Hunter, Kim (1922—)

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Hunter, Kim (1922—)

American actress of stage, screen, and television who originated the part of Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Born Janet Cole on November 12, 1922, in Detroit, Michigan; daughter of Donald Cole (an engineer) and Grace (Lind) Cole (a concert pianist); graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School, Miami Beach, Florida, 1940; studied acting with Charmine Lantaff , Miami Beach, Florida, 1938–40; a member of Actors Studio from 1948; married William A. Baldwin, on February 11, 1944 (divorced 1946); married Robert Emmett (a writer), on December 20, 1951; children: (first marriage) Kathryn Baldwin; (second marriage) one son.

Selected theater:

made stage debut in title role of Penny Wise (Miami Woman's Club, Florida, 1939); Broadway debut as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (Ethel Barrymore Theater, 1947); Luba in Darkness at Noon (Alvin Theater, New York City, 1951); Ruby Hawes in The Chase (Playhouse Theater, New York City, 1952); Karen Wright in the Broadway revival of The Children's Hour (Coronet Theater, New York City, 1952); Sylvia Crews in The Tender Trap (Longacre Theater, New York City, 1954); appeared with the American Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Connecticut, summer 1961), as Rosalind in As You Like It, the First Witch in Macbeth, and as Helen in Troilus and Cressida ; Julie Sturrock in Write Me a Murder (Belasco Theater, New York City, 1961); MissWilson in Weekend (Broadhurst Theater, New York City, 1968); Carrie Bishop in The Penny Wars (Royale Theater, New York City, 1969); Catherine in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little (national tour, 1971–72); Mary Haines in the Broadway revival of The Women (46th Street Theater, New York City, 1973).


The Seventh Victim (1943); Tender Comrade (1944); A Canterbury Tale (UK, 1944); When Strangers Marry (1944); You Came Along (1945); A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven, UK, 1946); A Streetcar Named Desire (1951); Deadline U.S.A. (1952); Anything Can Happen (1952); Storm Center (1956); The Young Stranger (1957); Bermuda Affair (1957); Money Women and Guns (1958); Lilith (1964); Planet of the Apes (1968); The Swimmer (1968); Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970); Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971); Dark August (1976); The Kindred (1987); Due Occhi diabolici (Two Evil Eyes, It., 1990).

The daughter of an engineer and a concert pianist, Kim Hunter was born Janet Cole in Detroit, Michigan, in 1922, but moved to Miami after her father's death and her mother's remarriage. She later recalled a lonely childhood, made more tolerable by "acting out" characters from storybooks in front of the mirror. After graduating from high school, where she was featured in plays, she took ingénue roles in a variety of stock companies. An appearance in Arsenic and Old Lace at the Pasadena Playhouse brought her to the attention of film producer David O. Selznick, who signed her with Vanguard Films and also changed her name.

After an auspicious screen debut in the quality thriller The Seventh Victim (1943), Hunter went on to play in a number of mediocre movies, most on loan to other studios, until English directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger cast her in the English fantasy A Matter of Life and Death, which was selected for the first royal command film performance and released as Stairway to Heaven (1946) in the United States. In 1995, Columbia, in conjunction with Martin Scorsese and the British Film Institute, would release a restored print of the film. Hunter, who had remained good friends with Powell and Pressburger, was on hand for many of the festivities surrounding the film's restoration.

Hunter's Broadway break came with her return to America and the opportunity to play Stella Kowalski in the Tennessee Williams' drama A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Her portrayal won the praise of the critics, including William Hawkins of the New York World-Telegram who thought her "mellow and philosophical as the devoted Stella, who tries to synchronize two impossible loyalties." For her work in Streetcar, which ran for two and a half years on Broadway, Hunter won the Donaldson Award (1948) and the Critics Circle Award (1948) for Best Supporting Actress. Elia Kazan, who had directed the play, dubbed Hunter "unique among actresses. She is first a person and second a member of the acting profession." Kazan, who went on to direct the movie version with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh , called on Hunter to recreate her role in the film, which was released in 1951. The praise of the critics was once again overwhelming, and Hunter walked away with the 1952 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also won the Foreign Correspondents Award and a special Achievement Award from Look magazine who cited her as "standing out in bold normality among the frenetic characters around her."

Soon after her movie triumph in Streetcar, Hunter fell victim to the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s. Listed in the notorious "Red Channels" as a communist sympathizer, she was blacklisted by the industry for several years. She made movies only sporadically after that, concentrating

instead on stage and television. On Broadway, she was particularly notable as Luba in Darkness at Noon (1951) and Karen Wright in Lillian Hellman 's The Children's Hour (1952). Her impressive television credits include most of the "playhouse" shows, as well as appearances in such well-known series as "Mannix," "Gunsmoke," "Columbo," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," and "Ironside." Of her later movies, Hunter was particularly proud of the two science-fiction films Planet of the Apes (1968) and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), although she called the hours in make-up "pure hell."

Kim Hunter's first marriage to William Baldwin ended in divorce in 1946. In 1951, she married writer-director Robert Emmett, and the couple make their home in Greenwich Village, New York. Hunter authored an "autobiographical" cookbook, Loose in the Kitchen, in 1975.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography, 1952. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1952.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

McGill Raymond, ed. Notable Names in the American Theater. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1976.

Tanner, Louise. "Accents and Umlauts," in Films in Review. Vol. 46, no. 5–6. July–August, 1995, p. 38.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts