A tagline stood out on a cover of Screen Album magazine: “… suddenly Tab Hunter was kissing me!” It so happens this provocative teaser referred to my wonderful experience with the handsome movie actor in 1956.
It was in the fall of ’55, during dinner one evening, that a man came to our door in St. Louis with a special delivery letter addressed to me.
It was from Screen Album and said I was one of 15 finalists selected from 25,000 entries for a date with a movie star. My parents and brother were confused, then thrilled after I explained the whole thing.
I loved to read about whom the popular movie stars were dating or how their marriages were doing, and in the summer this headline on the contest page of Screen Album had caught my eye: “Tell Us Why You’d Like to Meet a Star and Win a Trip to Hollywood.” Whom would I like to meet? It was my latest heartthrob, Tab Hunter, and I described him in the required 50 words or less.
Because summer had passed, I had forgotten that I’d mailed my entry. Now, as a finalist, my next instructions were to write about myself in 500 words or less and mail a picture. That seemed like a lot to write about myself, so I put off the essay until my Aunt Dorothy told me to get with it. What did I have to lose? I wrote about 200 words and sent it off.
In November another man delivered a letter saying I had won the all-expenses-paid trip! I had high school cheerleading duties at a basketball game that night, so I took the letter with me to show my friends, which produced yelling, screaming and happiness all around.
On New Year’s Eve, my mother and I flew to Los Angeles and stayed at Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel, where a bouquet of flowers (above left) arrived with a note: “Welcome to Hollywood—from Tab Hunter. P.S. And your mom, too.” We were treated like royalty right from the start and even had 50-yard-line tickets for the Rose Bowl football game on Sunday.
The next day, the magazine’s western manager, Carl Schroeder, called to say he had a few surprises for me. The first was a date at Ciro’s with actor John Smith, who had a part in the Academy Award-winning John Wayne film The High and the Mighty. We did an interview at the club with Art Laboe on Larry Finley’s radio show over KFWB.
On Tuesday I met Hugh O’Brian, who played Wyatt Earp in the TV series, and we toured Hollywood awhile and saw all the things an out-of-towner wants to see. Then we went on a date to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
When we got back to the hotel, Mr. Schroeder asked if I’d like to meet a few stars my own age. Who wouldn’t? He clapped his hands and in walked Natalie Wood, Nick Adams, and Dennis Hopper! We all had dinner at the Knickerbocker and then decided to go to Natalie’s house.
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I was so excited to be in her home! Rebel Without a Cause, her movie with James Dean, had been released in October. She was devastated when he died in a car crash just before the film’s release, so I appreciated that she was a wonderful hostess to me that evening. They were all very personable and talked with me about my life back in St. Louis.
On Wednesday Mom and I spent an entire day at the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim. Thursday brought a chat with Robert Taylor, who took a break from the filming of D-Day, the Sixth of June. It was really something!
Each day of our week was filled with so many stars, lovely people, and exciting places to see, and Friday brought my dream date with Tab Hunter.
We met at Warner Brothers in the morning, driving around in a prop car to see where various movies were being made and visiting prop rooms. On the set of Santiago, I was shocked to hear someone yell “Cut!” so that Alan Ladd could come over and talk to us.
Afterward we went to the studio cafeteria for lunch, but with all the excitement I wasn’t really hungry. We also taped an interview for NBC’s Monitor radio program.
That evening Tab Hunter and I had our dinner date at the Mocambo nightclub, where we even danced and met other stars. My dear mother was as thrilled as I was! Our gracious movie star was kind and easy to talk to, and our date ended with a kiss on my cheek and one for my mother.
Our dream week was over and I returned to the everyday reality of life in St. Louis. However, a bit of fame came my way when Screen Album put my name on its May-July 1956 cover and told the story of my Hollywood trip with an article and photos over eight pages. That was truly a dream come true!
In November 2005, I happened to see that Tab Hunter was coming to St. Louis for a book signing, so I went to the event with two of my best friends, Marilyn Parker and Ellen Bell, and my husband, Bob. Tab loved the pictures I’d brought along, and I told him that the 50th anniversary of our date was coming in a couple of months. He recalled the time fondly because he had been just getting started in the movies and was treated well as a Hollywood newcomer. He was just as gracious in 2005 as he was back in 1956.