Marsha Hunt, the actress turned activist who became a star at Paramount and MGM before her career was derailed by the Hollywood Blacklist, died on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at her home in Sherman Oaks. She was 104.
Born on October 17, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois, Marcia Virginia Hunt (she later changed the spelling of her first name) began modeling in New York City in the '30s, which led to her being discovered in Los Angeles and signed by Paramount Pictures. She made her acting debut in 1935's The Virginia Judge, before breaking out in the 1939 comedy, These Glamour Girls, playing a co-ed opposite Lana Turner.
Hunt would go on to star in several Oscar-nominated and -winning films throughout the 1940s, including Pride and Prejudice (1940), Blossoms in the Dust (1941), and The Human Comedy (1943), the latter two which were up for Best Picture.
A versatile performer, Hunt was dubbed "Hollywood’s Youngest Character Actress," a title she took pride in. Reflecting on These Glamour Girls, she told Ms. In the Biz in 2015, "It changed my career — I wasn't a leading lady, I was now an actress. I could play that far-fetched, exaggerated role convincingly and not be accused of over-acting... No two roles alike from then on."
Hunt's career hit a roadblock when she was blacklisted by studios for speaking out against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1947, Hunt and her husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., joined the Committee for the First Amendment and flew to Washington, D.C. to protest HUAC, alongside stars like Humphrey Bogart, Danny Kaye, and John Huston. Hunt was asked to denounce her involvement in order to continue working onscreen, but she refused and was subsequently labeled as "subversive."
In a 2004 interview with Film Talk, she reflected on the Red Scare, saying, "You know, I was never interested in communism. I was very much interested in my industry, my country and my government. But I was shocked at the behavior of my government and its mistreatment of my industry. And so I spoke out and protested like everyone else on that flight. But then I was told, once I was blacklisted, you see, I was an articulate liberal, and that was bad. I was told that in fact it wasn't really about communism — that was the thing that frightened everybody — it was about control and about power."
At age 30, Hunt was named in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels, along with 150 other artists, journalists and writers. After her blacklisting, she instead found work in television and appeared on series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Breaking Point, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her final film role was in 2006's Chloe's Prayer.
Hunt dedicated her later life to humanitarian work. As a SAG-AFTRA board member, she served on a number of progressive committees, petitioning studios to hire minority actors outside of stereotype roles, and even counseled Olivia de Havilland in her landmark case against the studio system.
Hunt became what she called a "planet patriot" after seeing firsthand the plight of Third World countries, often making appearances on behalf of the United Nations. She was recognized for her charitable works in 2015, receiving the inaugural Marsha Hunt Award for Humanity, created by Kat Kramer, daughter of director and Blacklist defier Stanley Kramer. In her praise of Hunt, Kramer said the actress paved the way for the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jane Fonda, George Clooney, and more celebrities who have used their fame to elevate causes they are passionate about.
Throughout her life, Hunt displayed passion and dedication to what she believed in, on-screen and off, and leaves behind a powerful legacy. With her passing, Hollywood has lost an icon.