Tab Hunter is an American actor and singer popularly known for his 1950s box office hits and the 1957 Billboard chart-topper “Young Love.” Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York to German immigrants, he started his career in 1948 when he was discovered by Harry Wilson, a Hollywood agent who also handled other stars, the most prominent being matinee idol Rock Hudson. Hunter’s blond-hair-and-blue-eye good looks found him film roles such as Battle Cry, The Burning Hills, That Kind of Woman and other over 40-odd films he has starred in.
He also gained fame for a time as a recording artist, his most popular and remembered single being the pop ballad “Young Love” in 1957 which topped the Billboard charts. Hunter experienced a career revival in the 1980s through the cult films Polyester and Lust in the Dust.
Early life and career
Actor, singer and film producer Tab Hunter was born Arthur Andrew Kelm on July 11, 1931 in New York City. Both of his parents were German immigrants. When he was just a toddler his parents divorced, and his mother took him and his brother and moved to the West Coast. Her mother later assumed her maiden name, Gelien, which was to become her sons’ surnames as well.
Now as Arthur Gelien, the young boy was quite athletic, as he was competent in both figure skating and horseback riding.
When Gelien was 15, he fibbed about his age in order to join the Coast Guard. During his free days from his Coast Guard duties he would rather spend watching movies than going to bars with his mates. Little did Gelien realize that he would also be a star on the silver screen one day.
Hollywood movie hunk
After his Coast Guard tenure, Gelien’s next stop would be Hollywood. Talent scout Dick Clayton spotted the blue-eyed, blond-haired young man while the latter was working at a stable. Clayton then recommended Gelien to Hollywood agent Henry Wilson, who gave the young man the stage name “Tab Hunter.” Among Wilson’s other wards was Rock Hudson, a matinee idol at the time.
Hunter’s first film role was in the 1950 film The Lawless. In 1952, he starred in the British film Saturday Island (re-named in the US as Island of Desire) with Linda Darnell as the leading lady.
It’s not a surprise to see why Tab Hunter rose to become a Hollywood heartthrob. Blue eyes, blond hair, boyish good looks and a strapping hunk’s body — those things endeared him to his female fans. Those attributes served Hunter well in his films Battle City, The Burning Hills (with Natalie Wood, who was a close friend),That Kind of Woman, Gunman’s Walk and The Pleasure of His Company, all of which became box-office hits.
Recording star via the hit “Young Love”
Hunter became a massive film star at that time that he decided to enter into a recording career. He received an offer from Dot Records who asked him to record a song called “Young Love.”
“Young Love” was originally sung by one of its composers, Ric Cartey, in late 1956. Cartey’s version didn’t chart, but country music star Sonny James turned it into a #1 pop hit in early 1957.
Hunter later released his own version of “Young Love” on Dot. It entered the Billboard magazine chart on January 19, 1957 — just fourteen days after the Sonny James version made its first appearance on that same chart, too.
Hunter’s “Young Love” eventually went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also peaked at #8 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and #1 on the UK chart. It became one of the rock and roll era’s biggest hits.
Hunter had a minor hit with “Red Sails in the Sunset” (at #57 pop), but later had a bigger smash with “Ninety-Nine Ways,” which barely missed the Top 10 on the pop chart. Both of these singles were also released on Dot in early 1957.
Hunter was under contract with Warner Bros. at the time he tasted newfound success in his recording career with Dot Records. The record label was owned by Paramount Pictures, which was Warner’s rival.
Resenting at the fact that Hunter recorded for Dot, Warner Bros. went to establish its own label, Warner Bros. Records. Of course, Hunter signed with his new label and he recorded several singles there, but with modest success compared to his stint with Dot.
His best-performing Warner single was 1959’s “(I’ll Be with You in) Apple Blossom Time” which reached #31. It was also to be Hunter’s last Top 40 hit. His other singles on Warner — “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Jealous Heart,” and “There’s No Fool Like a Young Fool” — were only minor Hot 100 hits.
Hunter went on to his acting career, and in 1960 he also starred on his own Sunday evening television show on NBC, The Tab Hunter Show. In the 1980s, he experienced a career revival by starring in cult films Polyester (directed by John Waters) and Lust in the Dust (directed by Paul Bartel).
Hunter also began producing films, having set up his own production company that brought Lust in the Dust as well as the 1992 film Dark Horse (which Hunter also wrote and acted). He has starred in over forty movies.