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Marsha Hunt Poster

Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 17 October 1917Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birth NameMarcia Virginia Hunt
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Stardom somehow eluded this vastly gifted actress. Had it not perhaps been for her low-level profile compounded by her McCarthy-era blacklisting in the early 1950s, there is no telling what higher tier Marsha Hunt might have attained. Perhaps her work was not flashy enough, or too subdued, or perhaps her intelligence too often disguised a genuine sex appeal to stand out among the other lovelies. Two studios, Paramount in the late 1930s and MGM in the early 1940s, failed to complete her star. Nevertheless, her talent and versatility cannot be denied. This glamorous, slimly handsome leading lady offered herself to well over 50 pictures during the 1930s and 1940s alone.

Christened Marcia Virginia Hunt, the Chicago-born actress was the younger of two girls born to an attorney and voice teacher/accompanist. The family relocated to New York when she was quite young and she attended such schools as PS #9 and Horace Mann School for Girls. She developed an interest in acting at an early age (3), performing around and about in school plays and at church functions. Following her high school graduation the young beauty found work as a John Powers model and as a singer on radio, a gift obviously inherited from her mother. Marcia (she later changed the spelling of her first name to Marsha) studied drama at the Theodora Irvine Drama School (one of her fellow students was Cornel Wilde).

Encouraged to try Hollywood by various New York people in the business, the young photogenic hopeful moved there in 1934. She was only 17 but was accompanied by her older sister. It didn't take long for the studios to take an interest in her and she was signed up by Paramount not long after. Marsha's very first movie was in a featured role opposite Robert Cummings and Johnny Downs in the old-fashioned The Virginia Judge (1935). Displaying an innate, fresh-faced sensitivity, she moved directly into her second film, playing the title role in Gentle Julia (1936), this time with Tom Brown as her romantic interest.

Marsha continued to show promise but these well-acted roles were, more often than not, overlooked in mild "B"-level offerings. Appearing in co-starring roles in everything from westerns (Desert Gold (1936) and Thunder Trail (1937)) to folksy or flyweight comedy (Easy to Take (1936) and Murder Goes to College (1937)), she could not find decent enough scripts at Paramount. Though she was once deemed one of the studio's promising starlets, one of her last films there was another prairie flower role--Born to the West (1937)--with cowboys John Wayne and Johnny Mack Brown vying for her attention. At about this time (1938) she married Jerry Hopper, a Paramount film editor who turned to directing in the 1950s. This marriage lasted but a few years.

Freelancing for a time for many studios, Marsha's more noticeable war-era work in sentimental comedy and staunch war dramas came from MGM, and she finally signed with the studio in 1939. The roles offered, which included a featured part as one of the sisters in Pride and Prejudice (1940) starring Greer Garson, and again as a sister to Garson in Blossoms in the Dust (1941), which showed much more promise. Some of her better war-era roles came in the films Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), Kid Glove Killer (1942) and The Affairs of Martha (1942). During this time she also sang on extended USO tours and stayed busy on radio. Her best known film is arguably The Human Comedy (1943) but she wasn't the star. Other film roles had her in support pf others, such as Margaret Sullavan in Cry 'Havoc' (1943), little Margaret O'Brien in Lost Angel (1943) and Garson again in The Valley of Decision (1945). Leading roles did not come in "A" pictures.

Her MGM contract was allowed to lapse in 1945 and a second marriage in 1946, to screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., became a higher priority. The marriage was long and happy (exactly 40 years) and lasted until his passing in June of 1986. The few pictures she made were, again, uneventful or in support of the star, although she did have a catchy, unsympathetic role in the Susan Hayward starrer Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) as a scheming secretary. In Raw Deal (1948), starring Dennis O'Keefe, she got the "raw deal" being overshadowed as a "good girl" by the "bad girl" posturings of Claire Trevor. At this point of her career she decided to try the stage and made her Broadway debut in "Joy to the World" (1948). Other plays down the road would include "The Devil's Disciple" with Maurice Evans, "The Lady's Not for Burning" with Vincent Price and "The Little Hut" with Leon Ames. She even had a chance to return to her beloved singing as Anna in a production of "The King and I" and (much later) in productions of "State Fair" and "Meet Me in St. Louis". TV also yielded some new work opportunities, including a presentation of "Twelfth Night" in which she portrayed Viola.

The seams of her film career fell apart in the early 1950s. During the late 1930s and into the 1940s she signed a number of petitions promoting liberal ideals, and was a member of the Committee for the First Amendment. A strong supporter of freedom of speech, these associations led to her name appearing in the pamphlet "Red Channels", a McCFarthy-era publication that "exposed" alleged Communists and "subversives". Although she and her husband were never called before the House Un-American Activities Commission, their names were nevertheless smeared all over Hollywood as "Reds". While she still found film work on occasion, it was rare. Although she had worked steadily from 1935 until 1949, appearing in over 50 films, she made only three films in the next eight years. Her screenwriter husband would be credited for only one film from 1948 to 1955.

Semi-retired by the early 1960s, stage and TV became Marsha's focal points. She also devoted herself to civil rights causes and such humanitarian efforts as UNICEF, The March of Dimes and The Red Cross. She became actively involved with the United Nations. On the acting front she appeared only in smaller roles in five films but in numerous TV programs and made-for-TV movies, playing everything from judges to grandmas. She became the Honorary Mayor of Sherman Oaks, California, in 1983, and published a book on fashion entitled "The Way We Wore" in 1993. Widowed in 1986, the ever-vibrant Marsha, in her 90s, continues to serve on the Advisory Board of Directors for the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, a large non-profit that advocates for adults and children affected by homelessness and mental illness. As recently as 2006, she appeared to good advantage in the movie Chloe's Prayer (2006) and, at age 91, was seen in Empire State Building Murders (2008).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Robert Presnell Jr. (10 February 1946 - 14 June 1986) (his death) (1 child)
Jerry Hopper (23 November 1938 - 30 July 1945) (divorced)

Trade Mark (5)

Nearly played these roles whose women were trying to get married, but don't give out an answer or has no intension of saying anything else
Auburn hair
Deep, husky voice
Always like to share stories about her days of blacklisting
Voluptuous figure

Trivia (50)

Honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California.
Although she was never subpoenaed by the House of Un-American Activities, her name appeared in the red-baiting pamphlet Red Channels because of her membership in the Committee for the First Amendment and for liberal petitions she signed and she and her husband writer Robert Presnell Jr. found it increasingly difficult to get work because of the blacklist.
Nephew Allan Hunt is a director.
A very good singer, she sang in a few of her movies.
As an ingénue, she attended Paramount Pictures' acting school with fellow ingénue/actress Frances Farmer.
Paramount Pictures signed her to a contract in 1935.
In 1998 she was the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for her many selfless efforts.
Once appeared with Johnny Carson in a Broadway stage production of "Tunnel of Love" in 1958.
Was initially cast as James Dean's overwrought mother in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), but had to give up the role just before rehearsals were to start due to a prior stage commitment. Ann Doran took over the role.
Her only child, a daughter, was born prematurely on July 1, 1947, and died a day later. She and her second husband later became foster parents.
Before her career she taught Sunday School at New York's St. Paul's Methodist Church.
Her first husband, editor-turned-director Jerry Hopper was a cousin to actress Glenda Farrell.
Her old sister, Marjorie, was a teacher. She died in 2002.
Marsha was a strong consideration for the role of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), since the studio's first pick, Olivia de Havilland, was having trouble being loaned out by Warner Bros. In fact, David O. Selznick selected Marsha to play the role at one point but the following day the loanout worked itself out and Olivia was handed the part.
According to the late Colin Briggs, a steadfast writer for "Classic Images", Marcia was called Betty while growing up because the names Marjorie (her sister) and Marcia sounded too much alike. She changed the spelling of her first name to "Marsha" by the time she entered pictures.
Talks about her blacklisting, and the horror movie Back from the Dead (1957), in the book "A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde" (McFarland, 2010) by Tom Weaver.
She is a proud supporter of UNICEF, The March of Dimes, and The American Red Cross.
She was a very active member of both the Hollywood Democratic Committee and The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and donated her time and money to many liberal causes (such as the creation of the United Nations and the Civil Rights Movement) and political candidates (including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama) during her lifetime.
Sherman Oaks, California: Living in retirement [July 2013]
When Hunt enrolled in the Paramount Actors Training School, her classmates were Frances Farmer, Olympe Bradna, Robert Cummings, Eleanore Whitney, and Rosalind Keith.
Lifelong friend of Julie Adams and Piper Laurie.
Marsha's original Paramount contract granted her two unusual concessions: she could do her own make-up and she was not required to appear in the usual photos other starlets did.
Graduated at the Horace Mann High School for Girls, in New York City, New York, in 1934, at only 16 years of age.
Along with her family, Hunt moved to New York City, New York, in 1921, when she was only 3.
Shares the same birthday with Julie Adams, who nine years Hunt's junior.
Before John Rubinstein would have a successful career, he used to guest-star with her on both shows: The Young Lawyers (1969) and Harry O (1973).
Had signed another contract career with MGM in 1941.
She became blacklisted, at age 32, and had trouble finding roles afterwards.
Met Julie Adams, Piper Laurie and Tony Curtis, when the three were under contract at Universal, in 1949, except for Hunt, who was being blacklisted, and later left as a result.
While people sang on her 90th Birthday, Hunt was appointed an Ambassador for Peace, in honor of decades of activism on behalf of the United Nations and other organizations. [17 October 2007].
Hunt is the younger of two girls.
At age 17, Hunt moved to Hollywood, California, in 1935, to become an actress.
After graduation, Hunt's parents wanted to 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", instead found work modeling for the John Powers Agency and began taking acting classes at the Theodora Irvine Studio for the Theatre in New York City, New York.
In 2013, she debuted a clip of a song she wrote 40 years earlier titled "Here's to All Who Love" about love and same-sex marriage. Sung by Glee (2009) star Bill A. Jones, the clip immediately went viral.
Her father, Earl Hunt, was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at DePauw University, a violin soloist at the Glee Club, and became the singles collegiate tennis champion of Indiana.
Began acting at an early age, performing in school plays and church functions.
After her role on Empire State Building Murders (2008), she retired from acting at age 90.
Before she was a successful actress and activist, she was once a model.
Whilst celebrating her 95th Birthday, the five-part article is being reposted in honor of the actress. [17 October 2012].
Her maternal grandfather, William Morris, was a saddle-back-riding Baptist who traveled through Indiana, working in towns that sprang up across the farmlands.
An avid songwriter.
Identifies herself as a political liberal, and is very concerned with such issues as global pollution, worldwide poverty, peace in third world nations, and population growth.
She made 54 films in 17 years before a series of unfortunate events led to her being unfairly blacklisted. After the blacklist, she championed humanitarian causes, forging a new career as one of Hollywood's first celebrity activists.
9 days after her 30th birthday, HUAC ordered dozens of Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters to testify about "Communist influences" in the movie industry. She, Dalton Trumbo, and 17 others refused to participate. Ten were found in contempt of Congress and became known as the "Hollywood Ten." [26 October 1947].
It was during a 1927 trip that Hunt and her family visited Indianapolis, Indiana, to see her aunt Edith Conklin, who owned one of the first electric cars in the city.
Her father, Earl Hunt, worked as a lawyer, and later, a Social Security Administrator, and her mother, Minabel Hunt, worked as a vocal teacher and organist.
Her acting career spread for 73 years, with her first film being released in 1935 and her final one had been set for distribution in 2008.
Shared the same birthday with the late Beverly Garland, who (like Julie Adams) was also 9 years Hunt's junior. They both guest-starred on an episode of Climax! (1954).
She coordinated a clothing drive for 200 families living in homeless shelters in San Fernando Valley.

Personal Quotes (1)

I remember seeing Joan Crawford sweep into the commissary with a retinue in single file behind her. I thought it was pretty silly, but she was selling Joan Crawford, and she did a better than anyone else. I never learned how to sell Marsha Hunt.

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