Kim Hunter was one of dozens of actors whose careers were very nearly ruined by the anti-communist panic of the McCarthy era.
Kim Hunter is remembered for her fine work in films like A Streetcar Named Desire and Planet of the Apes. She is also remembered as one of dozens of actors whose careers were very nearly ruined by the anti-communist panic of the McCarthy era. Today on what would have been her 90th birthday, we reflect on Kim Hunter’s careers – the one she had and the one that might have been.
Hunter’s acting career started strong, with a few films and Broadway roles leading up to an Academy Award-winning performance. After originating the role of Stella Kowalski in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, Hunter went on to reprise Stella on the silver screen, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Right on the heels of that Oscar came a star turn opposite Humphrey Bogart in Deadline – USA. Though it wasn’t an award winner, the film was a box office smash and is still considered one of the best newspaper-business movies of all time.
Hunter’s fine performance should have led to more fine roles, and perhaps another chance at an Academy Award. Instead, she came up against the dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee, having been named by Streetcar director Elia Kazan. She was blacklisted, and for several years, acting jobs were few and far between.
For most blacklisted actors, there was no magical return to their previous career trajectory once tensions wound down. The same held true for Kim Hunter. Though she worked again, there’s no telling what heights she could have reached without the smirch on her name. As it was, her greatest post-McCarthy role was one that’s well known, but not so recognizable. Hunter played chimpanzee Dr. Zira in Planet of the Apes and two of its sequels.
Other roles followed, including one on soap opera The Edge of Night that earned her a Daytime Emmy nomination, but none brought back the momentum of Hunter’s early career. Still, Kim Hunter is remembered with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for movies and one for television – and she’s remembered for her great performances, both before and after the era that stalled her career.