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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity

Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity (2015) is a documentary about the life of Marsha Hunt, one of the great charecter actresses of the Golden Age of Cinema (and the 50s, and the 60s, etc.). The undaunted Ms. Hunt has faced many a peril in her long life of 103 years. The film examines the beginning of her career at the age of 17 in 1935, when she became a victim of the notorious Blacklist of the 1950s, and much more. Hunt then turned to activism, creating a new life for herself in the service of others.

I'm a huge fan of Marsh Hunt ever since I saw her in the MGM production of The Human Comedy. So, I'll definately be setting my DVR for the film that also features interviews with friends, co-stars and fellow activists Harry Belafonte, Anne Meara, Patty McCormack, Valerie Harper, Margaret O’Brien and fellow centenarian, Norman Lloyd.

Enchanted by the art at a very young age, Hunt says, “I think I knew I had to be an actress when I was maybe four, possibly five, when my dad took my sister and me to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s’ H.M.S. Pinafore, and I saw magic up there and I came home convinced that that was what I would be doing.” The film covers these early influences in depth, which provides a foundational understanding of someone who has given their whole life to their art. In essence, her life is her art.

Although her work was not flashy, her resume reads like a catalog of filmdom's best. She is included in the credits of no less than one-hundred and sixteen productions. Her work in movies span from an Andy Hardy movie with Mickey Rooney to Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier, and on TV her work covers The Philco Television Playhouse, The Alfred Hitchcok Hour, and Gunsmoke among many, many other credits during the years of 1935 right up to 2008. If I did the math right, that's seventy-three years!

With such a long span of time interacting with Hollywood and Broadway personalities, a list of her friends and co-workers reads like a who's who of the century's most notable names. Cornel Wild was a fellow acting student. Her first leading role was opposite Robert Cummings, with John Wayne following not too far behind. Zeppo Marx was her agent. She played sister to Greer Garson twice, and supported the two great Margarets; Sullavan and O'Brien. She also starred alongside Susan Hayward, Claire Trevor, and Vincent Price, and counts Julie Adams and Piper Laurie among her friends. That sounds to me like a hell of a party list.

What continues to make this documentary so compelling is the paticularly interesting perspective Hunt had on her career. I won't spoil anything here, but suffice it to say, her role preferences reveal a depth of character not usually associated with movie stars. And besides covering the usual ups and downs of a typical Hollywood career, the film dives into the intriguing behind the scenes activities of a life-long activist. She worked for the USO during World War II, danced with soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen, became active in the Screen Actor’s Guild, and devoted twenty-five years to the United Nations where she was mentored by one of the most famous woman the world has ever known. And there are many more accomplishments (no spoilers) that really should have earned her a Jean Hersholt Humanitary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?

And then there's Hunt's near encounter with The House Un-American Activities Committee. You know - the government sanctioned group that accused many postwar "agitators" of being Communists. Her name was included in a pamphlet called Red Channels, accusing people in the radio and television industry of being dangerous to America. She believes, “That ended [her] career on television, on radio and after a year or two, in movies as well.” At the time it was enough to be under the shadow of consideration of the HUAC that could cost one their livelihood. This is perhaps the main reasons most people do not recall her name when talking about the Golden Age of Hollywood. She was simply swept out of the limelight.

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity has screened at several film festivals, including the Burbank International Film Festival, where it premiered in September 2015, with Hunt in attendance. Speaking to the audience after the screening, she said, “If I can remove my identity from it, it’s a remarkable film. […] I hope it will be seen, not because of me but because of the memories it would stir and maybe the instruction of warnings for the future to the young who have not experienced these times that it has spoken about.” I had a chance to be there and hear those words for myself. I will always regret not cancelling whatever other stupid thing I had going on in my life that caused me to miss the occassion.

It's worth mentioning that Marsha Hunt made one of her final films, The Grand Inquisitor in 2008, which was a noir short written and directed by TCM host Eddie Muller. In October of 2020, she celebrated her 103rd birthday. And although she is confined to a wheelchair, she still shines with a vivacity that fills the room. If you watch Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, you'll come away with the knowledge of just why she is considered one of the last true remaining stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood.


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