Previous Next 

Mar 14 2016
Losing A New, Old Friend Comments (0)

Where else but at a Tab Hunter movie would I get picked up by a 94-year-old man?

Last year, I went to see the Tab Hunter documentary at Film Forum with two friends. I wanted to be far forward to film Tab's responses at the Q&A after, so I made a beeline solo for the front row. Two seats down, an elderly gentleman made eye contact with me. I said hello and asked if he was a fan of Hunter's, to which he replied that they were social acquaintances from long ago. Then, he instructed me, “Move next to me—I don't want a fatty sitting by me.”

In today's climate, with our awareness of body shaming, it might seem an unfortunate remark. But it made me laugh, because he clearly just didn't want to be squished, he was so fragile and so far beyond worrying about stepping on toes in pursuing basic comfort. Also, I liked that he didn't think I was fat, so I guess we were both in the wrong.

We had a lively conversation. He was a director. In fact, his career went back to radio, and he directed some remarkable shows on early TV, retiring decades later, around the time I was graduating high school. To put some perspective on the greatness of his age, he was older than Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland would have been had they lived.

“I must take you out to dinner sometime,” he insisted within minutes. No one asks me out, and Grindr does not count. I accepted.

Taking me out to dinner turned into meeting him at his apartment for dinner in. He was such a flirt, such an operator, but only in the sweetest, more charming sense; nothing sleazy or desperate, just puppy-love pursuit. It's how he approached everything, from keeping up with the latest films (we watched Bridge of Spies on his bed) to reflecting on the shows and people he'd directed (James Dean, everyone else you can think of)—with kid-like enthusiasm.

I found out he was 94 years old, and was there when he celebrated turning 95; it was at an intimate, collegial gathering of gay men of a certain age (and a few younger than his retirement), filled with witty remarks, political ruminations and more harmless passes all around.

My new, old friend was truly an open book. Aside from handing me his brief memoir that was published some years ago (devoid of all the scandalous gay tidbits he would offer verbally, especially surrounding his notorious Hollywood pool parties held a stone's throw from Rock Hudson's pad), he let me interview him a few times and also would tell me things that made me feel surprisingly close to him, considering the newness of our friendship.

I won't give away everything he said—he was fairly private even while being relentlessly social, hosting a separate birthday party for the boys and one for the rest of his friends—but one thing he told me I'll never forget involved his childhood dog. He expressed to me the love he had for this dog, and how crushed he was when he needed to have it put down. He was sick doing it, but the vet assured him it would be painless. Nonetheless, when the vet administered the shot, the dog looked at him in alarm. He described it as a look of betrayal. It hit him so hard he passed out for the first and only time in his life, hit him so hard that he remembered the dog's face vividly 80 years later.

I'll miss my new, old friend. He taught me a lot in a very short time, maybe because he knew odds were it would end up being a short time for us, in spite of his doctors routinely telling him there was no reason he couldn't live to be 100.