“Hollywood Became a Really Cowardly Place”

98-year-old actress Marsha Hunt shares her firsthand account of the entertainment industry during the Red Scare

The film Trumbo, out November 6, chronicles the downfall of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) once he’s accused of being a Communist. Actress Marsha Hunt had a similar experience ten years after moving to L.A. from New York in 1935. Now 98, she offers a firsthand account of the impact of the House Un-American Activities Committee on her own career, the subject of a new documentary titled Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity.

Hunt enjoyed a friendship with Trumbo, who was a novelist as well as a screenwriter.
“He was a brilliant spokesman for liberal creative thought. I heard he did a lot of writing in the tub. What a wonderful, colorful character.”

As a board member of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s, Hunt became an un­witting victim of the anti-Communist smear campaign.
“One time I said, ‘Why are we so preoccupied with Communism? Aren’t we talking about wages, hours, and working conditions? What does the way people vote have to do with that?’ Eyes rolled and people decided, ‘She must be one.’ That sealed my doom.”

In 1947, when Hunt was 30, HUAC ordered dozens of Hollywood actors, directors, and screenwriters to testify about “Communist influences” in the movie industry. Hunt, Trumbo, and 17 others refused to participate. Ten were found in contempt of Congress and became known as the “Hollywood Ten.”
“The red-baiting was appalling. My husband [Robert Presnell Jr.] co­wrote Hollywood Fights Back, a radio broadcast by 60 prominent actors and filmmakers. We were defending our industry and political rights of free speech—all of it was held against us later.”

Like Trumbo, Hunt was shunned by the entertainment industry for nearly a decade.
“I just stopped working—no offers. I was in a theater lobby and waved at somebody I recognized. She quickly looked away. Hollywood became a really cowardly place for about a decade. I didn’t know what a Communist was, and I had no interest in Communism, but I had taken a few liberal positions. That was enough to finish me off. It was a challenging period, but it drew many of us closer together. You found out who your friends were.”