Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
~ Søren Kierkegaard
On the 17th of this month US film actress with a social conscience Marsha Virginia Hunt turned 100, joining the illustrious company of Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas, forming a trio of Hollywood film centenarians all still alive! (Libby and Kirk both reached their triple figure milestones during 2016).
Adulation for Marsha’s momentous achievement haven’t quite attracted the stratospheric fanfare or media attention and hype that Kirk Douglas’ 100th bash did last December, or in past years as other Hollywood household names like Bob Hope’s did. Of course it would not be expected, Marsha has never achieved the limelight that those other centenarian luminaries demanded in their Hollywood careers. She was a serious actress but never got the star ‘creds’ that others in the business did…but the elusiveness of stardom for Marsha wasn’t down to a shortfall in her acting ability – rather the explanation for this lay in the intervention of external factors which were to impact on her career.
Ms Hunt’s film career from its start in the Thirties looked promising, but in the super-charged, competitive stakes for the glamour female roles she came close without ever quite clasping the big prize…especially in 1939 when she tested impressively for the much sort-after part of Melanie in Gone With The Wind but narrowly lost out to (fellow centenarian) Olivia de Havilland. The following year Hunt did score a supporting role in the prestigious period movie Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier.
After World War II the grubby, gutter politics of McCarthyism dealt a savage blow to Marsha Hunt’s career…as it did to numerous other Hollywood liberals during that time when it was the fashion de jour in America to go full-throttle after citizens who were merely alleged or implied to be communists (truly a “Dark Age of guilty until proven innocent” witch-hunts!) For a fuller account of Hunt’s story see my earlier blog on this site (June 2014) Marsha Hunt, Lifelong Social Activist: Not your Average Hollywood Role Model .
With her reputation unfairly besmirched (tantamount to no more than implicit guilt by association!), Hunt was punished by being inexorably squeezed out of the Hollywood film mainstream. Potential parts in A-movies disappeared and the public saw her relegated to B-pictures and eventually to television and theatre (few good roles in theatrical movies came her way after 1947, the 1948 film noir Raw Deal and the much later Johnny Got His Gun (1971) were rare exceptions for the Chicago-born actress).
After being blacklisted by HUAC in 1950 after having made around 50 films since 1935, Hunt only featured in three films during the next eight years [‘Marsha Hunt (actress, born 1917)’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org]. By the Fifties and Sixties Hunt was finding work only easy to find in television – in a minor-note series Peck’s Bad Girl and in numerous guest roles on Zane Grey Theater, The Twilight Zone and so on ad infinitum.
Marsha Hunt: Life lived forwards…
After her semi-retirement in 1960 Hunt stepped up her active involvement in progressive causes including support for same-sex marriage, ending global poverty, raising awareness of climate change and promoting peace in Third World countries [Memos, Roger C. (October 17, 2014). “Honoring Actress – Activist Marsha Hunt on her 97th Birthday!”. Sherman Oaks, California: Patch.com. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2016]
In a series of interviews last week in honour of her 100th birthday Miss Hunt reflected on her career and on the missed stardom, which seemed to have touched her but only lightly. Hunt merely remarked of her Hollywood years that she was grateful for being allowed to be an actress and show her versatility on the screen✳…or as she put it in her characteristically humble, unassuming way, she is “a grateful girl of 100!” [J Kinser, ‘Marsha Hunt at 100: The Actress Recalls the Blacklist, Film Noir and Being Cast in Gone With a The Wind‘, Movie Maker, 13-Oct-2017, www.moviemaker.com].
JE Smith seems to have summed up the essence of Marsha Hunt and the paradoxes in her movie persona and career fairly well in the title of his interview with the centenarian, “American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian” [JE Smith, ‘Marsha Hunt: American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian’, Sight & Sound, 17-Oct-2017, www.bfi.org.uk].
Once vilified by HUAC as “Un-American”, Hunt’s longevity and achievements are testimony to all that is good about American society – an authentic patriot but also a defender of freedoms for all citizens – whilst repudiating all that is bad about American society. At the same time we have Hunt’s unceasing activism as a humanitarian concerned for the world as a whole and its future well-being, a tireless advocate for peace and progress, and for a more fair distribution of resources and safeguards for the environment.
✳ the unstated inference is clear…rather than being factory-made into (an overhyped) star!