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James Dean

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It's a question that will never be answered.

Even so, for decades, there have been rumors that James Dean was bisexual and maybe quite possibly gay.

Tab Hunter, a former 1950s matinee idol and friend of the Rebel Without a Cause star who publicly came out of the closet in 2006, weighed in on the gossip when I sat down with him at South by Southwest to talk about his new Jeffrey Schwarz-directed documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential.

Hunter, now 83, said he knew "Jimmy pretty well" because his friend Dick Clayton was his agent.

"People always said that," Hunter said about Dean swinging both ways. "All I know is I saw him with Ursula Andrews a lot and with Pier Angeli." (Dean was dating Andrews at the time of his death. He and Angeli apparently wanted to marry but never did because her mother was against it.)

"People want to hang labels on people—Oh, he's like this or he's like that—[but] to me I don't buy into that...As far as I know [about] Jimmy, no," Hunter said.

Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood, Girl He Left Behind


While Hunter was outed by infamous tabloid Confidential in 1955, he continued to have a massive career. "People believe what they want to believe," Hunter said, explaining that studios had the power to make such stories go away. He went on to become Warner Bros.' top grossing star from 1955 through 1958.

Hunter never discussed his sexuality publicly or privately (he was even in a long-term relationship with Psycho star Anthony Perkins) and had plenty of studio-arranged beards to sway public opinion.

He was often seen—and more importantly, photographed—with Natalie Wood, even though she was secretly dating Dennis Hopper.

"She was like my kid sister," Hunter said of his The Burning Hills co-star. "She was much younger than me and I loved Natalie. She was like a young filly finding her legs, bucking and playing in the field. She was finding her direction."

Long retired from the business now (he and his partner of more than 30 years, Allan Glaser, live in the Santa Barbara area), Hunter enjoyed a bit of campy comeback in the 1980s when director John Waters cast him opposite Divine in Polyester. He and the late drag queen reunited four years later for Lust in the Dust.

"Divine as one of my favorite leading ladies," Hunter said, smiling. "There was Geraldine Page, Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren and Divine!"