Marsha Hunt: The Actress Who Refused To Let The Blacklist Stop Her Good Work

September 20, 2022

Marsha Hunt, who was born on October 17, 1917, had a career that spanned almost 80 years. She got her start performing in school plays and during church functions after her family moved to New York when she was still young. In 1934, when she was 16, she graduated from the Horace Mann High School for Girls, and she decided to forgo college, even though her parents wanted her to have a degree. Her reasoning? She could find a college that would allow her to major in drama before her third year. She started to model with the John Powers Agency and took acting classes at the Theodora Irvine Studio; by 1935, she was one of the highest earning models.

With John Wayne in Born to the West (1937). Source: (Wikipedia/colorized).

She wanted to go to England to study stage acting in 1935, but she pursued a different path instead. While she was visiting her uncle in Los Angeles, the comedian Zeppo Marx saw a picture of her in a newspaper, after which she was offered a screen test for The Virginia Judge. In June of that year, when she was 17, she signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures.

Her Career Was Strong Before The Blacklist

Image from the trailer for Pride and Prejudice. She played the role of Mary Bennett. Source: (Wikipedia/colorized).

She made 12 films at Paramount from 1935 to 1938 and she was loaned out to RKO and 20th Century Fox for two films. Her contract with Paramount was terminated in 1938, and she worked on B-films with poverty row studios and acted in summer stock theater. However, it wasn’t long before she appeared once again in major studio productions, including Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier (1940). She signed a contract with MGM in 1941, and during her six years there, she had starring roles in 21 films.

She was not yet 40, when MGM named her “Hollywood’s Youngest Character Actress,” and in the early 1950s, she appeared on the cover of Life magazine. In 1945, she was invited to join the board of the Screen Actors Guild, and in 1947, she and her husband, the screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr. joined the Committee for the First Amendment as she was troubled by the actions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). On October 26 of that year, she was part of Hollywood Fights Back, which was co-written by her husband. This radio program protested the activities of the HCUA. The day after the program, Hunt and about 30 other actors, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye, flew to Washington to protest the HCUA.