'The Work Dried Up' for Blacklisted Actress

Marsha Hunt went to Washington with Bogart and Bacall
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 10, 2022 3:35 PM CDT
Marsha Hunt Endured Blacklist
Actress Marsha Hunt was one of the last surviving actors from Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age of the 1930s and '40s.   (AP Photo)

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, California, the AP reports. 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.

Hunt 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 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. Slender and stylish, with a warm smile and large, expressive eyes, Hunt grew up in New York City and worked as a model and studied drama before making her film debut. Hollywood proved a painful education. In the documentary 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 winner of the part. "That's the day I grew up," Hunt said. "That's the day I knew I could never have my heart broken again by this profession of acting."

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She left Paramount for MGM and had lead or supporting roles in These Glamour Girls, Flight Command and The Human Comedy among other movies. Work unraveled quickly after she openly 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 declared in 1996. "I was a political innocent defending my industry." In 1993, she put out a book of the fashions during her Hollywood heyday. More recently, she helped create a refuge for the homeless in her Los Angeles neighborhood. "I never craved an identity as a figure of controversy," Hunt said. "But having weathered it and found other interests in the meantime, I can look back with some philosophy."

(More obituary stories.)

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