When Marilyn Met Tab Hunter

Actor Tab Hunter, one of the great Hollywood heartthrobs of the 1950s, has died aged 86. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York, he moved to California with his mother as a child, and lied about his age to join the U.S. Coast Guard at fifteen. He began acting in 1950, winning his breakthrough role in wartime drama Battle Cry five years later. Rumours of his homosexuality were first reported in Confidential magazine, but didn’t dent his burgeoning career as a teen idol. Over the next four years he was Warner Brothers’ most popular male star, with roles in Damn Yankees (1958), and They Came to Cordura (1959.) He also enjoyed a No. 1 hit single with ‘Young Love’ in 1957, and was given his own TV show.

From the 1960s onward Hunter also acted onstage, and starred in spaghetti westerns before returning to Hollywood in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972.) He later became a favorite of independent filmmaker John Waters, and made two films with legendary drag queen Divine. In his 2005 memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential, he spoke openly about the challenges he faced as a gay actor under the Hollywood studio system. The book inspired a documentary of the same name, and a biopic is currently in development.

Cover to Cover: Tab Hunter and Marilyn in the Chilean magazine, ‘Ecran’ (1957))

Just five years younger than Marilyn, Tab Hunter was also judged by his striking good looks during his early career and had to struggle to prove his talent ( a 2016 article on The Wow Report website even describes him as ‘the male Marilyn Monroe’.) In  2011, Tab spoke to Monroe expert Scott Fortner about (among other things) an encounter with Hollywood’s other favourite blonde, as recalled on the MM Collection Blog:

“I of course asked Mr. Hunter if he’d ever met Marilyn Monroe, and their paths did cross in the early 1950s at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Both were there for a Hollywood event, and upon meeting, Mr. Hunter told Marilyn, ‘I loved you in Clash By Night. No one wears a pair of Levis like you,’ to which Marilyn replied, (spoken in Mr. Hunter’s best Marilyn impersonation) ‘Thank you, Tab.'”

Dick Guttman Remembers Marilyn

dick guttmanVeteran Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman has been interviewed by Susan King for her excellent Classic Hollywood column in the Los Angeles Times.

“Guttman fell into the career by accident when he began an office boy at age 19 at Rogers & Cowan while attending UCLA. The budding journalist had worked at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a teenager in a program in which students would write the high school sports page on Saturdays.

But he didn’t have a clue what Rogers & Cowan did or even what publicity was, then ‘one day I made a delivery and Kirk Douglas answered the door. So I started reading the memos I was delivering.’

Guttman soon discovered he had found his calling. ‘I was a journalist,’ he said. ‘And I knew a lot about motion pictures. They were my two passions.’

When he began at the company — Henry Rogers was [Warren] Cowan’s partner in the firm — Rogers and Cowan had ‘more stars than MGM, who had more stars than there are in the heavens,’ recalled Guttman. ‘This was 1954-55, and it was just when the contract system was ending. Everybody was celebrating this — their new freedom and they were going to make their own films. Little did they know it was the end of the golden age.'”

Photo by Bruce Davidson
Photo by Bruce Davidson

In his 2015 memoir, Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood, Guttman recalled meeting Marilyn during filming of Let’s Make Love, while he was representing her co-star, Yves Montand, whose actress wife, Simone Signoret, won an Oscar that year (for Room at the Top.)

“Simone had become a special friend of mine during the Room at the Top campaign. She and Yves, royalty in Europe as actors, as intellects and as bold political activists, arrived in Hollywood as the most doted-upon European artist couple since Olivier and Leigh. They generated constant media attention. So I was obliged to spend a large amount of time at the Montands’ second storey bungalow apartment above the gardens of the Beverly Hills Hotel. When media was in attendance, the door across the landing at the top of the stairs was always closed. But if I was there only to go over photos or to have a discussion, no media, that door would open and Marilyn Monroe would wander in, usually in a thick black bathrobe, beautiful in the absolute absence of make-up and with the soft confusion of unbrushed hair. Apparently, she never had in her and Arthur Miller’s refrigerator whatever she could count on being in Simone and Yves’. As she ate from a bowl of cereal or a small carton of yoghurt, she would wander into their conversation or look at the photos and make pretty good choices. Miller would come in sometimes in slacks and sweater, and they seemed an informal melding of close friends. This is before Simone had to go back to Paris for work there and before Yves and Marilyn would start their work together on their ultimately unsuccessful musical comedy, Let’s Make Love.”

Gaga for Marilyn

This month’s Vanity Fair interview with singer Lady Gaga took place close to one of Marilyn Monroe’s old haunts….

“Bungalow 9, the Beverly Hills Hotel…the pink stucco bungalow stands between No. 10 – where Marilyn Monroe had a torrid affair in 1960 with her ‘Let’s Make Love’ co-star Yves Montand – and No. 8, home at one time to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.”

Photo by Bruce Davidson, Beverly Hills Hotel, 1960

During the interview, Gaga referenced MM while discussing her controversial ‘Paparazzi’ video of 2009.

“And while my fascination with celebrity has almost left the building, I had this incredible fascination with how people love watching celebrities fall apart, or when celebrities die; I wanted to know, what did they look like when they died? Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, JonBenet Ramsey…I think about all those dead girls, all those dead blonde icons. What did they look like when they died? So then I thought, well maybe if I show what I look like when I die, people won’t wonder. Maybe that’s what I want people to think I’ll look like when I die.”