By Richard Labonte
Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star
By Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller. Algonquin Books, 378 pages, $24.95 hardcover
More than once in the course of this otherwise illuminating and often amusing autobiography, erstwhile movie hunk Hunter plays coy with his queerness (a word not likely to ever pass his lips: he has a hard time with “gay”). Not one to out his Hollywood peers, he drops hints about his compulsive (homo)sexuality, but names few noteworthy conquests: an intimacy with early-’50s ice skater Ronnie Robertson, a fragile romance with “Psycho”‘s Anthony Perkins, an affairette with dancer Rudolf Nuryev. But Hunter (or, all credit due, co-author Muller) writes about his scant 10 years or so as a teen idol through the 1950s and early 1960s – and about the years that followed as a knockabout road-show and dinner-theater performer – with a joyous effervescence and a lack of preening ego that is truly engaging. And, for a homosexual of a certain age who hasn’t much truck with queer pride, he’s generously effusive about his last “leading lady” – that would be Divine, with whom he appeared in John Waters’ “Polyester” and Paul Bartel’s “Lust in the Dust.”
Finding out who I was, sexually, was one thing. “Admitting” it was something else entirely, since any evidence would have destroyed my livelihood (or so I thought). Accepting that I was wired differently was no cause for celebration, believe me. We all have our various urges and desires and shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of them. Being “proud” of your homosexuality, however, was a concept still years away. Not that I’d “ever” feel that way. To me, it’s like saying you’re “proud” to be hetero. Why do you need to wear a badge? You simply are what you are.
-from “Tab Hunter Confidential,” by Tab Hunter, with Eddie Muller
They Change the Subject
By Douglas A. Martin. Terrace Books, 146 pages, $17.95 paper
It’s less than a full-bore narrative novel, and it’s more than a collection of discrete short stories. Many of the pieces are not much more than vignettes, vivid exploratory expositions of a soulful erotic life, beginning with “License,” about “the first boy I was ever comfortable with,” and ending with “An Attempt,” about a romance “that’s never been over.” One of the lengthiest is the title story, “They Change the Subject,” a 38-episode account (some just lines long) of the narrating character’s stint as a callboy, in which Martin brilliantly – but charitably – captures the fetishes and foibles of men who pay for sex. The most linear section of the collection, five stories grouped under “Outtakes,” is about the young narrator’s fish-out-of-water affair with an older, accomplished artist, as he frets about the boundary between kept boy and object of desire. This loosely linked cycle of luscious, stripped-down tales, charting a young man’s quest for emotional identity and sexual fulfillment, is inventive in style and luminous in tone.
Murder on the Mother Road
By Brenda Weathers. New Victoria Press, 192 pages, $12.95 paper
Libby is mourning (and cursing) the lover who abandoned her, nursing her health after recovering from breast cancer, and ready to celebrate life with a convoy of like-minded RV-loving dykes headed for a festival in Albuquerque. She most definitely isn’t looking for murder and mayhem. But when she pulls into the parking lot of a ramshackle motel and cafe along dusty Route 66, miles into the desert from Barstow, Calif., that’s what she finds. The plot of “Murder on the Mother Road” is as rickety as the motel at its center: Libby becomes improbably entangled with a former sorority sister born into mucho old-family money; with the college chum’s murdered brother; with the rascally niece and nephew of the deceased, desperate to hang on to their inheritance; and with the smarmy director of an alleged animal shelter, who stands to gain from the murder. But this busy mystery – a rainy-day guilty pleasure – charms because feisty Libby is such an engaging character. And, from hints dropped in this novel, there’s another romance along the road. Live on, Libby.
Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948-1963
By Gavin Butt. Duke University Press, 232 pages, $21.95 paper.
Despite the number of gay men making, curating, and reviewing art in the pre-Stonewall years, it wasn’t easy to be queer – and rumors about those who were gay were inflamed by caustic innuendo and fueled by Cold War paranoia. That’s the premise of this sound survey of the Manhattan art world, a righteously footnoted academic study peppered with dish that’s both appealing and appalling – one New York socialite’s venomous description, for example, of Andy Warhol as “a skinny creep with a silver wig…this weird cooley little faggot.” Butt focuses primarily on bisexual Larry Rivers, whose sexual relationship with poet Frank O’Hara infused much of his art; on Jasper Johns, whose notorious “Target with Plaster Casts” – with a cock as one of its body parts – raised curatorial eyebrows; and on Warhol – who, argues the author, was “inned” rather than outed as he transformed himself over the years from outlandish swish to asexual dandy. Anyone with a fascination for postwar modern American artists will revel in Butt’s astutely original approach to relatively recent art history.
Several months after an unsettling upheaval at the Lambda Literary Foundation – which saw the departure of executive director Jim Marks and the suspension of the book-review monthly “Lambda Book Report” and the literary quarterly “James White Review” – the foundation’s board of directors has named Charles Flowers “to lead us into a new era,” board chair Katherine V. Forrest said in an Oct. 13 release. Flowers, former co-chair of the Publishing Triangle (a New York-based organization of queer publishing professionals), is a poet, writer, and editor who has worked with such authors as E. Lynn Harris, Joan Larkin, Sarah Schulman, Andrew Holleran, and Keith Boykin; he’s also publisher of the literary journal “Bloom.” “I am thrilled to be part of the Lambda team as the foundation enters its second decade,” Flowers said of his appointment. Plans for the 2006 Lambda Literary Awards and a new website, to be launched in January, have already begun. In the meantime, the foundation continues to review the viability of its two magazines.