Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tab Hunter, Young Love, BHS, & The Spirit of St. Louis

A couple weeks ago a friend forwarded a link to a curious piece of Brookline trivia for sale on eBay.

It was a 1957 photo of the Brookline High School auditorium showing a group of students being addressed by Warren Bartlett, housemaster of the school's Lincoln House, and the young movie and recording star Tab Hunter. (The seller has placed a watermark on the online image and didn't want it reproduced, but you can view it here.)

Tab Hunter: Young Love
Today's high school students may never have heard of Tab Hunter, but he was quite the heartthrob in 1957. Hunter established himself playing a young soldier in the 1955 Word War II drama Battle Cry.  The following year he co-starred with Natalie Wood in two movies: the Louis L'Amour western The Burning Hills and the romantic comedy The Girl He Left Behind.

Like many young actors today, Hunter then went into the recording studio. His 1957 hit "Young Love" spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts. (You can listen to it here; tastes have certainly changed.)

But what was Tab Hunter doing at BHS?

The eBay offering showed a note taped to the back of the photo that said Hunter came to Boston to promote the Warner Brothers movie The Spirit of St. Louis starring Jimmy Stewart. But why would Hunter be promoting a movie he wasn't even in, and why at Brookline High?

Hunter himself explains in his 2005 autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. It seems Jack Warner, head of the Warner Brothers studio had Hunter under contract and wasn't happy about his recording success.

At first [wrote Hunter], Jack Warner wanted to suspend me for making money for anybody other than him. Money was always on his mind, but that winter he was particularly concerned about having spent more than $6 million on Billy Wilder's film biography of Charles Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis.  He hit on a unique way of exploiting me and, in the process, teaching me a lesson in humility.

The Lindbergh biopic, it seems, had not proved appealing to young audiences, so Warner sent his young star on a 24-city tour to drum up excitement for the film. But the tour may not have turned out the way Warner expected.

Every place I stopped on the Spirit tour, radio stations, theaters, colleges, high schools — the response was the same. "Yeah, yeah, we know —he landed safely at Le Bourget. There was a fly in the cockpit that made the trip with him. Now tell us about 'Young Love.' " 

Warner Bros. was, in essence, paying me to make public appearances that drove sales of my records ever higher.

Hunter's appearance at BHS, reported on in the school paper, The Sagamore, fit the pattern.

Squeals and shouts must have been heard clear to Brookline Village, as Tab tried to tell the students about "Lindy" and the "Spirit of St. Louis." He presented an autographed copy of Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh's book, bearing the above title, to Lincoln House for the BHS library, as a memento of his visit. However, the demand for the "Tab Hunter autograph" has been so great that the book has had to be placed under lock and key, for all to see but not to touch.

Tab Hunter in The Sagamore
The Sagamore, March 8, 1957

After Hunter's departure, reported The Sagamore, students returned to class, but

who was in a mood to study? Teachers gave up trying to teach and make their classes concentrate, believe it or not, for Tab Hunter had been to BHS! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Calvin Coolidge in Brookline - At Last!

To mark Presidents Day a few years back I started compiling a list of U.S. Presidents who had been in Brookline before, during, or after their presidency. I identified 7 at first including, of course, John F. Kennedy who was born here in 1917. The list grew with more research and had reached 21 when I last updated it on Presidents Day last year.

Calvin Coolidge
I felt sure that Calvin Coolidge, who had been governor of Massachusetts, must have been in Brookline at some time.  But evidence of Coolidge in town remained elusive, and I left him off the list.

Until now.

This morning, I found a reference to a letter Coolidge wrote to his father in 1908 from the Corey Hill Hospital where he was visiting his step-mother, Carrie Coolidge, while she was treated for an unknown ailment there.

I'll wait until I have more details before adding it to the full list, but there is no doubt that Coolidge makes #22.  (In the meantime, you can read about the other 21 presidents in Brookline here.)