The enduring heartthrob: Tab Hunter at FLIFF

Take an actor who radiates the heat of, say, a Brad Pitt at the height of his GQ-mag magnetism, and imagine he cuts a song that proves so trendy that it knocks the reigning pop superstar, let’s think Justin Timberlake, from the No. 1 spot on the chart.

And under this twin high-beam glare of celebrity, have the chick magnet all the while concealing a secret so powerful that it had the potential to ruin it all. Such was the complicated stardom of Tab Hunter.

Sixty years later Hunter, the 1950s heartthrob who detailed his double life as a gay leading man in the soul-baring 2006 memoir “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star,” betrays no frustration over opportunities lost or bitterness over gossip-tabloid cruelties.

“I’m a firm believer that under every pile of crap there is a pony,” Hunter says from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It’s been a pretty fascinating journey. It’s important to be positive. My life is nothing but a bunch of ‘thank yous.’”

Hunter, star of such hit films as “Damn Yankees,” “Battle Cry” and “The Pleasure of His Company,” will get his own “thank you” on Tuesday, Oct. 29, when his career is celebrated at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. The evening will include a Q&A and many of the stories that fill his memoir, which are fresh in his mind: He’s busy these days turning the book into a documentary, including interviews with the likes of Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner and Mother Delores Hart, who filmed “Where the Boys Are” in Fort Lauderdale before she became a nun.

The actor, 82, expects the audience Q&A to be “a lot of fun,” and, yes, he’s heard them all.

Was it difficult to play a romantic scene with an actress?

“Are you kidding? Sophia Loren? Dorothy Malone? Natalie [Wood]? I get it. No, no problem whatsoever.”

Did he think his 1957 single “Young Love” had what it took to knock off Elvis Presley’s “Too Much” as Billboard’s No. 1 song?

“Not at all. I cut that record [for Dot Records] and Warner Bros. [film studio] hit the ceiling. They said, ‘We own you for everything.’ And I said, ‘You don’t have a recording company.’ And that’s when they started Warner Bros. Records.”

Did he have a favorite co-star?

“I always joke that some of my favorite leading ladies were Sophia and Natalie, but you have to put Divine in there, too. He was like a big, beached whale. He was very serious, very dedicated to his craft.”

FLIFF’s Tab Hunter tribute will end just in time for an 8 p.m. Cinema Paradiso screening of John Waters’ “Polyester,” which paired Hunter and Divine in a 1981 romp most famous for its scratch-and-sniff “Odorama” feature.

IF YOU GO
The career of Tab Hunter will be celebrated at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival at Cinema Paradiso (503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale) at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29. Tickets: $10, $8 seniors/students. Call 954-525-3456, or go to FLIFF.com.

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