30 January 1899|
Buenos Aires, Argentina
|Died||13 June 1969
Hampstead, London, England, UK
Martita Hunt (30 January 1899 – 13 June 1969) was an Argentinian-born English theatre and film actress. She had a dominant stage presence and played a wide range of powerful characters. She is best-remembered for her performance as Miss Havisham in David Lean's Great Expectations.
Hunt was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 30 January 1899 to Alfred and Marta (née Burnett) Hunt. Her parents were British. She spent the first 20 years of her life in Argentina before she returned with her parents to Britain to attend Queenwood Ladies' College, in Eastbourne, and then to train as an actress.
Early theatrical career
Hunt began her acting career in repertory theatre at Liverpool before moving to London. She first appeared there in the Stage Society's production of Ernst Toller's The Machine Wreckers at the Kingsway Theatre in May 1923. From 1923-29 she appeared as the Principessa della Cercola in W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters (Globe, 1924) and as Mrs. Linde in Ibsen's A Doll's House (Playhouse, 1925) in the West End, along with engagements at club theatres such as the Q Theatre and the Arts Theatre and a short 1926 Chekhov season at the small Barnes Theatre under Victor Komisarjevsky (playing Charlotta Ivanovna, in The Cherry Orchard and Olga in Three Sisters).
In September 1929, she joined the Old Vic company, then led by Harcourt Williams, and, during the following eight months played Béline in Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, Queen Elizabeth in George Bernard Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, and Lavinia in Shaw's Androcles and the Lion. However, her time there was more noted for a succession of Shakespearian roles: The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, the Queen in Richard II, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Portia in Julius Caesar), including some alongside John Gielgud (Rosalind in As You Like It, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, and Gertrude in Hamlet.
Donald Roy, in Hunt's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, wrote:
"With an arresting appearance and a dominant stage presence, she proved most effective as strong, tragic characters, her Gertrude in Hamlet being accounted by some critics the finest they had seen."
She then returned to the West End (briefly returning to the Old Vic to play Emilia in their 1938 Othello), notably playing Edith Gunter in Dodie Smith's Autumn Crocus (Lyric, 1931), the Countess of Rousillon in All's Well That Ends Well (Arts, 1932), Lady Strawholme in Ivor Novello's Fresh Fields (Criterion, 1933), Liz Frobisher in John Van Druten's The Distaff Side (Apollo, 1933), Barbara Dawe in Clemence Dane's Moonlight is Silver (Queen's, 1934), Theodora in Elmer Rice's Not for Children (Fortune, 1935), Masha in Chekhov's The Seagull (New Theatre, 1936), the Mother in an English-language version of García Lorca's Bodas de sangre ("Marriage of Blood"; Savoy, 1939), Léonie in Jean Cocteau's Les Parents terribles (Gate, 1940), Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (Westminster, 1943), and Cornelia in John Webster's The White Devil (Duchess, 1947).
Early film career
Hunt also appeared in many supporting and cameo roles in several popular British films such as Good Morning Boys (1937), Trouble Brewing (1939), and The Man in Grey (1943). The Wicked Lady (1945) was an international success, but her next film role in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) would be her most famous and most lauded. As Miss Havisham, she reprised her role from the 1939 stage adaptation by Alec Guinness which provided the inspiration and template for Lean's film. Her performance met with significant acclaim and Roger Ebert later wrote in 1999 that she "dominate[d] the [film's] early scenes, playing Miss Havisham as a beak-nosed, shabby figure, bedecked in crumbling lace and linen, not undernourished despite her long exile."
From this time on she divided her time between British and American films as well as the stage. She won a Tony Award in 1949 for her Broadway début as Countess Aurelia in the English-speaking première of Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot (though she had relatively less impact on the production's 1952 tour). Her last stage role was as Angélique Boniface in Hotel Paradiso, an adaptation from Feydeau, again alongside Guinness at the Winter Garden Theatre in May 1956.
Other films in which she appeared include: Anna Karenina (1948), The Fan (1949), Anastasia (1956), Three Men in a Boat (1956), The Admirable Crichton (1957), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), Becket (1964), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965). She also appeared on TV as Lady Bastable in several adaptations of the Saki stories (1962)
- Love on Wheels (1932)
- Friday the Thirteenth (1933)
- I Was a Spy (1933)
- Man of the Moment (1935)
- Pot Luck (1936)
- The Interrupted Honeymoon (1936)
- Farewell Again (1937)
- Strange Boarders (1938)
- Young Man's Fancy (1939)
- Trouble Brewing (1939)
- At the Villa Rose (1940)
- The Middle Watch (1940)
- Tilly of Bloomsbury (1940)
- Quiet Wedding (1941)
- They Flew Alone (1942)
- The Man in Grey (1943)
- Welcome, Mr. Washington (1944)
- The Wicked Lady (1945)
- Great Expectations (1946)
- The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947)
- So Evil My Love (1948)
- The Little Ballerina (1948)
- Treasure Hunt (1952)
- It Started in Paradise (1952)
- Folly to Be Wise (1953)
- King's Rhapsody (1955)
- Dangerous Exile (1957)
- The Admirable Crichton (1957)
- Bonjour tristesse (1958)
- Me and the Colonel (1958)
- Bottoms Up (1960)
- The Brides of Dracula (1960)
- Song Without End (1960)
- Mr. Topaze (1961)
- The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
- Becket (1964)
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
- Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
- The Best House in London (1969)
- Who Was Who in the Theatre, 1912–1976, 2 (1978), pp. 1241–2
- W. Rigdon, The Biographical Encyclopedia (1966), p. 556
- D. Quinlan, The Illustrated Directory of Film Character Actors (1985), p. 152
- S. D'Amico, ed., Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 11 vols. (Rome, 1954–68)
- P. Hartnoll, ed., The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre (1972), p. 259
- The Times (14 June 1969), pp. 1, 10
- J. Willis, ed., Theatre World, 26 (1970), pp. 268–9
- F. Gaye, ed., Who's Who in the Theatre, 14th edn (1967), pp. 769–70
- E. M. Truitt, Who Was Who on Screen, 3rd edn (1983), 360
- The Guardian (14 June 1969), p. 5
- R. May, A Companion to the Theatre (1973), p. 110
- J.-L. Passek, ed., Dictionnaire du cinéma (1991), p. 334
- Donald Roy profile of Martita Hunt, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Martita Hunt at Find a Grave
- Martita Hunt Collection is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department
Reference Number(s): THM/132/3
Dates of Creation c. 1910s - 1960s
Physical Description: 11 folders.