Eight years before they costarred as an engaged couple in The Pleasure of Your Company, Tab Hunter escorted Debbie Reynolds on a date to a movie premiere. The pair of fresh-faced, all-American movie stars flashed gorgeous smiles for the cameras before attending a screening of Little Boy Lost, a Bing Crosby drama. 

It’s only natural that two of the fastest-rising stars of the early 1950s knew each other — but what’s even sweeter is that their friendship lasted for decades. “Tab’s a wonderful man who is married to another man now,” said Debbie in her 2013 memoir, Unsinkable. “I’m glad we’ve been friends for so long.” 

Debbie Reynolds, Tab Hunter Friendship: Relationship Details

Debbie and Tab were close enough friends to call each other by their birth names, not the new ones Hollywood gave them. “I used to call Debbie ‘Mary Francis,’” said Tab, using her original moniker. He could relate. When Tab was growing up in New York and California, he answered to Arthur Kelm. 

Debbie was one of his earliest friends in Los Angeles. “I’ve known Deb since she was in the Burbank High School band playing the French horn,” he told Closer in 2015. “I could just go anywhere and do anything with Deb because we have such a good time together.” 

In those days, actors who were gay, like Tab, kept their private lives very quiet. The so-called “lavender scare” was very real — and it came very close to ruining Tab’s career. 

In 1955, a gossip magazine revealed that Tab had been arrested years earlier for “disorderly conduct” at a “pajama party.” “It was all bulls–t. When I arrived, there happened to be a couple of guys dancing with a couple of guys and a couple of gals dancing with a couple of gals,” said Tab, who insists that as a young actor, he was there mainly for the free food. “Moments later, the cops showed up and arrested all of us. That’s exactly how innocent it was.” 

Warner Bros. could have fired Tab after the revelation, but he had already filmed several upcoming movies for the studio, so they chose to ignore the potential scandal. “In Hollywood, everybody talks, but nothing matters more than the bottom line,” Tab noted. 

Debbie stood by her friend. “It was the early 1950s; there was no discussion about being gay back then,” she said. “But I knew that Tab was.” 

She never spent time with Tab looking for romance, though. “One night in my parents’ kitchen in Burbank, Tab tried to kiss me goodbye. I told him not to,” recalled Debbie about the earliest days of their friendship. “I thought it would be like kissing my brother. And I was right. Tab is like my brother …. We always laughed and had fun when we were together.”