Marsha Hunt (actress, born 1917)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Marsha Hunt
Marsha Hunt 1959.jpg
Hunt in a 1959 publicity photo
Marcia Virginia Hunt

(1917-10-17) October 17, 1917 (age 104)
  • Actress
  • model
  • activist
Years active1935–2014
(m. 1938; div. 1943)
Robert Presnell Jr.
(m. 1946; died 1986)

Marsha Hunt (born Marcia Virginia Hunt;[1] October 17, 1917) is an American retired actress, model and activist, with a career spanning nearly 80 years. She is the oldest living and one of the last surviving actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. At 104, she is also the oldest living member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She was blacklisted by Hollywood film studio executives in the 1950s during McCarthyism.[2]

She appeared in many popular films including Born to the West (1937), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Kid Glove Killer (1942), Cry 'Havoc' (1943), The Human Comedy (1943), Raw Deal (1948), The Happy Time (1952), and Johnny Got His Gun (1971).

In the midst of the blacklist era, she became active in the humanitarian cause of world hunger, and in her later years has aided homeless shelters, supported same-sex marriage, raised awareness of climate change and promoted peace in Third World countries.[3]

Early life[edit]

Hunt was born on October 17, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois,[4][1] the younger of two daughters. Her parents were Earl Hunt, a lawyer and later a Social Security Administrator, and Minabel Hunt, a vocal teacher and organist.[5] Her elder sister, Marjorie, a teacher, died in 2002.[1] Marcia later changed the spelling of her first name to Marsha.[6]

Hunt and her family were active in the Methodist church.[6] she recalled many years later:

I lucked into the most fortuitous, warm, constructive kind of family context imaginable. My father was a top scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa. My mother was a voice coach and accompanist of singers in the concert and opera fields. We didn't have the term "liberated woman", but my mother certainly was...They were brought up, both, in the state of Indiana, which is now called the Bible Belt. They were wholesome, they neither smoked nor drank, and they never used the Lord's name in vain. I never heard a four-letter word. It didn't exist in my wholesome family setting.[6]

Hunt's family moved to New York City when she was young, and she began performing in school plays and church functions. She graduated from the Horace Mann High School for Girls in 1934 at age 16.[6]



Hunt's parents wanted her to pursue a college degree, but Hunt, unable to "locate a single college or university in the land where you could major in drama before your third year", found work modeling for the John Powers Agency and began taking stage acting classes at the Theodora Irvine Studio.[1][7] She was one of the highest-earning models by 1935.[8] In May 1935, she planned on studying stage acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the United Kingdom.[9]


Celebrities including Hunt, Robert Taylor, Jean Harlow and Mitzi Green were invited to Washington, D.C., to assist with President's Birthday Ball fundraising activities (1937)
In the Pride and Prejudice trailer (1940)
In the trailer for Cry 'Havoc' (1943)

Years at Paramount[edit]

Although initially reluctant to pursue a film career, in June 1935, at age 17, Hunt signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures.[6][10] Paramount discovered her when she was visiting her uncle in Los Angeles and the comedian Zeppo Marx saw a picture of her in the newspaper.[11] She was then offered a screen test for The Virginia Judge.[2][12] At Paramount, Hunt mainly played ingenue parts.[6] Between 1935 and 1938, she made 12 pictures at Paramount, including a starring roles in Easy to Take (1936), Gentle Julia (1936), The Accusing Finger (1936), Murder Goes to College (1937), and two on "loan-out" to RKO and 20th Century Fox.[6] In 1937, she starred opposite John Wayne, a couple of years before his breakthrough in Hollywood, in the Western film Born to the West.[13]

The studio terminated Hunt's contract in 1938, and she spent a few years starring in B-films produced by poverty row studios such as Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures.[6] She also headed to New York City for work in summer stock theatre shortly before winning a supporting role in MGM's These Glamour Girls (1939) opposite Lana Turner and Lew Ayres.[14] The role of Betty was said to have been written specially with Hunt in mind.[15] Other roles in major studio productions soon followed, including supporting roles as Mary Bennet in MGM's version of Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier,[2] and as Martha Scott's surrogate child Hope Thompson in Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941).[6]

Years at MGM[edit]

In 1941, Hunt signed a contract with MGM, where she remained for the next six years.[6] While filming Blossoms in the Dust, film director Mervyn LeRoy lauded Hunt for her heartfelt and genuine acting ability.[16] During this period she had starring roles in 21 films, including The Penalty (1941) opposite Lionel Barrymore, Panama Hattie (1942) opposite Ann Sothern and Red Skelton, the war drama Pilot No. 5 (1943) in which she was cast as the love interest of Franchot Tone, and The Valley of Decision (1945). In 1944 she polled seventh in a list by exhibitors of "Stars of Tomorrow".[17] She previously did a screen test to play Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939) and was told by David O. Selznick she would play the role, but to "keep it a secret for now." Three days later, it was announced that Olivia de Havilland was cast.[18] In 1944, she appeared in None Shall Escape, a film that is now regarded as the first about the Holocaust. She played Marja Pacierkowski, the Polish fiancé of a German Nazi officer named Wilhelm Grimm.[19]

Hollywood blacklist[edit]

In 1945, Hunt was invited to join the board of the Screen Actors Guild.[2]

Disturbed by the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Hunt and her husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., became members of the Committee for the First Amendment in 1947.[20][21]

On October 26 that same year, aged 30, Hunt took part in Hollywood Fights Back, a star-studded radio program co-written by her husband protesting the activities of HUAC.[22][23][24] In 2020, Hunt recalled:

We made our speeches and did a radio programme called Hollywood Fights Back and came home thinking we'd been patriots and had defended our profession. If there were some communists among us that was their business and not ours.[2]

The next day, Hunt flew with a group of about 30 actors, directors, writers, and filmmakers (including John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye) to Washington to protest the actions of HUAC.[20][21] When she returned to Hollywood just three days later, things had changed. She was asked to denounce her activities if she wanted to find more work; she refused.[1]

In 1950, Hunt was named as a potential Communist or Communist sympathizer (along with 151 other actors, writers and directors) in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels.[2][6][23] The publication claimed that her leanings were made evident by her supposedly subversive actions, including asking the Supreme Court to review the convictions of John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, recording a message in support of a rally organized by the Stop Censorship Committee in 1948, signing a statement in 1946 issued by the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), and speaking at a rally organized by the Progressive Citizens of America in 1946.[6][25]

After the publication of Red Channels in 1950, work became scarce for Hunt and Presnell.[2][23] Hunt said in 2012, "The town turned against us. Just about-face...I was appalled, hurt, shocked that journalism could be so far out in prejudice."[26]

After her 1950 blacklisting, Hunt found most work in television, not film.[2] She appeared in only a handful of films during the next eight years.[23] She later recalled:

Agencies and producers agreed to deem all one hundred and fifty "unemployable". That actually began the blacklist practice, ending all our careers and livelihoods in broadcasting. I don't know that the movie studios would have blacklisted me if Red Channels hadn't named me and made them think I might be a Communist. So to play safe, they put me on their secret blacklist...I think by 1950 it was clear that the whole of show business was under political siege. But, miraculously, the Broadway stage was spared. People were not denied work on the Broadway stage. Movies, radio and television were overcome, but the theatre was not. When I was unable to work in any of the blacklist media, I could always do a play in stock, around the country.[27]

During an interview in 1995, Hunt stated that she believed producer Richard J. Collins was among those responsible for her inclusion in the blacklist.[28] She later said:

I never met Richard Collins, but when he was in some executive post on Bonanza, a friend of mine knew him slightly. At one point, when I was recommended for a script, she was astonished to hear him say, "Don't bother bringing up Marsha Hunt to me. As long as I am connected with this show, she will never work on it."[28]

In 1957, her career began to pick up. She appeared in six films during the next three years before announcing her semi-retirement in 1960.[6]

Later work[edit]

Following her semi-retirement in 1960, Hunt appeared in small roles in five films and numerous television shows, including an episode of the medical drama Breaking Point.[3] In 1962, she appeared in the season-nine episode of Gunsmoke titled "The Glory and the Mud".[3] In 1967, she had a leading role as Katie's Aunt Cecile in an episode of My Three Sons entitled "The Aunt Who Came To Dinner".[29]

A photo of Marsha Hunt in 2013
Hunt in 2013

In 1971, she appeared in the film Johnny Got His Gun, written by fellow blacklist member Dalton Trumbo, playing the mother of the title character, portrayed by Timothy Bottoms.[30] It won the Grand Prix at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. On February 8, 1988, she appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode "Too Short a Season" as Anne Jameson, wife of an admiral who took an age-reversing drug.[31] In 1997, she appeared as Ethel Thayer in the Santa Susana Repertory Company's production of On Golden Pond.[30]

In 1993, her book The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then was published by Fallbrook Publishing.[32]

She produced the CD Tony London: Songs From the Heart with the Page Cavanaugh Trio that includes two of the 50 songs Hunt has composed.[33]

Hunt played Elizabeth Lyons in Chloe's Prayer, a 2006 film.[34] In 2008, Hunt appeared in a short film noir, The Grand Inquisitor, as Hazel Reedy, the could-be widow of one of America's most infamous unapprehended serial killers.[3] The film premiered at the 6th annual Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco.[34]

In 2013, Hunt debuted a clip of a song she wrote 40 years earlier titled "Here's to All Who Love" about love and same-sex marriage.[31] Sung by Glee star Bill A. Jones, the clip immediately went viral.[31] It was featured in Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, a documentary about her life.[35] The documentary debuted at the Palm Springs and Santa Barbara International Film Festivals in January 2015.[3]

When she was 99 in April 2017, Hunt made a public appearance at the 2017 Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival to honor the achievements of actor and activist Ed Asner.[36]

Humanitarian work[edit]

In 1955, after a trip opened her eyes to the issue of hunger in the Third World, Hunt gave speeches throughout the United States, encouraging Americans to join the fight against starvation in the Third World by joining the United Nations Association.[1][3] Hunt was a founder of the "San Fernando Valley Mayor's Fund for the Homeless" and helped to open one of the first homeless shelters in the San Fernando Valley.[1][3] In 1960, she produced an hour-long telecast about the refugee problems that featured stars such as Paul Newman, Jean Simmons and Bing Crosby.[3] She raised funds for the creation of "Rose Cottage", a day care shelter for homeless children;[3] and served for many years on the advisory board of directors for the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, a large non-profit, where she advocates for adults and children affected by homelessness and mental illness.[3] She was named honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California in 1983.[3]

Hunt still identifies as a political liberal and is very concerned with such issues as global pollution, worldwide poverty,[3] peace in Third World nations, and population growth.[37]

Personal life[edit]

Hunt married Jerry "Jay" Hopper, assistant head of the editing department at Paramount and later a director, on November 23, 1938.[38][39] They divorced in 1943.[40][41]

Hunt married her second husband, screenwriter and radio director Robert Presnell Jr. on February 10, 1946.[42][43]

Hunt was pregnant and very sick while filming Carnegie Hall.[44] Her only biological child, a premature daughter, was born on July 1, 1947, and died the next day.[42] She and her second husband later became foster parents.[44] They remained together until his death on June 14, 1986, at age 71.[42]

She has resided in Sherman Oaks, California since 1946.[45]

Awards and honors[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Moore, Solomon (June 11, 1997). "Move to Valley Signaled Career Upswing". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Dowd, Vincent (March 22, 2020). "How Marsha Hunt fought Hollywood blacklisting". BBC News. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Memos, Roger C. (October 17, 2014). "Honoring Actress – Activist Marsha Hunt on her 97th Birthday!". Sherman Oaks, California: Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  4. ^ Kinser, Jeremy (October 13, 2017). "Marsha Hunt at 100: The Actress Recalls the Blacklist, Film Noir and Being Cast in Gone with the Wind". MovieMaker. Retrieved October 4, 2019. As Marsha Hunt’s 100th birthday approaches (she hits the century mark October 17), it’s time to celebrate an actress who, while not a household name, probably should be.
  5. ^ "Gotham Musical World Prominent at Easter Season". The Indianapolis Star. Indiana. April 16, 1922. p. 39. Retrieved October 18, 2017 – via open access
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Slide, Anthony (1999). Actors on Red Alert: Career Interviews with Five Actors and Actresses Affected by the Blacklist. Scarecrow Press. pp. 47–49. ISBN 978-0810836495.
  7. ^ Slide, pp. 49-50
  8. ^ "'No Movie For Me', Pretty Model Says". Star Tribune. Minneapolis, Minnesota. May 11, 1935. p. 12. Retrieved September 23, 2017 – via open access
  9. ^ "Model Heads Home". The Ogden Standard-Examiner. Utah. May 14, 1935. p. 9. Retrieved September 23, 2017 – via open access
  10. ^ "Picked for Film Career". The Courier-Journal. Louisville, Kentucky. June 20, 1935. p. 9. Retrieved September 23, 2017 – via open access
  11. ^ "Real Campaign For Hollywood". The Des Moines Register. Des Moines, Iowa. March 6, 1936. p. 14. Retrieved October 22, 2017 – via open access
  12. ^ "Behind the Scenes in Hollywood". The Evening News. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. June 26, 1935. p. 2. Retrieved September 23, 2017 – via open access
  13. ^ "John Wayne Heads Cast Of 'Born to the West'". The Morning Herald. Union Town, Pennsylvania. January 8, 1938. p. 7. Retrieved October 18, 2017 – via open access
  14. ^ Slide, pp. 47-49 and 55-56
  15. ^ "In Hollywood". The Press Democrat. Santa Rosa, California. August 1, 1939. p. 7. Retrieved October 20, 2017 – via open access
  16. ^ "Marsha Hunt Is 'Terrific', States LeRoy". Lansing State Journal. Lansing, Michigan. February 23, 1941. p. 17. Retrieved October 18, 2017 – via open access
  17. ^ "Saga of the High Seas". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. November 11, 1944. p. 9. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
  18. ^ "Marsha Hunt: "MGM let me play absolutely everything, the studio gave me such joy"". August 27, 2015. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  19. ^ "First Hollywood film to explicitly look at Holocaust". Canadian Jewish News. Toronto, Ontario. February 23, 2017.
  20. ^ a b Krutnik, Frank. "Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era p 70 Rutgers University Press, 2007
  21. ^ a b Leider, Emily W. Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood (p. 261), University of California Press, 2011
  22. ^ Ross, Stephen J. Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics Oxford University Press, 2011
  23. ^ a b c d Franscella, Lawrence and Weisel, Al. Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause Simon and Schuster, 2005
  24. ^ Christopher Rubeo (December 23, 2014). "Hollywood Fights Back - 10/26/1947 (1 of 2)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  25. ^ Adams, David (1985). "The Progressive Citizens of America 1946-1948". The American Peace Movements (2 ed.). New Haven, Connecticut: Advocate Press. p. 11. Archived from the original on October 17, 2017. Retrieved October 16, 2017.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  26. ^ Baum, Gary; Miller, Daniel (November 19, 2012). "Blacklist: THR Addresses Role After 65 Years". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  27. ^ Slide, p. 68
  28. ^ a b Freedland, Michael. Witch Hunt in Hollywood: McCarthyism's War On Tinseltown Aurum Press, 2014
  29. ^ Terrace, Vincent (August 30, 2016). Television Series of the 1960s: Essential Facts and Quirky Details. ISBN 9781442268357. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  30. ^ a b Everett, Todd (February 20, 1997). "On Golden Pond Shimmers: William Windom, Marsha Hunt lead a strong cast in the family drama". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  31. ^ a b c Szymanski, Mike (August 27, 2013). "At 95, Marsha Hunt Debuts New Song About Gay Marriage". Sherman Oaks, California: Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  32. ^ "Hollywood's Golden Age". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  33. ^ "Tony London". CDBaby. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  34. ^ a b "Celebrating Seniors-Marsha Hunt". Senior City Local. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  35. ^ Post, James Nichols The Huffington (January 10, 2014). "WATCH: This Famous 95-Year-Old Actress Wrote A New Gay Rights Anthem". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  36. ^ Ryan Torok (April 27, 2017). "Ed Asner honored for lifetime achievement at L.A. Jewish Film Festival [VIDEO]". Jewish Journal. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  37. ^ "Marsha Hunt and her politics". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  38. ^ Slide, pp. 56-57.
  39. ^ "Married Today". Argus Leader. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. November 23, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved October 17, 2017 – via open access
  40. ^ "Hunt, Marsha (1917—)". Archived from the original on January 15, 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2021. married Jerry Hopper (editor, then director), in 1938 (divorced 1943)
  41. ^ Smyth, J.E. (October 17, 2017). "Marsha Hunt: American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Archived from the original on October 21, 2020. Hunt was at a personal and professional peak in 1946. After divorcing her first husband, Paramount editor Jerry Hopper, she had remarried. She and Presnell were expecting their first child in the spring of 1947.
  42. ^ a b c "Screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr. Dies at Age 71". Los Angeles Times. June 17, 1986. Archived from the original on October 18, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  43. ^ "Marsha Hunt Weds Robert Presnell, Jr". The Town Talk. Alexandria, Louisiana. February 11, 1946. p. 14. Retrieved October 18, 2017 – via open access
  44. ^ a b Slide, p. 60
  45. ^ McCarthy, Dennis (October 17, 2017). "From Hollywood blacklist to age 100: A Sherman Oaks survivor". Los Angeles Daily News. Archived from the original on October 17, 2017. Retrieved October 17, 2017.
  46. ^ "Marsha Hunt". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  47. ^ "A compendium of the 500 stars nominated for top 50 'Greatest Screen Legends status" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  48. ^ "Golden Boot Awards 2002". Golden Boot Awards. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  49. ^ Robb, David (March 22, 2015). "Hollywood Blacklist Actress Marsha Hunt To Be Honored With Award". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 30, 2016.
  50. ^ a b "Experience over eight decades of the Oscars from 1927 to 2017". Retrieved October 25, 2017.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]