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Tab Hunter Confidential

Tab Hunter Confidential

B+

How delightfully perverse that 1950s beefcake Tab Hunter calls his new memoir Tab Hunter Confidential (Algonquin, $24.95), after the tabloid that pretty much took down his career by printing stories on his homosexuality (true) and his dog beating (false). It’s as if Paris Hilton decided to name her autobiography Us or In Touch.

Invoking the P-word isn’t exactly blasphemy. As Hunter, now 74, describes his life in Hollywood during the mid-20th century, he has a lot in common with his tabloid progeny: from the manufactured image (he grew up with the decidedly less sexy moniker Arthur Gelien) to the manufactured dates (Debbie Reynolds and Natalie Wood are fine companions — for heterosexuals) to the manufactured articles designed by publicists and studios to keep their clients in the limelight.

It’s either a huge testament or insult to Hunter that after some 40 films and two megahit singles, this bio might be the best work of his career. He takes readers on a gleeful romp dotted with cameos ranging from Clint Eastwood to Roddy McDowall. Perhaps in homage to the genre he’s skewering, Hunter (or, more likely, collaborator Eddie Muller) has an excellent sense of tabloid TV rhythm. ”Tab Hunter’s sweet ride was officially over,” ends one chapter. (Not likely, since we still have another 50 pages before the John Waters comeback movies.) And the authors fire off some terrifically bawdy lines. One of the more printable: ”[Actress] Meg Myles who had two big things going for her, encased in a 42D brassiere.”

Hunter earns his gay stripes for cattiness, but not necessarily for activism. It’d be easy — but wrong — to take Hunter to task for not being a gay-rights pioneer. As he correctly surmises, ”In 1957, the mainstream media couldn’t even come up with adequate euphemisms for homosexuality — that’s how taboo it still was.” But as he recounts his life 48 years later, you have to wonder how honest Hunter is being with readers — and himself. On facing pages he calls his relationship with Anthony Perkins a ”thing,” while a dalliance with French actress Etchika Choureau is Harlequinned into a ”romance.”

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