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Actor Marsha Hunt dies at 104

Star of films in 1930s and 1940s saw blacklist disrupt career by JAKE COYLE The Associated Press | September 11, 2022 at 4:21 a.m.
Actor Marsha Hunt, one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s, arrives at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Aug. 13, 2013. Hunt, 104, died Wednesday. More photos at arkansasonline.com/911marshahunt/. (AP/Invision/Jordan Strauss)


TORONTO -- Marsha Hunt, one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood's so-called Golden Age of the 1930s and '40s who worked with performers ranging from Laurence Olivier to Andy Griffith in a career disrupted for a time by the McCarthy-era blacklist, has died. She was 104.

Hunt, who appeared in more than 100 movies and TV shows, died Wednesday at her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said Roger Memos, writer-director of the 2015 documentary "Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity."

A Chicago native, she arrived in Hollywood in 1935 and over the next 15 years appeared in dozens of films, from the Preston Sturges comedy "Easy Living" to the adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" that starred Olivier and Greer Garson.

She was well under 40 when MGM named her "Hollywood's Youngest Character Actress." And by the early 1950s, she was enough of a star to appear on the cover of Life magazine and seem set to thrive in the new medium of television when suddenly "the work dried up," she recalled in 1996.

The reason, she learned from her agent, was that the communist-hunting Red Channels publication had revealed that she attended a peace conference in Stockholm and other supposedly suspicious gatherings. Alongside Hollywood stars Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart and Danny Kaye, Hunt also went to Washington in 1947 to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was conducting a witch hunt for communists in the film industry.

"I'd made 54 movies in my first 16 years in Hollywood," Hunt said in 1996. "In the last 45 years, I've made eight. That shows what a blacklist can do to a career."

Hunt concentrated on the theater, where the blacklist was not observed, until she began occasionally getting film work again in the late 1950s. She appeared in the touring companies of "The Cocktail Party," "The Lady's Not for Burning" and "The Tunnel of Love," and on Broadway in "The Devil's Disciple," "Legend of Sarah″ and "The Paisley Convertible."

Slender and stylish, with a warm smile and large, expressive eyes, Hunt studied drama and worked as a model before making her film debut. Her first movie was 1935′s "The Virginia Judge." She went on to play demure roles in a series of films for Paramount, including "The Accusing Finger" and "Come on Leathernecks," but, as she said in 2020, she was tired of "sweet young things" and begged for more substantial work.

Hollywood proved a painful education. In "Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity," she remembered almost getting the part of Melanie Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind," even being assured by producer David O. Selznick. Within days, Olivia de Havilland was announced as the actor who would play Melanie for the 1939 epic.

"That's the day I grew up," Hunt said in the documentary. "That's the day I knew I could never have my heart broken again by this profession of acting."

She left Paramount for MGM around that time and had lead or supporting roles in "These Glamour Girls," "Flight Command" and "The Human Comedy," among other movies.

"MGM was sheer magic," she recalled in a 2007 interview. "When I arrived at the studio for a one-day role, they parked my car. I went on the set and found a director's chair with a sign on it, 'Miss Hunt.' Another sign was on my dressing room.

"I said to myself, 'Any studio that treats a one-day player that way really knows how to make pictures.' They won my loyalty."

Work unraveled quickly after she embraced liberal causes, such as joining the 1947 protest against congressional hearings on the reputed communist influence in Hollywood.

"I was never a communist or even interested in the communist cause," she said in 1996. "I was a political innocent defending my industry."

With a couple of exceptions, such as producer Stanley Kramer's 1952 family comedy "The Happy Time," she was unseen on the big screen for most of the 1950s. She later appeared in many TV series, including "My Three Sons," "Matlock," "All in the Family" and "Murder, She Wrote."

She remained vigorous and elegant in old age. In 1993, she put out "The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then," a lavishly illustrated book of the fashions during her Hollywood heyday.

A lifelong political activist, she helped create a refuge for homeless people in Los Angeles' Sherman Oaks neighborhood, where she lived and was feted with the title honorary mayor.

Looking back on her activist years, Hunt remarked in 1996: "I never craved an identity as a figure of controversy. But having weathered it and found other interests in the meantime, I can look back with some philosophy."

Information for this article was contributed by the late Bob Thomas of The Associated Press.


  photo  Actress Marsha Hunt, shown in this undated photo. Hunt, one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s who worked with performers ranging from Laurence Olivier to Andy Griffith in a career disrupted for a time by the McCarthy-era blacklist, has died. She was 104. (AP Photo)
 
 



 Gallery: Marsha Hunt, 1917-2022



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