How Marsha Hunt fought Hollywood blacklisting

Marsha Hunt

It’s 70 years since Red Channels was revealed within the USA – a listing of writers, actors and producers alleged to be communists or communist sympathisers. The crimson scare ended many careers. Now 102, actress Marsha Hunt is nearly the final individual nonetheless alive named within the ebook.

Marsha Hunt by no means wished to do something besides act. Born in 1917, she grew up in New York City and remembers going to the theatre along with her father when she was 5.

“It was a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta – probably HMS Pinafore. I turned to my dad and I said I’m going to do that. After that if there was a play I was always in it,” she says.

Hunt was in her late teenagers when she went to Hollywood in search of a movie profession. She discovered success shortly: her first movie was The Virginia Judge in 1935.

She was continuously in work and appeared to have a protracted profession forward of her – though few of her early movies are acquainted right this moment. An exception is the 1940 model of Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier.

She nonetheless regrets a close to miss with the traditional Gone with the Wind. “For about a weekend it appeared I’d been cast as Melanie, who’s Scarlett O’Hara’s cousin. Then an executive changed his mind and I lost the role. When I went to Hollywood I’d been warned I would have my heart broken and losing Melanie was that moment.”

But earlier than she was 30 Marsha Hunt had made greater than 40 movies. Producers valued her engaging and clever display presence.

In 1945 she was requested to hitch the board of the Screen Actors Guild and for the primary time her politics got here below scrutiny.

Image copyright Frederick M. Brown
Image caption Hunt was pictured at The Art of the Movie Poster exhibition in 2010

“I was proud to be asked. To have a voice in what would affect all screen actors was dazzlingly important to me,” she says. But Cold War rigidity was constructing with the Soviet Union and anybody suspected of left-wing sympathies was open to assault.

Hollywood, radio and TV got here below suspicion. The political strain got here from HUAC – the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1947, HUAC summoned 10 writers to Washington to testify. Each was requested if he was a communist and all finally went to jail for refusing to reply or to call different communists.

Marsha’s issues with the authorities might have begun when she joined the Committee for the First Amendment – a bunch of liberal actors who supported the Hollywood Ten. Among those that flew to Washington had been Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly and John Huston. Also there have been Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, married and the most important stars Warner Bros had.

“We were a brigade to defend those who’d been blacklisted or were under suspicion,” Hunt remembers. “We were serious citizens trying to set Washington straight: we were not a bunch of Reds. We were headed by the Bogarts so we were a pretty spiffy team.

“We made our speeches and did a radio programme known as Hollywood Fights Back and got here residence pondering we would been patriots and had defended our career. If there have been some communists amongst us that was their enterprise and never ours.

“I knew nothing about communism but I just thought that as it was a legal party other people had the right to join the darned thing if they wanted to. But it was a time of hysteria and all of us who spoke out against blacklists were punished in some way or other. There was a very strong right wing in the movie business.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hunt says she “certainly lost a lot of jobs as the blacklist tightened”

Stars who’d supported the committee shortly got here below big strain from studio bosses to recant and Humphrey Bogart declared that his help had been a mistake.

Hunt remembers that turnabout with disappointment. “I’m sorry to say but it can only be cowardice. That’s a terrible word to use about the Bogarts but why else would they do that? We all went to Washington to defend other people’s rights. It was a time of people really turning quite ugly.”

She says it is arduous to guage how far her profession was broken at first. But in 1950 her identify and 150 others appeared in Red Channels, a 200-page ebook revealed as an adjunct to Counterattack – The Newsletter of Facts to Combat Communism. The ebook was subtitled: “The report of communist influence in radio and television.” Inclusion was sufficient to break or in some circumstances terminate a profession.

Those named included composers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Marc Blitzstein, actors Lee J Cobb and Jose Ferrer and the writers Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. Today the one survivor aside from Hunt is Walter Bernstein, who’s 100. (In 1976 Walter Bernstein wrote the movie The Front in regards to the blacklist period.)

Hunt insists that in 1950 she by no means even noticed Red Channels. “I guess I was a star but I was never sizzlingly hot as a Hollywood property for hire. But I certainly lost a lot of jobs as the blacklist tightened.

“We reside, we proudly insist, in a free nation. By that was meant, I used to be positive, that you just had been free to your opinions and actions in the event that they did not break any regulation. The anti-Reds had been combating Americans’ freedoms. I did not know the very first thing about communism – by no means studied it, by no means discovered about it. I should have identified a couple of communists however I did not care – that was their enterprise, not mine.”

To continue to work on screen her agent persuaded her to write out a statement of her beliefs. “It was an anti-communist declaration and he mentioned with out it I’d by no means clear my identify. Gradually it modified issues for me in Hollywood however my work and repute by no means returned to how they had been.”

Hunt says she was never at the top of anyone’s list of people to attack. “But there have been actors I labored with and appreciated who had been or had been communists. I’d been seen within the firm of so-and-so and that was sufficient.

“Suddenly to have the dirtiest word in the American language – communist – held against me was an outrage. And I had no way to end it or fight back.”

After 1950 display credit had been primarily restricted to TV however she was pleased to look in George Bernard Shaw’s play The Devil’s Disciple on Broadway, the place the ability of the blacklist was much less absolute. Other stage-work adopted.

By the ’60s she was working primarily for charitable and humanitarian causes though occasional display credit continued. Though she largely disappeared from public view she was happy when director Roger Memos made the documentary Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity, which is introducing her to the net era.

“Many younger people know little about the Hollywood blacklist,” she says. “Sometimes I’m asked if it could ever happen again. I hope America learned from what happened all those years ago. But how can you ever be sure?”

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