Tag Archives: marsha hunt

The Fight of Marsha Hunt and MARSHA HUNT’S SWEET ADVERSITY: A Forthcoming Documentary

Marsha Hunt during her years as a Hollywood star.

Marsha Hunt today.

Two years ago, while attending the Cinecon festival in Hollywood, I had the great opportunity to speak with classic Hollywood star and tireless civil rights advocate Marsha Hunt. She was attending a screening of Gentle Julia, a movie she made with Jane Withers who was also in attendance. Following the screening, I noticed that most of the audience members flocked to Jane Withers, a frequent Cinecon guest well-known to the audiences who attend the festival yearly.

But I wanted to talk to Marsha Hunt.

There was something about her that was so lovely, gentle, and serene–at 94 years old, she was still dazzlingly beautiful and had no problem standing at her introduction. There was real sweetness in her eyes, and I felt the need to go over and talk to her. So I did, and we had the loveliest discussion about her years with Paramount Pictures, her career, and what she was doing now. Talking to this shy, softspoken elderly woman, one would never suspect that this was one of the fiercest, most outspoken critics of the Hollywood blacklist, who preferred to have her name besmirched and her career ruined than give up what she considered to be important political ideals.

Marsha Hunt stands with the Committee for the First Amendment, formed to protect the Hollywood Ten.

In the late 1940s with the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy in Wisconsin and anti-Communist sentiment running rampant throughout the United States, many Hollywood figures with liberal inclinations were targeted as Communists and were unable to find work. Among those were those that became known as the “Hollywood Ten,” writers Dalton Trumbo, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Albert Maltz, John Howard Lawson, Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Lester Cole, Herbert Biberman, and Alvah Bessie. In support of them, several prominent Hollywood stars and directors formed the Committee for the First Amendment, dedicated to protecting these and other figures in Hollywood from persecution. One of the most dedicated members was Marsha Hunt, who shortly thereafter found herself on the blacklist due to this and other political activities within Hollywood. She was asked to give up her ideology–and she refused. Her career suffered greatly because of it, but she never sacrificed her principles for the sake of a role. She became active in the issues of the United Nations and has become an unofficial spokesperson for the issues of global pollution, hunger, homelessness, and world peace. She has taken to calling herself a “planet patriot.”

Marsha Hunt speaks on the radio on behalf of the United Nations.

Today, Marsha Hunt is 96 years old and still fighting. This time, her efforts are documented in a forthcoming documentary entitled Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity–the film is in post-production and getting quite a bit of attention on social media. Hunt, also a talented composer, wrote a song about marriage equality that has gone viral:

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity will tell the life story of Marsha Hunt through interviews, archival footage, talks with fellow actors and co-workers in the United Nations, and friends from her early days as a schoolgirl in New York. The producers are all Emmy winners, and this is sure to be a documentary worth checking out due to the life and nature of this remarkable woman.

The documentary is a small but passionate effort and is looking to enter film festivals, deadlines of which are coming up soon. Entering a film festival can often be quite expensive, so the filmmakers have set up an Indiegogo page where you can  make a contribution toward this film’s completion.

Even if you are not able to make a contribution, you can still still support Marsha and the filmmakers by keeping up to date on the progress of Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity. Visit the Facebook page, accessed here, which will give you updates on when the documentary is to be released and how Marsha is doing. You may also visit the IMDB page here.

I have been following this documentary closely, and I am very much looking forward to its release.

Thanks for reading this update, and I’ll see you next time!

Cinecon Day 2: Symbolism and Metaphor in “Dangerous to Know” (1938), and Other Noteworthy Festival Events.

Anna May Wong and Akim Tamiroff in “Dangerous to Know” (1938).

The theme of this, the second day of Cinecon, seems to be a motif of masterfully crafted symbolism. I noticed the skill in the subtlety of metaphor first in Dangerous to Know, a surprisingly touching crime film starring Anna May Wong and Akim Tamiroff in the main roles. The movie is slow to start, and the plot is rather unclear, but about half an hour before the end of the film, the plot picked up so quickly that I was on the edge of my chair waiting to see what would happen.

The film is rare and, as far as I know, not commercially available, so I don’t feel too badly giving away plot points, but just in case you want to be warned, SPOILER ALERT.

Throughout the movie, the character of Lan Ying (played by Anna May Wong) is referred to as the “hostess” of noted gangster Steven Recka, but glances and innuendo from various characters makes it very clear that she is his girlfriend. Under the Hays Code, interracial dating was taboo, so any reference to love between them had to be relegated to innuendo, which in this case, makes the film much more ethereal and mysterious, adding to the already mysterious aura of Anna May Wong.

After a long spree of killing and kidnapping, Steven is unexpectedly called for drinks by Lan Ying, who pours drinks for herself and for him while maintaining a very calm, soft voice. When Steven tells her he thinks she’s acting strangely, she turns on a record, which happens to be a recording of “Thanks For the Memories.” With tears in her eyes, she drinks. Steven does not.

Steven then heads over to play the organ, a favorite hobby of his. As he plays, we see Lan Ying, situated behind his back, pull out a knife and start toward him. As she gets closer, she notices the tranquil look on his face as he plays. She puts her hand on his shoulder, and turns the knife toward herself. In a moment of supreme irony, she stabs herself in the stomach, committing suicide just at the moment a detective, who has been following Steven all through the movie, walks in the door. Naturally, he assumes that Lan Ying is just the latest in Steven’s string of murders, and carts him away to trial. As he goes, he gives funeral directions to the servants for Lan Ying. “She loved the Bach Largo,” he says, and instructs them to play that at the funeral. It is at once a sad and vindictive scene, as we have come to see Steven as a feeling person, but a criminal nonetheless and we are saddened to see him carted off for the suicide of his girlfriend, but happy that justice is being carried out for a murderer.

The first thing I would like to point out is that hara kiri (the act of suicide by way of stabbing oneself in the stomach) is hardly a new motif in the arts. In fact, the suicide of Lan Ying hearkened back to an exponentially more famous character, Cho-Cho-San from Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, who committed suicide in the same way. It is hardly speculation that the creators of this film fashioned this moment from Madame Butterfly, and certainly the Asian influence of both characters most likely inspired this aspect of the storyline. In pre-racially aware Hollywood, it was not uncommon to see stereotypes created of minorities from any and every source available, and in this case Anna May Wong, a third-generation California native from Los Angeles, was relegated to the demure Asian “Butterfly” stereotype that continues to permeate certain films to this day.

Anna May Wong in a typical role for her career.

After the movie, I had a discussion with the pianist who had played the score for the film, who happens to be an expert on organs. He informed me, much to my fascination, that the particular type of organ that the character of Steven plays at the end of the film, is designed for use at funerals. Thus, there is a subtle foreshadowing, reserved only for those who know music well, of what is to become of Lan Ying only moments later.

The film itself is filled with music. We know from the very beginning that Steven is a talented and and passionate musician, who always wished his life had ended up in such a way that he could pursue music as a profession instead of turning to a life of crime. It is thus further significant that the “Butterfly” character be implied through the suicide of Lan Ying, as the musical theme continues through the plot line even in covert ways.

Maria Callas’ recording of the role of Cho-Cho-San in “Madame Butterfly.”

When this movie started, I was prepared not to like it, and truth be told the first hour left a lot to be desired. But the ending turned it completely around for me, and when I reflect on the film hours later, I remember it as a fascinating and enjoyable hour and a half.

I leave you with some other highlights of the day:

  • Jane Withers and Marsha Hunt showed up for the screening of Gentle Julia, and after the film was over, I was saddened to see that the entire audience was flocking to Jane Withers and Marsha Hunt, who was wonderful in the film and just as beautiful today at 95 as she was at age 17 in the film, was essentially left without acknowledgment. I wanted to show her how much I appreciated her, so I approached her and expressed my thanks for her attendance, and remarked on her extraordinary beauty. We ended up talking for a good 10 minutes about the film, her memories, and her career. I am extraordinarily grateful for that and impressed with her lovely personality and sweet, modest nature. She told me that she and Jane were initially asked to have an interview, but they ran out of time.

  • One screening, Dollars and Sense, was one of the sweetest, most feel-good movies I have ever seen. It concerned a young baker who did nothing but good, and a woman comes in one day and is so taken by his generosity that she wants to work with him at the bakery. One day, he gave away so much bread that the stress of it made him ill. The woman nurses him back to health and with the help of a benefactor, helps recover his business from the debt of the bread and pays all his hospital bills. In return, the benefactor requests that she come to his apartment to “repay” him. He sends a note to David, implying an affair with the girl he had come to fall in love with. The purpose was to anger David and make him come to his apartment. Reading the note, this tireless do-gooder finally does get angry, and marches up to the benefactor’s apartment demanding an explanation. The benefactor replies that the woman is to be married. David exclaims “To you??” And the benefactor answers “No…to you.” He had arranged a marriage between Hazel and David. It was just the most lovely story, almost like a fairy tale, and so refreshing to see a character who seemed to be the antagonist turn out to be the hero of the whole story.

More tomorrow!