Marsha Hunt, 1940s star and blacklist victim, dies at 104

One of the last surviving actors from the so-called golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, who worked with artists ranging from Laurence Olivier to Andy Griffith, died in a career disrupted for some time by the McCarthy era blacklist. She was 104 years old.

Roger Mimos, writer and director of the documentary “Marsha Hunts Sweet Adversity,” said Hunt, who has appeared in more than 100 films and TV shows, died Wednesday at her home in Sherman Oaks, California.

A native of Chicago, she arrived in Hollywood in 1935 and over the next 15 years appeared in dozens of films, from the Preston Sturgess comedy “Easy Living” to an adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” starring Olivier and Greer Garson. .

She was under the age of 40 when MGM called her “Hollywood’s Youngest Actress”. By the early 1950s, she was a star enough to appear on the cover of Life magazine and seemed to thrive in the new medium of television when, as she remembered, suddenly “the business dried up” in 1996.

The reason, as I learned from her agent, was that the communist Hunting Red Channels’ bulletin revealed that she had attended a peace conference in Stockholm and other supposedly suspicious gatherings. Along with 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 hunt for Communists in the film industry.

Hunt said in 1996, “I’ve made 54 movies in my first 16 years in Hollywood. In the past 45 years, I’ve made eight. That shows what a blacklist can do in a career.”

Hunt focused on the stage, where the blacklist went unnoticed, until she occasionally began getting film work again in the late 1950s. She appeared in tour companies such as “The Cocktail Party”, “The Lady’s Not for Burning”, “The Tunnel of Love” and on Broadway in “The Devil’s Disciple”, “Legend of Sarah ″ and Paisley Convertible”.

Born in Chicago and raised in New York City, Marcia Virginia Hunt (who later changed the spelling of her first name) is the daughter of a lawyers insurance executive and a voice educator. Slender and elegant, with a warm smile and large, expressive eyes, Hunt studied drama and worked as a model before making her film debut.

An early marriage to director Jerry Hopper ended in divorce. In 1948 she married film writer Robert Presnell, Jr., and they had one daughter, who died after premature birth. Her husband died in 1986.

Hunt’s first film was The Virginia Judge in 1935. She went on to play demure roles in Paramount films, including “The Accusing Finger” and “Come on Leathernecks,” but, as she told the Associated Press in 2020, she was tired of ” Sweet little things” and begged for more substantial work.

Hollywood has proven to be a painful education. In “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity,” she remembered that she almost got the role of Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, even producer David Selznick assured her of it. Within days, Olivia de Havilland was announced as the actor who would play Melanie in the 1939 epic.

“That’s the day I grew up,” Hunt said in the documentary. “This is the day I knew I would never again lose my heart to this acting career.”

She left Paramount for MGM around the time of “Gone with the Wind” and had lead or supporting roles in “This Glamor Girls,” “Flight Command,” and “The Human Comedy,” among other films.

“MGM was very charming,” she recalled in a 2007 Associated Press interview. “When I got to the studio for a role for a day, they parked my car. I went to the set and found a director’s chair with a sign, ‘Miss Hunt.’ There was another sign on my dressing room.

“I said to myself, ‘Any studio that treats a day player this way, really knows how to make pictures. “They have earned my loyalty.”

The business quickly collapsed after she publicly embraced liberal causes, such as joining the 1947 protest against congressional hearings about the notoriously communist influence in Hollywood.

She declared in 1996: “I was never a communist or even interested in the communist cause. I was politically innocent defending my industry.”

With a few exceptions, like director Stanley Kramer’s 1952 family comedy “The Happy Time,” it was invisible on the big screen for most of the 1950s. She later appeared in several TV series, including “My Three Sons”, “Matlock”, “All in the Family” and “Murder, I Wrote”.

She remained active and elegant into her old age. In 1993, she released The Way We Dress: Styles of the 1930s, ’40s and Our World Since Then, a lavishly illustrated book about fashions during the height of Hollywood.

A lifelong political activist, Hunt faced horror in 1962 when she participated in a forum on right-wing extremists and the homes of two other participants were damaged by homemade bombs on the same night.

“The blonde-faced actress said her home may have survived the bomb attack only because the terrorists couldn’t figure out where she was,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The police were sent to guard her house.

Most recently, she helped establish a homeless shelter in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she lived and was honored with the title of honorary mayor.

Looking back at her years of activism, Hunt noted in 1996: “I’ve never craved an identity as a controversial figure. But after getting past it and finding other interests in the meantime, I can look back with some philosophy.”

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