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Submitted by Roger Mellor

Kim Hunter
Oscar-winner who found new fame with 'Planet of the Apes'
The Telegraph; September 13th 2002

Kim Hunter, the American actress who died on Wednesday aged 79, used to stress that she had no time for the dazzle of Hollywood stardom; it was as well, then, that despite some excellent performances she only once threatened the higher reaches of celebrity.

That was in 1951, when she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as Stella Kowalski in the film of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. Stella lives in a seedy New Orleans tenement with her brutal husband Stanley (Marlon Brando); they get by on sex and not much else, though the arrival of Stella's neurotic sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh) brings the tension to bursting point.

A terrible matrimonial row is resolved when Stanley/Brando, clad in an artistically torn T-shirt, lets out a primeval cry of pain for Stella, who duly makes a highly charged descent down a winding staircase and into his arms. Off set, Brando proved more frolicsome; when Kim Hunter retired for a nap in her trailer, he shook it violently while yelling "Earthquake, Earthquake".

After A Streetcar Named Desire, it seemed that Kim Hunter had a great career in prospect. She was unlucky, though, to be named a fellow-traveller in a rabid anti-Communist publication called Red Channels. In fact, she was simply a liberal Democrat who fought for civil rights; in the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, however, that sufficed to incur suspicion of undermining the American Constitution. Nor did Kim Hunter improve matters by sponsoring a World Peace Conference held in New York in 1949.

In 1962 her testimony in the New York Supreme Court in a case which had been brought against Red Channels helped clear several actors accused of Communist connections. Nevertheless, the magazine's slur against her meant that Kim Hunter appeared in only a few films in the 1950s. Later, however, she appeared as Dr Ziva, the chimpanzee psychiatrist in Planet of the Apes (1968). Her acting in the part was excellent; of her body, however, nothing was visible but the eyeballs. She was also in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1969) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1970).

Kim Hunter was born Janet Cole in Detroit on November 12 1922. Her father, a refrigerating engineer, died when she was only three, after which her mother married Bliss Stebbins, a retired businessman in Miami Beach.

Janet Cole was a shy and lonely child, whose only brother was nine years older; away from Miami High School, therefore, she was largely left to her own devices. She developed a strong fantasy life, acting out in front of mirrors the characters who sprang to her imagination. This led to lessons with a drama coach, and from the age of 17 she was playing in repertory theatre, eventually working at the Pasadena Playhouse, close to Hollywood.

There she was spotted by David Selznick, who was in charge of production at RKO. He changed her name to Kim Hunter and gave her ingenue roles in The Seventh Victim (1943) and Tender Comrade (1943). In When Strangers Marry (1944), Variety reported, she was "attractive as well as appealing as the distraught but loyal wife".

The next breakthrough occurred when Alfred Hitchcock, advised by his 14-year-old daughter, recommended her to Michael Powell for the part of the all-American girl who talks sympathetically by radio to an English pilot (David Niven) trapped in a blazing plane at the beginning of the British film A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

The pilot appears to land safely, and successfully pursues the girl who owns the voice he had heard. It transpires, however, that he is actually dead, save that the messenger sent to escort him to the next life from his spiralling aircraft had missed him in the fog. The film ends with a trial scene in some heavenly antechamber where, to the outrage of The Daily Telegraph's critic Campbell Dixon, the pilot is arraigned with the crime of being English. Nor was Dixon mollified that he should be acquitted solely through the love of a good American girl.

Back in America in 1947 Kim Hunter played Stella in the first Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Excellent reviews, and the Critics' Circle Award, secured her the role in the film. In 1951 she enjoyed another stage success playing opposite Claude Rains in an adaptation of Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

Her film credits included Deadline USA (with Humphrey Bogart, 1952); Storm Centre (1956), an anti-McCarthy picture in which she appeared with Bette Davis; The Young Stranger (1957); Lilith (1964); and The Swimmer (1968). By the 1970s her screen career was mainly confined to television, in particular in the soap opera The Edge of Night (1979 and 1980).

Generously, Kim Hunter spoke up for Elia Kazan in 1999, when voices were raised against the award of an Oscar to a man who had reported people to Congressional investigators during the McCarthy witch-hunts. "Artistic achievement and the mistake someone made years ago don't belong together," she commented.

Kim Hunter married first, in 1944 (dissolved 1946) William Baldwin, a Marine Air Corps pilot; they had a daughter, who became a judge in Connecticut.

She married secondly, in 1951, Robert Emmett, an actor, who died in 2000; they had a son.

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