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! 

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Ken

    I am a fellow Boston area blogger who now lives in the UK and has a long family history with the town of Brookline...what a mouthful!

    Found your wonderful blog and read that you are the president of the historical exciting!
    I have been considering starting a new blog for my Brookline memories and that’s how I found yours today. I would really enjoy sharing my Brookline memories and wondered if you wanted or ever considered “guest contributors”?? I have a few possible updates in mind and was going to send my research assistant (my Boston-Brookline stand-in) to do some digging at the Brookline Public Library for me.

    Please feel free to have a look at my main other blog:

    Just going through your updates was a thrill...I could add footnotes to far too many!

    I would love to work with you in some way if possible...hope to hear from you soon!


    (copy sent to an email address I found for you as well)