TAB HUNTER! Damn Yankees 1958

Today we send happy 86th birthday wishes to Hollywood star Tab Hunter!  

A product of Hollywood’s Golden Era, Tab Hunter became Hollywood’s “golden boy” and starred in over 40 feature films. One of Hunter’s first films for Warner Bros was The Sea Chase (1955), supporting John Wayne and Lana Turner. Oblivious to his sexuality, Hunter remained the all-American boy-next-door who guys envied and girls desired during the 1950s and 1960s. Being so popular that when he recorded a song called “Young Love”  it knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the charts and prompted the creation of Warner Records today known as Warner Music Group, as well as the purchase, by Jack Warner, of a popular baseball musical from Broadway for Hunter to star in. “Warner, as a gift, bought Damn Yankees! for me,” he notes in his biography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, adding how much he enjoyed working with his costars, the assistant director Stanley Donen and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Joe Hardy a lovestruck baseball player portrayed by Tab Hunter on screen in 1958 for the Warner Bros movie musical Damn Yankees opposite leading lady Gwen Verdon as Lola the Devil’s seductress assistant. Lola was is the Tony Award winning character Verdon originated on Broadway with future husband and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Below is Tab Hunter’s heartfelt recollection of first seeing Verdon perform live with Jack Cole’s dance troupe in a Los Angeles nightclub and then working with Gwen filming Damn Yankees.

Thoughts of Gwen…

I first laid eyes on Gwen at Ciro’s night club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. She had become the talk of the town as the lead dancer with the very exciting Jack Cole Dancers. I was hypnotized by her red hair whirling above those beautiful, long legs that seemed to start at her neck and go on forever. I have never forgotten that evening. At the time I was still in high school with no aspirations to be an actor.

A few years later I was under contract to Warner Brothers Studio. Jack Warner had purchased the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees” as a vehicle for me. Mitzi Gaynor. Vera Ellen and Shirley Mac Laine were briefly mentioned for the role of Lola. I flew east to see the show and when Gwen stepped on stage, I immediately recognized her from that unforgettable evening at Ciro’s. Watching her weave her magic on stage, I was once again smitten with her talent. There could be no other Lola. She was perfect.

When filming began, I was overwhelmed to find myself the only.  IHollywood actor in the company of established Broadway performers. I Gwen helped me deal with my insecurity. During the “Two Lost Souls” number she and Bobby showed me how to make good use of my two left feet. Ironically, the Broadway actors were also apprehensive about being in a Hollywood film. There were many outstanding things about this wonderful woman. Her voice was like a freshly opened bottle of champagne. She was warm and honest. I still smile when I think of Gwen laughingly calling me. . . Tabhuntah. . . One word. . . with a New York accent. Gwen has not only left an indelible mark on Broadway, but she lives on in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to have known her and worked with her. . .When I think of Gwen, I think of the word “Vulnerable” and she was just that. . . “vulnerable”. . . You will be missed dear Gwen. . . God Bless You.  TAB HUNTER  

As published on February 20, 2001.