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Kim hunter
AP: September 11th 2002
Posted: 11:29 PM EDT (0329 GMT)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kim Hunter, the versatile actress who won a supporting Oscar in 1951 as the long-suffering Stella in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and appeared in three "Planet of the Apes" movies, died Wednesday. She was 79.

Hunter died in her Greenwich Village apartment from an apparent heart attack, said her daughter, Kathryn Emmett.

A shy, modest person, Hunter enjoyed a long and busy career in theater and television, less so in films, partly because she was blacklisted during the red-hunting 1950s and didn't fit the sexpot pattern for female Hollywood stars.

"A Streetcar Named Desire" provided the highlight of her career. The play was cast with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Karl Malden as Mitch, and Jessica Tandy as the tragic Blanche DuBois. Director Elia Kazan admitted in his autobiography, "A Life," that he had trouble casting Stella "because I enjoy looking at girls."

He added of Hunter: "The minute I saw her I was attracted to her, which is the best possible reaction when casting young women."

Brando, Malden and Hunter played their roles in the somewhat sanitized film version (Hollywood still adhered to a strict moral self-censorship). Because Warner Bros. need a movie star for marquee value, Vivien Leigh, who had appeared as Blanche in London, repeated the role in the film.

Leigh, Malden and Hunter won Academy Awards; despite his unforgettable performance, Brando did not. Humphrey Bogart was awarded a long overdue Oscar for "The African Queen."

Hunter told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1999 that after she left "Streetcar" she tried to avoid seeing the play with other casts.

"It's simply that I have no objectivity about it," she said. "It was so much a part of my life, it would be unfair to the productions and performers."

Famous for 'Apes'

Oscar's legendary golden touch didn't seem to apply to Hunter. Her subsequent films were few, and they lacked the luster of "Streetcar." Among them: "Deadline U.S.A.," as newspaper editor Humphrey Bogart's estranged wife; "Anything Can Happen," as Russian immigrant Jose Ferrer's wife; "Storm Center," a minor film starring Bette Davis; also "The Young Stranger," "Bermuda Affair," and "Money, Women and Guns."

Her screen career entered a lull in the late '50s, after Hunter, a liberal Democrat, was listed as a communist sympathizer by Red Channels, a red-hunting pamphlet that influenced hiring by studios and TV networks.

Her return to film was "Lilith" (1964), which starred Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg and Peter Fonda. Four years later came "Planet of the Apes."

Hunter was cast as Dr. Zira, a chimpanzee psychiatrist in the science fiction classic about a group of astronauts from a ruined earth who discover a future world ruled by apes, with humans as slaves. The actress spent hours as the makeup and monkey suit were applied and later removed.

"It was pretty claustrophobic and painful to a certain extent," she told a reporter in 1998. "The only thing of me that came through was my eyeballs."

She was enough intrigued with the character and the plots that she appeared in two sequels, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970) and "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" (1971).

Playing 'let's pretend' games

Hunter was born Janet Cole in Detroit on November 12, 1922; her mother had been a concert pianist. She recalled later that she was a lonely child who "picked friends out of books and played 'let's pretend' games, acting out their characters before a mirror."

At 17 she joined a traveling stock company, then gained more seasoning in regional theaters and went to California for a role in "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the Pasadena Playhouse.

She obtained a contract with David O. Selznick, whose first move was to change her name. She made her film debut in a low-budget RKO horror film, "The Seventh Victim," and followed with secondary roles in other features, but eventually returned to the New York theater.

Irene Mayer Selznick was producing "A Streetcar Named Desire" in 1947, and Selznick, her ex-husband, recommended Hunter to play Stella Kowalski.

After the "Planet of the Apes" movies, Hunter appeared on Broadway in "Darkness at Noon," "The Children's Hour" and "The Tender Trap" and toured extensively in regional theater.

Her television appearances included the soap operas "The Edge of Night" and "As the World Turns" plus numerous miniseries, TV movies and series.

Hunter was married to William Baldwin in 1944; they had a daughter, Kathryn, and divorced in 1946. In 1951, she married actor and producer Robert Emett, with whom she sometimes costarred in plays. Their son was named Sean Robert.

© 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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