In 1949, during the darkest days of Joe McCarthy and the deep Communism paranoia manifested in the House Un-American Activities Committee, Marsha Hunt was one of the many Hollywood actors to be blacklisted. Now 97, she's one of the sole surviving members of the blacklist, and Deadline reports that next month she will be the first recipient of the Marsha Hunt for Humanity Award at a film fest started by Kat Kramer, daughter of Stanley Kramer, who helped end the blacklist.
In the '30s and '40s, Hunt was a prolific actor with a promising career, and a close friend and confidante to Eleanor Roosevelt—but when she spoke out against the Congressional witchhunt and joined the Committee for the First Amendment, her name was added to the pamphlet Red Channels: the Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television—in esteemed company, to be sure. Though she was never called before Congress to testify, her inclusion on the list impeded her ability to get work, and which only trickled in until 1957, the year McCarthy died; since then, her work has been sometimes specifically political, including a spot in the film version of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun and the 1959 film adaptation of Blue Denim, which dealt with themes of teen pregnancy and abortion. She has since dedicated her life to activism.
Last year, the LA Daily News ran a profile on Hunt and an in-the-works documentary about her life. She talks about her "charmed life" in an accompanying video :
The piece also details her friendship with Roosevelt, a dream fly-on-the-wall situation:
They would sit for hours in the tiny office across the street from the United Nations building in New York — Eleanor Roosevelt and Marsha Hunt, talking about all the things that needed fixing in this country.
The two first met in 1938 when Hunt and fellow actors Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor were invited to the White House for FDR's 56th birthday. They stayed for the president's midnight radio broadcast where he talked about a drive he was starting to raise money to fight polio. It would be called The March of Dimes.
"He didn't miss a line in his talk, and after he was done I whispered to someone that the president was a 'one-take Frank,' which is a Hollywood compliment," Hunt says. "When he was told what I said, he threw his head back and started laughing. Everybody in the room did."
Mrs. Roosevelt liked the young starlet with the sense of humor, and whenever they were in the same town together, they had tea and talked — with Eleanor doing most of the talking and Marsha listening and learning.
"When I turned to look for other things to do with my free time (after being blacklisted,) I became very interested in what Mrs. R was doing at the U.N.," Hunt says. "I wound up giving them 25 years of my life."
Hunt spent the 1950s "championing fair, integrated housing, and helped raise funds to feed the hungry and malnourished and opened the Valley's first shelter for battered women. She served on the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Rights and Homelessness, and received countless national and local honors." They tried to kill her career, but she would not be stopped! Hunt will be honored on April 10, in Hollywood.
Image via Getty
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