talented comedienne whose onscreen naturalism belied self-aware technique. Discussion of how an incomplete film was reconstructed by the Library of Congress using “still photographs and inter-titles from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fill in the narrative gaps” would be a mini-course in film preservation. If the program needs filling out because GET YOUR MAN is fifty-seven minutes long, short materials like the fragment of RED HAIR (1928) can be screened.
I’m divided whether I want a program of comedy duo shorts or one featuring duos whatever the length of their films. Shorts duos I’d be delighted to watch at TCMFF included Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, Todd and Patsy Kelly, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, and Laurel and Hardy. If the fest highlights comedic duos’ best moments even from longer fare, I’d want to see added Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Abbott and Costello, and Wheeler and Woolsey. I’m sure including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would make even more fans happy!
With Norman Jewison already in attendance for the fiftieth anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), I hope another one of his films celebrating its thirtieth anniversary gets snuck onto the schedule–MOONSTRUCK (1987). It’s laugh out loud funny in an idiosyncratic way, and it celebrates life and the mistakes that make it interesting with no cynicism. It, also, captures an old New York City that’s been disappearing via gentrification, displacement, and the passing of the older generations.
Now that you’ve read my picks, what films or programs would you like to see at TCMFF?
By msbethg in Actresses, Bette Davis, Costume Designers, Costuming, Genres, Movies, Of Human Bondage, Orry-Kelly, Series, Susan Sarandon, TV Biopics, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Women He's Undressed 2 Comments Tags: actress, actresses, Baby Jane, Baby Jane Hudson, Bette, Bette Davis, bra, braless, bras, brassiere, brassieres, buttons, child star, costume, costume designer, costume supervisor, costuming, Crawford, Davis, documentary, Feud, foulards, FX, Gillian Armstrong, gothic, Hollywood, Hollywood gothic, Jane Hudson, Joan, Joan Crawford, Mildred Rogers, miniseries, Of Human Bondage, Orry-Kelly, pockets, premiere, red carpet, show, suit, Susan Sarandon, television, The Calling, TV, TV show, underwire, uniform, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Women He's Undressed
FEUD premieres tonight on FX, and like many classic film fans, I’m watching to see how legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are portrayed, and I’ll be paying particular attention to one area of costuming.
Susan Sarandon plays Davis. The latter actress, while capable of glamour and being beautiful onscreen, always favored her performances over the strictures of the star machine that led more wary or canny actresses to compromise on characterization in favor of not lowering beauty standards too far. Davis felt no restriction. She wanted her Mildred Rogers in OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) to look as sickly as possible when the script called for that, and she pushed for her WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) costume to be more extreme than as originally designed.
Sarandon has shown a willingness to deglam onscreen for the right roles, but offscreen she’s been a poster girl for not looking her age or letting it determine whether she should be sexy on the red carpet and how. A favorite outfit of hers to wear to movie launches, so much so it’s almost a uniform, is a suit with no shirt worn underneath its jacket, often leaving a pretty bra visible for all to see. If her bra isn’t in view, its push-up effects leave no doubt of its presence.
I’m finding it ironic that an actress sartorially famous for her bras and gravity defying chest is playing one who eschewed underwire bras, despite being as generously endowed. As the recent Orry-Kelly documentary, WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED (2015) revealed Davis was convinced wearing underwire caused breast cancer. The costume designer was left having to camouflage that the leading lady was undersupported or braless by “using foulards, pockets, buttons, and other visual tricks.”
So while I’m watching FEUD, I’m going to be looking at Sarandon’s silhouette to see if series costume supervisor Katie Saunders incorporated this particular quirk when approving designs. Like Davis knew, it’s paying attention to the little details that help a performer build and inhabit a character.
By msbethg in Actresses, Illeana Douglas, Quotations, Series, Women in Film Tags: biography, Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, director, directors, film, film history, film writer, films, history, Hollywood, Hollywood History, host, hostess, I Blame Dennis Hopper, interview, interviewer, memoir, memoirist, movie, movie history, movies, podcast, series, stories, story, talk show, TCM, Trailblazing Women, Turner Classic Movies, TV, woman, woman filmd writer, women, women directors. woman director, women film writers, women in film, writer
“I did this show called TRAILBLAZING WOMEN, and the biggest thing I’ve learned in two years of doing the show is that men write their history and that’s why they’re remembered more than women. Cecil B. DeMille made sure to write everything down, but all the other women that were working at the same time as Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith–there were women directors, they didn’t write their stories down, so they weren’t included in the history books. I think it’s really important for women to mention the things that they were a part of.”
By msbethg in Actors, Comedies, First Time Watchers, Genres, Harold Lloyd, Movie Podcasts, Silent Film, Slapstick Tags: #TCMFF16, #TCMFF2016, Attaboy Clarence, Capitolfest, Christmas, comedy, Dan, episode, film, film fest, film festival, film festivals, film fests, films, First Time Watchers, Fritzi Kramer, Geek Cast Radio, Harold Lloyd, Hermano DaSilva, Hollywood, host, hosts, LA, Los Angeles, Love & Friendship, movie, movies, Movies Silently, New York, podcast, podcasts, Rome, Rome Capitol Theatre, Safety Last, San Francisco Silent Film, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, SF Silent Film, SF Silent Film Fest, SF Silent Film Festival, SFSFF.SFSFF20, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, slapstick, special, TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, TCMFF, TCMFF 16, TCMFF 2016, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Phantom Carriage, Tim Costa, Turner Classic, Turner Classic Films, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, Walter Vinci, Whit Stillman
I’d been keeping a secret for a little while, in case it fell through, but it happened! I made a guest appearance on First Time Watchers this week. It’s a movie podcast hosted by Tim Costa, Hermano DaSilva, and Walter Vinci. I want to disclose the last host is one of my cousins! Movie madness runs in my family.
The guys discuss films classic and new, and they have their own unique format. They decided to expand their coverage to include a three-part series on silent film. Dan from Geek Cast Radio started it off by reviewing The Phantom Carriage, and Fritzi Kramer from Movies, Silently talked about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
I concluded the series with Harold Lloyd‘s Safety Last (1923). In addition, I got to speak about how I got into movies and silents in particular, my recent trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival, some of the other film festivals I’ve been lucky enough to attend (like The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Rome, New York’s Capitolfest), and a trailer that’s got me very excited to see its movie.
I’ve not been on the air in any form in a while, excluding my holiday wishes cameo on Attaboy Clarence‘s 2015 Christmas special, but I had a lot of fun. If you listen, let me know what you think of the show in the comments below!
By msbethg in Anouncements, Film Festivals, TCM Film Festival, Upcoming Tags: #TCMFF16, classic, classic film, classic films, classic movie, classic movies, credential, critic, film, film festivals, Film Radar, films, Hollywood, media, media credential, movie, movies, pass, press, press credential, press pass, reporter, reporting, review, reviewer, reviews, revival, specialty, TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM Film Festival, TCMFF, TCMFF 2016, Turner Classic, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival
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!
By msbethg in Anita Loos, Holidays, International Women's Day, Screenwriters, Women Screenwriters Tags: #IWD2016, Anita Loos, Brownlow, Clare Boothe Luce, comic, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, documentary, Douglas Fairbanks, F. Scott Fitzgerald, female, film, films, flapper, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, H.L. Mencken, Helen Hayes, HL Mencken, Hollywood, Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film, humorist, International Women's Day, intertitle, Intolerance, It, John Emerson, Jule Styne, Kevin Brownlow, Lillian Gish, Lorelei Lee, Mencken, movie, movies, novel, quotation, quotations, quote, Reaching for the Moon, Ruth Gordon, San Francisco, satire, satirist, scenario, scenarios, screenwriter, screenwriters, screenwriting, series, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, sound, talkies, television, The Women, TV, woman, women, writer
She started screenwriting in the silent era, and she’s credited for elevating the intertitle beyond the functional into an art form. A wordsmith, wit, and satirist, her intertitles had zing. Yes, they had “It.” It’s likely her exposure to the family tabloid and her own newspaper writing made her value succinctness. Would it be even more of a stretch to suppose that this early education schooled her in the art of equivocal, particularly innuendo? She could write a line explaining a scene and poking fun at a star’s persona. When describing yet another one of Douglas Fairbanks‘ characters designed to show off his athletic prowess, she wrote he had “a vaulting ambition which is likely to o’erleap itself and fall on the other side.” She was getting meta before that became a thing!
She had an aversion to societal hypocrisy and the pitfalls of her sex, threads that run through her work, like in this line from Intolerance (1916): “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice.” Instead she had a fondness for hustlers, loose women, and other characters usually viewed as disreputable undesirables. Exposure to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and piers, when accompanying her father on drunken wanderings and fishing trips, gave her a glimpse of those types at a young age, and she never lost her fascination for them, and they populate her work.
The most famous example is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘ Lorelei Lee, a ditzy, gold digging flapper. Loos wrote the comic novel as an act of revenge. She was tired of seeing her male intellectual friends (and crushes like H.L. Mencken) fall for women with more “downstairs” than upstairs. Despite Loos’ upset over the inspirational situation, there’s an admiration for Lorelei’s wiles and ambition. Loos was a hard worker, and so was her creation, who through her kooky logic and machinations ultimately wins.
Despite a disastrous love life that included marriage to a controlling, abusive, narcissistic, spendthrift schizophrenic, she kept working and didn’t turn to drink or idleness unlike other contemporaries. She survived film’s transition into sound writing more screenplays and expanded her oeuvre to include additional novels, (likely fictionalized, but so much fun to read) memoirs, Hollywood biographies, and Broadway.
She even became a script doctor. My favorite example of this was her being called in to work on a property other male writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, couldn’t get right. They couldn’t relate to the source material. Fitzgerald thought it “a spiteful portrayal of femininity.” Loos loved the Clare Boothe Luce play. Loos was very familiar with its subject matter, an exposé of the cattiness, gossip, men-stealing, and gold digging of Park Avenues socialites and the wannabees. She delighted in dishing on what occurs behind the scenes in women’s spaces. She turned out a script in three weeks that remains a classic beloved for its zingers to this day–The Women (1937).
When she died in August of 1981, her drive resulted in a body of work spanning about 65 years. She remained a celebrity. The gamine, 4’11’ girl with the pixie cut had aged into a grande dame of the New York social scene, active and vibrant close to her end. She frequented the party, fashion, and arts circuits. She enjoyed being among the surviving few of the silent era able to share what ever stories she remembered or fabricated. Film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow interviewed her for his television documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980), and he must have had a fun time sorting fact from embellishment. “At the memorial service, friends Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, and Lillian Gish, regaled the mourners with humorous anecdotes and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals, including “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The storyteller would live on in others’ tales and through her work.
By msbethg in Actors, Actresses, Anthony Perkins, CAIFF, Classic Hollywood, Debbie Reynolds, Directors, Divine, Documentaries, Dolores Hart, Film Festivals, Genres, Jeffrey Schwarz, John Waters, LBGTQ, Natalie Wood, Tab Hunter, Themes Tags: all-American, all-American boy, Allan Glaser, Anthony Perkins, Art Gelien, Arthur Gelien, Arthur Kelm, Battle Cry, beefcake, boy, broken, Brunswick Records, CAIFF, California Independent Film Festival, classic, classic film, classic film era, closet, closeted, Confidential, Confidential Magazine, Damn Yankees, Debbie Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Dick Clayton, Divine, documentaries, documentary, Dolores Hart, Dot Records, Elvis Presley, era, family, gay, Gelien, German, Gertrude Gelien, Grease 2, Gun Belt, Gunman's Walk, Henry Willson, Hollywood, Hollywood closet, homosexual, horses, hunter, immigrant, Island of Desire, Jack Nicholson, Jack Warner, Jeffrey Schwarz, John Waters, Lafayette Escadrille, Lamorinda, Linda Darnell, magazine, man, Natalie Wood, New Rheem, New Rheem Theatre, Operation Bikini, Playhouse 90, Polyester, Portrait of a Murderer, Richard Clayton, Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, single mother, Sophia Loren, studio system, Tab Hunter, Tab Hunter Confidential, That Kind of Woman, The Burning Hills, The Girl He Left Behind, The Sea Chase, Tony Perkins, Too Much, Track of the Cat, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Records, Warner Brothers, Young Love
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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 Hills, Gunman’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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.