TORONTO (AP) — Marsha Hunt, one of the last surviving actors of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s who worked with artists ranging from Laurence Olivier to Andy Griffith in a troubled career for a some time by the McCarthy-era blacklist, died. She was 104 years old.
Hunt, who appeared in more than 100 movies and TV shows, died Wednesday at her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said Roger Memos, the writer-director of the 2015 documentary “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity.”
Originally from Chicago, 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’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Austen with 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 star enough to appear on the cover of Life magazine and seemed poised 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 publication Red Channels 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 traveled to Washington in 1947 to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was conducting a witch hunt against Communists in the motion picture industry.
“I had made 54 movies in my first 16 years in Hollywood,” Hunt said in 1996. “In the past 45 years, I’ve made eight. That shows what a blacklist can do a career.
Hunt concentrated on acting, where the blacklist went unobserved, until she occasionally resumed film work 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”.
Marcia Virginia Hunt (she later changed the spelling of her first name) was born in Chicago and raised in New York, the daughter of an insurance executive lawyer and a singing teacher. Slender and elegant, with a warm smile and big, expressive eyes, Hunt studied acting and worked as a model before making her film debut.
An early marriage to director Jerry Hopper ended in divorce. In 1948, she married screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., and they had a daughter, who died shortly after her premature birth. Her husband died in 1986.
Hunt’s first film 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 has told The Associated Press in 2020 she was tired of “sweet young things” and begged for bigger jobs.
Hollywood turned out to be a painful education. In “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity,” she almost remembered getting the role of Melanie Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind,” even being secured by producer David O. Selznick. Within days, Olivia de Havilland was announced as the actress who would play Melanie for the 1939 epic.
“It’s the day I grew up,” Hunt said in the documentary. “That was the day I knew I could never be heartbroken by this acting profession again.”
She left Paramount for MGM around the time of “Gone with the Wind” and had leading or supporting roles in “These Glamor Girls,” “Flight Command” and “The Human Comedy,” among other films.
“MGM was pure magic,” she recalled in a 2007 Associated Press interview. “When I got to the studio for a one-day role, they parked my car. the set and I found a director’s chair with a sign on it, “Miss Hunt.” Another sign was on my dressing room.
“I thought to myself, ‘Any studio that treats a one-day player that way, really knows how to make pictures.’ They earned my loyalty.
Labor quickly fell apart after openly embracing liberal causes, such as joining the 1947 protest against congressional hearings on reputed communist influence in Hollywood.
“I was never a communist or even interested in the communist cause,” she said in 1996. “I was an innocent politician defending my industry.”
With few exceptions, such as producer Stanley Kramer’s 1952 family comedy “The Happy Time,” she remained unseen on the big screen for most of the 1950s. She later appeared in numerous television 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 published “The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and ’40s and Our World Since Then”, a lavishly illustrated book on fashions during Hollywood’s heyday.
A lifelong political activist, Hunt’s brush with terror came in 1962 when she attended a forum on right-wing extremists and the homes of two other attendees were damaged by roadside bombs that evening.
“The ashen-faced actress said her home probably only escaped the bombing because the terrorists couldn’t find out where she lived,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The police were sent to guard his house.
More recently, she helped create a homeless shelter in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she lived and was celebrated with the title of honorary mayor.
Looking back on her years of activism, Hunt remarked in 1996, “I never sought an identity as a controversial figure. But after resisting and finding other interests in the meantime, I can look back with some philosophy.
This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Humphrey Bogart’s first name.
The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas contributed to this obituary.