Marsha Hunt, a veteran actress of the Golden Age of film, radio and Broadway who later saw her career wither over her protests against the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), died of natural causes on Sept. 7 in Los Angeles.
Her caregivers, nephew, actor/director Allan Hunt and Elizabeth Lauritsen, confirmed her death.
In television’s early days, Hunt appeared as Viola in Twelfth Night, the first Shakespeare play to be aired coast to coast. She hosted and guest starred twice on Your Show Of Shows, featuring Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Carl Reiner. Numerable live and recorded guest appearances followed through the decades.
But her name appeared in Red Channels, an anti-communist pamphlet that was said to wield considerable influence over TV and film studios.
Red Channels accused Hunt’s membership in the Committee for the First Amendment, which included Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The group went to Washington in 1947 to protest the imprisonment of 10 writers, directors and producers for contempt of Congress. They had refused to reveal their political allegiances to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
While Hunt was never jailed or charged with any crime, work became harder to find. The Washington Post reports that Hunt twice signed anti-communist loyalty oaths to procure jobs in film and TV, but that she drew the line at taking out an advertisement in trade papers.
Hunt worked periodically after the blacklist era, including a role as the mother of a disfigured war veteran in 1971’s Johnny Got His Gun” (1971).
She instead threw her energies into activism, serving community, civic and national organizations dedicated to humanitarian causes.
A critically acclaimed documentary film of her remarkable life, Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity, was released in 2015.
Hunt is survived by nieces and nephews. Donations in her memory may be made to LA Family Housing. lafh.org.
Hunt, a former member of the Screen Actors Guild’s board of directors who joined the guild in 1938, received SAG-AFTRA’s Founders Award in 2018. In a statement, the guild said that Hunt “was not only a phenomenal actor and writer, she was also a devoted philanthropist who fought for what was right. She was passionate beyond compare and her work both on and off screen will stand the test of time.”
Hunt served on the SAG board from March 1945 to November 1947. In October 1947, just three months after the death of her newborn daughter, she fought to defend freedom of speech when she and her husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., joined the Committee for the First Amendment. Hunt and other actors on the Committee, including former SAG board member Humphrey Bogart and wife Lauren Bacall, traveled to the Washington, D.C., hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in support of the First Amendment rights of the “Hollywood Ten.”
Her outspokenness cost her a place on the SAG board, as the nominating committee did not choose her to run as a candidate for re-election the following month. A longtime liberal but never a Communist, Hunt’s thriving acting career largely came to a halt after her name appeared in the publication Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television in June 1950 — three months after she graced the cover of LIFE magazine. She was blacklisted, but she survived and put her energies into humanitarian works.
Despite rarely working in the film industry after her blacklisting, Hunt dedicated her efforts to volunteering with various organizations such as UNICEF and the United Nations, where she continued to fight for justice and humanity. She also served on the advisory board of directors for the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, raised funds for a daycare shelter for homeless children and was named honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California, in 1983. A documentary film on her life, Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity: A Life of Acting and Activism was released in 2015.
Hunt reflected upon her life and her career: “My life has been a great ride with more than its share of high points. Even the lower points taught me and led me to higher ones. In my teen years, I thought I was born to act, but when my acting career was interrupted, I discovered a wonderful world of challenges, which became opportunities, opening up my life far beyond acting.” Hunt said. “I am very grateful for all the good fortune I have been given in my blessed life.”