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Marsha Hunt, Actress Turned Activist, Is Dead at 104


Marsha Hunt, who appeared in greater than 50 movies between 1935 and 1949 and seemed well on her strategy to stardom until her profession was damaged by the Hollywood blacklist, and who, for the remaining of her profession, was as much an activist as she was an actress, died on Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 104.

Her death was announced by Roger C. Memos, the director of the 2015 documentary “Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity.”

Early in her profession, Ms. Hunt was certainly one of the busiest and most versatile actresses in Hollywood, playing parts big and small in quite a lot of movies, including romances, period pieces and the form of dark, stylish crime dramas that got here to be often known as film noir. She starred in “Pride and Prejudice” alongside Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier in 1940, and in “The Human Comedy” with Mickey Rooney in 1943. In later years, she was a well-recognized face on television, playing character roles on “Matlock,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and other shows.

But in between, her profession hit a roadblock: the Red Scare.

Ms. Hunt’s problems began in October 1947, when she traveled to Washington together with cinematic luminaries like John Huston, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall as a part of a gaggle called the Committee for the First Amendment. Their mission was to look at and protest the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating what it said was Communist infiltration of the film industry.

A lot of those that made that trip subsequently denounced it, calling it ill-advised, but Ms. Hunt didn’t. And although she was never a member of the Communist Party — her only apparent misdeed, besides going to Washington, was signing petitions to support causes related to civil liberties — producers began eyeing her with suspicion.

Her status in Hollywood was already precarious when “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet containing the names of individuals within the entertainment industry said to be Communists or Communist sympathizers, was published in 1950. Among the many people named were Orson Welles, Pete Seeger, Leonard Bernstein and Marsha Hunt.

By then, she had won praise for her portrayal of Viola in a live telecast of “Twelfth Night” in 1949. On the time, Jack Gould of The Latest York Times called her “an actress of striking and mellow beauty who also was at home with the verse and couplets of Shakespeare.” Her star turn in a 1950 revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Devil’s Disciple,” the second of her six appearances on Broadway, had been the topic of a canopy article in Life magazine. Yet, the movie offers all but stopped.

In 1955, with little work to maintain her at home, Ms. Hunt and her husband, the screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., took a yearlong trip all over the world. In consequence of her travels, she told the web site The Globalist in 2008, she “fell in love with the planet.”

She became an energetic supporter of the United Nations, delivering lectures on behalf of the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies. She wrote and produced “A Call From the Stars,” a 1960 television documentary in regards to the plight of refugees.

She also addressed issues closer to home. In her capability as honorary mayor of the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, a post she held from 1983 to 2001, she worked to extend awareness of homelessness in Southern California and arranged a coalition of honorary mayors that raised money to construct shelters.

Marcia Virginia Hunt (she later modified the spelling of her first name) was born in Chicago on Oct. 17, 1917, to Earl Hunt, a lawyer, and Minabel (Morris) Hunt, a vocal coach. The family soon moved to Latest York City, where Ms. Hunt attended P.S. 9 and the Horace Mann School for Girls in Manhattan.

A talent scout who saw her in a college play in 1935 offered her a screen test; nothing got here of the offer, but that summer she visited her uncle in Hollywood and ended up being pursued by several studios. She signed with Paramount and made her screen debut that 12 months in a quickly forgotten film called “The Virginia Judge.”

She was soon being solid in small roles in a dizzying array of movies. In “Easy Living” (1937), starring Jean Arthur, she had an unbilled but crucial part as a lady who has a coat fall on her head within the last scene. Greater roles soon followed, especially after she joined Hollywood’s largest and most prestigious studio, MGM, in 1939.

In 1943, she was the topic of a profile in The Latest York Herald Tribune that predicted a brilliant future. “She’s a quiet, well-bred, good-looking number with the concealed fire of a banked furnace,” the profile said. “She’s been in Hollywood for seven years, made 34 pictures. But, starting now, you may start counting the times before she is certainly one of the highest movie names.”

It never happened. Within the aftermath of the blacklist, nevertheless, she began working ceaselessly on television, appearing on “The Twilight Zone,” “Gunsmoke,” “Ben Casey” and other shows. She remained energetic on the small screen until the late Nineteen Eighties.

Her only notable movie in those years was “Johnny Got His Gun” (1971), an antiwar film written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, also a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, wherein she played a wounded soldier’s mother.

Credit…Nick Ut/Associated Press

Ms. Hunt’s marriage to Jerry Hopper, a junior executive at Paramount, resulted in divorce in 1945. The next 12 months, she married Mr. Presnell. Their marriage lasted until his death in 1986. She is survived by several nieces and nephews.

Ms. Hunt’s commitment to political and social causes didn’t diminish with age.

In a 2021 interview with Fox News, she dismissed the notion that celebrities should avoid speaking out on political issues (“Nonsense — we’re all residents of the world”) and explained what she considered to be the essential message of the documentary:

“When injustice occurs, go on together with your convictions. Giving in and being silent is what they need you to do.”

Peter Keepnews contributed reporting.

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