Marsha Hunt died of natural causes on September 7, 2022, one day before the death of Queen Elizabeth II. With the time differences between Los Angeles and the UK almost overlapping, so it comes as no surprise that the actress – who was the oldest living Golden Age Hollywood star still – was overwhelmed by the news of her passing.
Hunt was just a few weeks shy of turning 105 and incredibly co-starred against John Wayne’s fame in 1937’s Born to the West. The actress and model was 20 when she made Western with Duke, which incorporated footage from an early, higher-budget silent film version it was a remake.
She then auditioned for the screen in the 1939 movie Gone With The Wind to play Melanie Hamilton and was told she had the role but had to keep it a secret. However, just three days later, Olivia de Havilland, who also died at 104 two years ago, was announced to be cast instead.
However, Hunt co-starred in the 1940’s Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, and two years later starred opposite Mickey Rooney in the Human Comedy.
However, her career would take a hit during Red Scare when she became concerned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, a John Wayne-backed investigative committee that seeks to root out suspected communists in the entertainment industry.
As liberals in Hollywood, Hunt and her screenwriter husband Robert Presnell Jr. joined the First Amendment Committee in 1947, in support of free speech and questioning the constitutional legitimacy of the committee in the House of Representatives.
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On October 26, 1947, at the age of 30, Hunt participated in Hollywood Fights Back, a star-studded radio show co-written by her husband.
The next day, I traveled with a group of Hollywood actors, directors, and writers, including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Huston and Danny Kaye, to Washington, D.C., to protest the Supreme Unit Council hearings.
Returning to Los Angeles three days later, she was asked to denounce what she was doing if she wanted to continue working in Tinseltown, but she refused. Tragically, Bogart and others betrayed her to save their careers, saying they had been deceived by the Communists.
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In 1950, Hunt was classified as a communist or potential sympathizer with 151 prominent Hollywood figures in the anti-communist publication Red Channels.
After that, she and her husband struggled to find work outside of television, so she became active in humanitarian causes such as fighting world hunger.
In a 2004 interview with Film Talk, she claimed: “You know, I was never interested in communism. I was very interested in my industry, my country, my government. But I was shocked by my government’s behavior and its mistreatment of my factories. And so I spoke out and protested like everyone else on that trip. But then I was told, once I was blacklisted, you see, I was an outspoken liberal, and that was bad. I was told, in fact, it wasn’t really about communism—that was the thing that scared everyone—it was about control and power.”
Hunt added, “The way you control it is to get everyone to agree to whatever is appropriate at the time, whatever is acceptable. Don’t question anything, don’t speak out, don’t have your own ideas, don’t talk about it, don’t be eloquent. Never, and if you’re one of those things, you’re controversial. And that’s as bad, and probably worse, than being a communist. Which was still perfectly legal, you know: The Communist Party was still legal in America, running candidates for public office. But you lost your career, And your good name, your savings, maybe your marriage, and your friends, if you’re a communist. It was awful, just awful.”
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