EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story, a Capital Region Scrapbook feature, originally ran in The Gazette on Feb. 12, 2007.
For many young women of the mid-1950s, Tab was fab.
Tab Hunter, that is. The movie and television star, with his good looks and muscular build, was a dream package for teenage girls in bobby socks and blue jeans.
He was a dream come true for Judy Madden. In 1957, she spent the day with the rising star.
Madden was a 17-year-old senior at Scotia High School during the winter of 1957 when kids went nuts over some Hunter news: The star would appear in Albany during February and take one lucky, love-struck fan to lunch.
Radio station WOKO got a piece of the action. Fans were asked to write to the station and explain why they wanted Tab as an early Valentine. Hundreds of girls entered the contest. Judy was chosen to represent Capital Region teens, and learned she and her marquee man would break bread at Albany's Sheraton-Ten Eyck Hotel.
The expected brief encounter on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 1957, turned into much more.
Madden, now Judy Rapavy of Glenville, remembers dressing for the date in a blue, floral dress, saddle shoes and small hat -- her mother Evelyn's idea. The teen had recently left Sunnyview Hospital, where she had spent the previous 14 months for treatment of bulbar and spinal polio. Judy needed crutches and a brace on her right leg to walk.
The long hospital stay didn't phase the brunette teen. "I made friends wherever I went," she said.
Keeping tabs on event
Rapavy didn't have any anxiety as she and her family drove to WOKO in downtown Albany to meet Hunter, 25, and take a limousine to the Ten Eyck. But because date day was Lincoln's Birthday, schools were not in session. Plenty of young girls were hanging around downtown.
"There were kids galore, hundreds," Rapavy said. "They were all screaming like girls do when they're excited. And they were all along the road to the hotel. There were thousands."
Hunter, whose most famous role as Joe Hardy in "Damn Yankees!" would come in 1958, was charming and friendly.
"When he looked at you, you felt like you were the movie star, and he was the person who won the date," Rapavy said.
Judy and Tab didn't get a table for two. Promotions people from the letter contest also passed the salt and pepper. The conversation, and the comestibles, are both hazy memories.
She does recall a trip to television station WTRI, where she and Hunter appeared on Forrest Willis' talk show. That should have wrapped things up, but handlers decided Tab would make an appearance at a dinner party honoring Albany Mayor Erastus Corning II. That event was a few hours away, Rapavy said. So Hunter went back to his room at the Ten Eyck. Judy and her entourage checked into another room.
Rapavy asked her sister Carolyn, then 15, to buy some toothpaste at a local drug store. The quick trip turned into an ordeal; Hunter fans had mobbed the Ten Eyck, too.
"They wouldn't let her back into the hotel because there were so many teenagers trying to get into the hotel," Rapavy said. "They were saying they were related to me. [Carolyn] finally had to have them call the room."
After the Corning dinner, Judy and Tab said goodbye. And sealed their time together with a kiss. "I remember everybody saying that I probably wouldn't wash my face for the rest of my life, didn't want to wash off the kiss," Rapavy said.
Bumping into each other
Hunter called the Madden residence on Catherine Street and made sure Judy had arrived home safely. And for a few years, Tab Hunter Christmas cards arrived every December. Judy and Tab even saw each other again, in a million-to-one coincidence.
Judy had married Bill Rapavy (longtime basketball coach at Linton High School) in 1961. She was pregnant with her second son in June 1963 when she went shopping at the J.C. Penney store in Latham. Hunter was in town once again, performing at the Colonie Coliseum. He also needed something at Penney's.
"He was going in at the same time," Rapavy said. "I said, 'Do you remember me?' He did. He patted me on the stomach, which was very big, and said, 'You look different.' But he was very friendly."
There was another reminder of the date. Rapavy's son William, who lives in New York City, read Hunter would be signing his 2005 book "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star" at a city bookstore. He got in line, talked to Tab and retold the family's famous story.
Hunter signed the book in good spirits, and perhaps a fond look back: "To Judy," he wrote in black marker ink. "How about another date?"
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected].