Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Morning with Marsha Hunt


Larry Edmund's Bookshop Display

Every year Jeff and his team at Larry Edmund's Bookshop host a special Sunday morning book event during the TCM Classic Film Festival. Previous special guests included Carl Reiner, Tippi Hedren, Illeana Douglas and more. I've always wanted to go to these but had never been able to work them into my schedule. This year on their Instagram (it's private so you'll have to follow to see) Jeff from Larry Edmund's did a retrospective leading up to the announcement of this year's mystery guest. I waited with bated breath to find out who it would be. When it was announced I cried for a good twenty minutes. It was Marsha Hunt, THE Marsha Hunt. I had already made plans to see her at the TCMFF None Shall Escape (1944) screening but I opted to skip that so I can see The Set-Up (1949) on the big screen and attend this Sunday morning event instead. I called ahead to the bookshop, put my name down for a coveted spot and counted down the days, hours and minutes until the event. My dream of seeing Marsha Hunt in person was about to come true.





As I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard towards the bookstore I stopped by Marsha Hunt's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her television work. It seemed very apropos.




When I arrived at the bookstore I purchased my copy of The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then by Marsha Hunt. Copies were autographed in advance and the event was not a book signing but more of a tribute to Marsha Hunt. I've had my eye on this book for a while and considered purchasing a used copy a few months before learning about this event. I'm glad I held out because I got my hands on a brand new signed copy instead.


Left to right: Me, Kim, Angela, Nora and "Fussy"

Czar of Noir Eddie Muller with Noir Girl Casey

Once I got in line for the event I saw lots of friendly faces. Angela from The Hollywood Revue, Kim from I See a Dark Theater, Casey from Noir Girl, Nora from Nitrate Diva and her mom "Fussy" plus more friends from Twitter. I even spotted Monika Henreid, daughter of actor Paul Henreid, in attendance.


The guest of honor: Marsha Hunt

Marsha Hunt with Eddie Muller


Marsha Hunt, Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller

The presentation was co-hosted by film historian Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller. I briefly chatted with Alan on the TCMFF red carpet about his long-time friendship with Marsha Hunt and the importance of her work and activism. You can watch my interview with him here. Both Alan and Eddie spoke at length about Marsha Hunt and took turns interviewing her. Even at 100 years of age, Marsha was eloquent, thoughtful and as smart as a whip. That spark has never diminished. She's still the actress, activist and glamour queen she's always been.



Here are some excerpts of what she had to say.

On fashion and her start in Hollywood:

[Muller described a moment from TCMFF when Marsha Hunt wouldn't let the make-up artist put lipstick on her because she wanted to do it herself] "I haven't been made up within memory. I've always done my own make-up. I was a Powers model in New York when I was 16.... If Powers doesn't mean anything, John Robert Powers was a former model who started his own model agency. The best New York models were Powers clients. He managed a great wonderful salon of models."

"I'm long-waisted. It's a small waist. I guess that qualifies me as a fashion model. I did some fashion work in New York. I graduated high school at 16. Meant to be actress my whole life and oddly enough I was never stage struck. It had to be movies. I knew that was going to take some managing but in the meantime what can I do to help prepare for that. Well let's see, I ought to learn how to dress, and make up and be groomed. For all of the visuals. I went to dramatic school. There was no training for movies. You learn how to make movies then by making movies. But you could train for the theater. I auditioned at NBC as a radio actress and passed muster. Though I left for California before they ever called me to do radio. I was trying to set the scene and train in every aspect I could to be prepared for film acting. It all fell into place very blessedly. At 17, a year out of high school, Paramount signed me to a contract at $250 a week. Now that may not impress you today. Then it did. My first film work was the feminine romantic lead in a Paramount feature film with two leading men. What a way to break in. Bob Cummings was one of my leading men. Darling man. And Johnny Downs who had been part of the Our Gang comedies. Those are my two leading men on my first movie. Break in on the top. Only way to do it."


On the home she's lived in since 1946:

"I lived in a house on a hill that I had helped design. But it was time for a different kind of house architecturally. For what it provided. So we [her and her husband Robert Presnell Jr.] looked and found our place on Magnolia. An acre and a third it is. With a guest house, two bedrooms, living room. Complete house. Always fully occupied. A barn for stowing all sorts of colorful things. It's nice to have an acreage. Where square feet are charged. Well this is an old place. We were able to get it. So I've lived there for many years. It has a pool and a tennis court. I grew up in Manhattan, New York City. And you had an apartment. And your window looked out upon somebody else's window. You didn't have sports and space and all these wonderful privileges that we do get around here. So no wonder we came and no wonder we've stayed. Good place to be."




On politics

"I spoke very freely about whatever I cared about. Those were dangerous days. There was the left and there was the right. People made lists that had nothing to do with their talent. How they wrote or directed or acted or composed. Any of that. But it was a day when politics kind of ruled the local scene. It was unpleasant. I remember at my house we had several friends over. Just listening late one afternoon. Another friend arrived and one of the people in the room got up and left. He was not going to be in the same room with that new arrival. I think that's a shame. To carry your beliefs, unless you're talking murder or some real sins, then I think how you believe politically is your own business. I think it's rather healthy for people who disagree to have some chats and conversations."

I recorded a short video about Marsha Hunt speaking on the topic of being labeled a Communist during the HUAC era:







Roger C. Memos, director of the documentary Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, was also at the event and he treated us to a few excerpts from his film. If you want to learn more about the doc you can follow his Facebook page. I've been wanting to watch this doc for a long time. I hope a screening in Boston happens in the near future. 

Eddie Muller, Marsha Hunt, and Alan K. Rode

Even though Marsha Hunt turned 100 in October of last year, that milestone is something to continue celebrating. The event ended with a birthday celebration complete with a magnificent cake. Marsha's favorite flavor is lemon so we were all treated to a lemon cake with chocolate frosting. All the attendees sang happy birthday to her. My friend Casey filmed this portion which you can see below:






Selfie with Marsha Hunt (sort of)

After the birthday celebration everyone was clamoring for a bit of time with Marsha. I was wearing my Marsha Hunt pin created by Kate Gabrielle as part of her TCMFF button pack. I showed it to Marsha but I think the pin was too small and she was too far away to see it. So I handed it to her so she could take a look and I let her keep it. I think she was surprised to see her face on a button. It was a sweet moment I'll treasure!

Marsha Hunt admiring the button I just gave her 

A big thanks to Marsha Hunt, Alan K. Rode, Eddie Muller and Roger C. Memos for a great event. And a special thanks to Jeff and his team at Larry Edmund's Bookshop. They opened the shop early and closed it off just for us. I watched Jeff working hard to make sure we had the best view, the best audio and the best set up for watching the documentary. And the cake, well that was the cherry on top. Thanks to them for making this a memorable event.

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