Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Actress Marsha Hunt, director Roger C. Memos, and historian Foster Hirsch took the stage at the Egyptian Theater on January 31, 2016 to discuss Hunt's life, career and her new documentary, Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, which screened that evening with one of her films, None Shall Escape.

One of the first things Hunt said during the Q&A was: “I think I am, without question, the luckiest person I have ever known.” As the audience just watched during her documentary, she certainly was the recipient of a range of luck throughout her life and career, some good and some bad. 

Memos, who directed the documentary, first met Hunt while he was working on a film on Carl Foreman, and Hunt came in to talk about her experience on the 1952 film The Happy Time. Listening to her stories, Roger couldn't believe how horribly Hunt was treated during the time of the HUAC and Blacklist, and after learning more about her life and career, he knew her story had to be told. So, almost ten years ago to the day, on January 29, 2006, he asked Hunt if he could put her life on film, and she agreed. At first, Memos said that he was a little "afraid" of Hunt's activism - he wanted to make her story interesting and pertinent - but once he and his team got going and saw how much of a pioneer, innovator, and peacemaker Hunt was, they made it happen. Hunt "fought fear and ignorance by being herself," Memos remarked, "she rose above adversity." Memos also mentioned that Hunt was very open, generous, and gracious in sharing information with the team, though he was a bit cautious about discussing her only child, who died at one day old.

Hirsch then asked Hunt to expand upon a belief she articulated in the documentary regarding her legacy: how she was concerned that her fame connected with the blacklist would ultimately overshadow her work as an actress.  It's something Hunt certainly thinks about, she began; she made over 50 films and again expressed some apprehension that she won't be remembered for all those movies because her career was suddenly cut short by those famous proceedings.

While her fear may have a shred of truth in it, Hirsch said that he, for one, is grateful that she is one of the few survivors of that period willing to talk about it, because it was a period of madness that must be discussed so as not to be repeated. Hunt agreed and noted that the blacklist destroyed many careers, hitting writers and directors hardest. When Foster asked Hunt why the Bogarts withdrew their support in the Committee for the First Amendment, she answered that since she wasn't there, she didn't know for certain, but she guessed that whatever it was it must have been drastic, like "one of the Warner Brothers" calling the Bogarts into the front office and telling them they had to recant or else their contract would be cancelled.  Interestingly, Foster pointed out that the Bogarts were never "tarred" as others who were involved in the cause had been. In response, Hunt also noted that if that had happened, some great movies would never had been made, like The African Queen.

On that note, Hirsch and Memos highlighted some powerful scenes in the film, like Hunt's meeting with John Huston (which she said was equally powerful for her) and the time she stood up to Roy Brewer and told him that her father's teachings wouldn't allow her to swear to a lie. Again, Hirsch pointed out that it was a very complicated period, and many recanted or compromised to save their careers, but Hunt said we can't call them villains for that; "we all respond to whatever is our own personal priority" she said, and if that was a career or success for someone, then they acted in sort. Hunt couldn't - she affirmed that people behave as they are steered from the beginning  - and she certainly missed out on some opportunities because of it, but she's not sorry for her actions.

Thankfully, the blacklist didn't hit the theater, which went on business as usual with cast and crew boasting a variety of politics and beliefs. "Talent counted in the theater," Hunt remembered. Speaking of the stage, Hirsch asked Hunt about working with Johnny Carson in Tunnel of Love on Broadway. Hunt replied that he was delightful to work with, but she never got to know him very well. In fact, the longest conversation she recalls having with him was when she asked Johnny where he got one of his shirts because she wanted to buy one for her husband!

Jumping back to Los Angeles but remaining on the subject of the stage, Hirsch told the audience that at one point in the early 1950s, Hunt was "sort of" the First Lady of the Carthay Circle Theater here in town. The theater originally only showed movies - Hunt saw the premiere of The Good Earth there in 1937 - but during the early 1950s they put on plays too. Hunt remembered the theater as one of the most beautiful ones she ever performed in. Sadly, years later it was torn down in favor of regular old office buildings that Hunt lamented could have been erected anywhere.

Speaking of theaters, Memos also noted that Hunt first visited the Egyptian Theater back in 1926, almost 90 years ago! Hunt recalls visiting California on summer vacations in 1926 and 1929, and always stopped by the Egyptian theater; "it was magic to me!" she exclaimed, because NYC theaters weren't anything like the lavishly-decorated Egyptian or Chinese. She added that for her to be sitting in the Egyptian watching a movie about her and another one starring her was pretty overwhelming.

Hirsch then turned to the movie that followed the Q&A, None Shall Escape, which he noted was a unique film in Hollywood history because no other picture at the time - or virtually since - has dealt with that subject matter; the movie anticipated the Nuremberg Trials before WWII even ended. He also pointed out that the film was indicative of Hunt's career, because she starred in a picture that no other studio or director would have tackled at the time. Memos suggested programming the movie, and he thanked Columbia for restoring the picture.

Hunt called None Shall Escape a memorable film for her in several respects. She said they were aware that Hitler had to be defeated and had heard about anti-Semitism at the time, but as far as she was aware, this was the first movie to show the persecution of Jewish people.  That fact in itself is rather remarkable, but Hunt also pointed out another high note: Alexander Knox's performance as a "bestial" Nazi. The most ironic part? His next role was Woodrow Wilson!

To close the Q&A, Hirsch touched upon the fact that the evening's festivities were in tribute to casting director Marvin Paige, a great friend of Hunt's and the Cinematheque's. Hunt first met Paige in New York City in the late 40s and early 50s, when Paige was in his early 20s and "all over Broadway," she joked; he was a "hyperactive kid" whose job was to get celebrities to appear on a radio show called Breakfast at Sardi's. Hunt got to know Paige better years later and remembered him as fun, eccentric, trustworthy, and a dear friend to many.  "He loved talent, which led him to loving talented people," she remarked.