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Marsha Hunt on Anthony Dexter

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jan 20th, 2013
Jan 20


Marsha Hunt talks about her friendship with Anthony Dexter


Marsha Hunt


By Allan R. Ellenberger


Yesterday, January 19, was Anthony Dexter’s 100th birthday. In celebration here is a repeat of an article I posted more than three years ago about Marsha Hunts friendship with the actor.



I was first introduced to Marsha Hunt by Margaret O’Brien while working on the book I wrote on her career (Margaret O’Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography). A few years later I renewed that friendship through my late friend Jimmy Bangley. On occasion we would visit with her and talk about Hollywood and watch old films at her Sherman Oaks home.


Marsha Hunt, who was equally at home with light romantic comedy or heavy dramatic roles, first appeared in films in 1935 in Paramount’s The Virginia Judge. Her later work at MGM included Pride and Prejudice (1940), Lost Angel (1943) and Smash-up, the Story of a Woman (1947). Her film career came to an abrupt halt due to the communist witch hunt of the late 1940s and 1950s.


Though blacklisted, Marsha appeared on stage and occasional television roles over the next few decades. She has been seen in Matlock, Murder She Wrote and as an alien in one of my favorite shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation. She recently appeared in the short film, The Grand Inquisitor (2008) playing the widow of a possible serial killer.


Since 1980 she has been the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks and in 1993 she wrote, The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and ‘40s, a book filled with fashion, film history and inside Hollywood stories.


Marsha Hunt and Allan Ellenberger

Marsha Hunt and me the night we talked about Tony Dexter


When I began researching my book on Rudolph Valentino (The Valentino Mystique), I learned that Marsha appeared in a Sacramento production of the musical, The King and I, playing the role of Anna with Anthony Dexter as her King. Dexter, of course, played the silent film idol in the 1951 bio-pic, Valentino, so one evening several years ago, I asked Marsha what she thought of Valentino and about working with Tony Dexter. What follows is her response:



“Of course I remember Valentino. By the age of eight I had already seen The Sheik and his films with Vilma Banky. Valentino smoldered, didn’t he? That was fine with me. I got his message loud and clear, even at a young age.


“I remember when Valentino died. There were two deaths that summer – my grandfather and Rudolph Valentino. I remember everyone being concerned and upset because one person had died and that was really quite awesome to me. That was probably the first indication of the scope of fan-hood — of hero worship — a matinee-idol-kind-of-madness that could sweep a country.


“As for Tony Dexter, I first met him when he was the King and I was Anna. Do you know the story of my doing The King and I? I had never found the courage to do a musical. I had sung in half a dozen movies but nobody knew it was me. They assumed that I’d been dubbed by a singer. They sort of thought ‘if she could sing she’d be a singer so this must be somebody else’s voice.’


“It was 1958 and I was in New York in a Broadway show at the time (The Tunnel of Love with Johnny Carson). Musicals and straight plays have different matinee days so actors can go see each others shows. So on one of those matinees, I was finally able to see The Music Man (with Robert Preston) and there sitting behind me was Russell Lewis and Howard Young, the producing team of the Music Circus Theatre in the Round in Sacramento. They had asked me over the years if I would do a musical and I always said ‘no thank you.’ I had done my only tour play with them when they produced T.S. Elliot’s The Cocktail Party, which I did with Vincent Price and a wonderful cast – Estelle Winwood and some great people.


“So there was Lewis and Young sitting behind me at The Music Man and we went backstage to see Bob Preston together. And then they walked me to my theatre because there wasn’t time to go back uptown until my evening show, and the entire way they were giving me hell and saying ‘Marsha, you are the most cowardly person we know. You are afraid to do a musical and you have just seen and heard what an actor, who is not a singer, can do on stage.’


“And of course they were right. Bob Preston was absolute magic. And I was so spellbound by Preston and what he had done that I said ‘yeah maybe so,’ and they said, ‘well you’ve seen it – you heard what an actor can do with a singing role. Now will you promise to do something for us this summer?’ And in my weakened condition I said yes. And they held me to it.


“So when I got back home they said ‘Okay, what’s your show — what are you going to do for us?’ And I didn’t know, but it seemed to me if I didn’t make history as a singer, that it better be a good acting role, and the best acting role I knew in a musical was Anna, so I suggested The King and I, and they made me do it. And that’s how I became involved in the play and first met Tony Dexter.


“One of the first things that struck me about Tony Dexter was – and I don’t mean that it was obtrusive – but he didn’t have an ego. And I was amazed during rehearsals, this Anthony Dexter, who had played Valentino; larger than life, you know, macho man dramatic hero of all womanhood, didn’t seem to have an ego.




“He was conscientious and professional and terribly nice, but I saw none of the ‘me first’ quality that the King was made of. He was playing the King and ruler of all that he surveyed, and I found myself wondering in rehearsal how Tony Dexter was going to succeed as the King. But he was an actor and it all came true in his performance as rehearsals progressed. He grew muscles of ego as well as insistence on having his way. I was so proud of him for not imitating (Yul) Brynner — there was nothing of Yul in his King; he found  his own King. He was awfully good.


“I knew that he had played Valentino so I can’t honestly say whether I would have noticed the resemblance or not. I was busy trying to ‘de-Valentino-ing’ him in my mind and seeing him as the King of Siam. He wore Asian makeup to a degree – he was bronzed in that wonderful Pacific-colored skin that isn’t brown and isn’t yellow. Its Filipino — it’s a wonderful bronze shade. And he was superbly built. He did just fine in what minimal costuming he had.


“We rehearsed for a week and then performed the show for a week, and that’s it. And if they took pictures they never sent them to us. He sang surprisingly well. I remember, of course, the moments of friction and attraction that happened between the King and Anna and the “Shall We Dance” routine was wonderful as a number. It was such an experience together because there were all types of magic going on between us.


“For my costume, I was given Gertrude Lawrence’s hoops which were made of steel and were five foot in diameter in graduating size, and linked from one hoop to another so they all stayed equidistant from one another. Then I started twirling, and those hoops got their own momentum, they went like holy blazes. And there is Tony – poor Tony, barelegged – and through the layers of my thin petticoats, the steel hoops cut grooves into his shinbones – its not very upholstered at your shin bones, and he was bleeding by the end of our dance so they had to cover the widest link with padding so he got bumped but not cut.


“We had almost no time together except in rehearsal and I didn’t get to know him then, but he was clearly a nice man as well as intelligent, and as I said, no ego. What surprised me was hearing from Tony out of the blue well after the show had closed. He would call me maybe once a year in the 1960s and 70s. And he just wanted to chat. It was so sweet. He knew I was married, so he was making no pitch. But I was so complemented that he remembered an experience we briefly had of intense work together, and wanted to renew our acquaintance.


“And then after Robert (Marsha’s husband, screenwriter, Robert Presnell, Jr.) died I began to hear from him maybe three to six times a year. He was living alone and he must have been very lonely. He called just to chat. I remember my beloved friend John Anderson, a wonderful character actor, who lived just a few blocks away. The Andersons and Presnells used to do things together. We’d go to screenings at the Academy, or out to dinner — we were very fond of them.


“Then Robert died and the Andersons looked after me. And we did things as a threesome and then Pat (Anderson) died of emphysema and that left John and me. We were such good friends and one time I asked him ‘Did you every know someone named Tony Dexter?’ And he said, ‘What made you think of that name?’ I told him that Tony had called earlier that day and wondered if he knew him. He said, ‘That’s amazing because I also hear from him occasionally (they made a movie together).’ So I don’t know how many people Tony called, but every now and then he called John Anderson as well as me. Now maybe we’re the only two people he did call but John was so touched that Tony just wanted to visit.


“Anyway, Tony had a thing about the film I made with Greer Garson, Pride and Prejudice — he adored the film and he adored me in it. Every time it ran he had to call me and say so. And there’s nothing I could say about it. He would just carry on about my Mary. He treasured that performance.


The Way We Wore


“I sent him my book (The Way We Wore) because he was so devoted, and there wasn’t anything else I could do for him. I had a sense that he was lonely, and I just thought he might enjoy it. Well, he went to pieces over it and he said he was now the big man on his block — that all his neighbors and friends was dropping by to ripple through some more pages and catch up. They loved the book and he was so grateful.


“Then, he did a really touching thing. He looked up my birthday and sent me a twenty dollar bill. To send me money on my birthday — I found it so touching. I wanted to send it back because I had a feeling things were probably pretty tight for him and twenty dollars made a difference, however I felt it might hurt his feelings so I kept it and told him I had a splendid dinner.


“I never saw him in person again after we did The King and I — we only spoke on the phone through out all those years. I think he developed a mild crush on me because in his letters and cards he began to sign his name rather romantically. And he left sweet messages at Christmas time, sending me cards and things. It was so dear. Never until I was widowed though, because he was quite conscientious about that.


“But I liked him and I thought it was a pity that a man that nice and that gifted – at least from the one thing I saw him do — wasn’t having a better time toward the end. I would ask him how he was feeling and he’d make light of it, but it was clear he was not in the best of health or spirits, and so we’d talk for a long time — as long as he wanted to because I thought it mattered to him. And that’s all I can tell you about Tony Dexter.”


Anthony Dexter died on March 27, 2001 in Greeley, Colorado.



Merlin Olsen Obituary

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 11th, 2010
Mar 11


Merlin Olsen dies at 69; Hall of Fame football star later became actor



Olsen was one-quarter of the Los Angeles Rams’ Fearsome Foursome as well as a familiar face from ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ He also served for 15 seasons as football analyst for NBC and CBS.


By Keith Thursby
Los Angeles Times
March 11, 2010


Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams who was a charter member of the team’s famed Fearsome Foursome, then made a remarkably smooth transition into careers in broadcasting and acting, has died. He was 69.


 Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for Merlin Olsen



Karen Morley’s 100th Birthday

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 12th, 2009
Dec 12


Karen Morley


Karen Morley




  • BORN: December 12, 1909, Ottumwa, Iowa
  • DIED: March 8, 2003, Woodland Hills, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Pneumonia
  • BURIAL: Unknown


Morley appears in the first part of this clip from Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni




Lew Ayres Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 28th, 2008
Dec 28

Happy 100th Birthday

Lew Ayres!





  •  BORN: December 28, 1908, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • DIED: December 30, 1996, Los Angeles, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Complications from a coma
  • BURIAL: Westwood Village Memorial Park, Section D



(findagrave.com / James Tipton)



Helen Twelvetrees’ Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 25th, 2008
Dec 25

Happy 100th Birthday

Helen Twelvetrees!




née Helen Marie Jurgens


  • BORN: December 25, 1908, Brooklyn, New York
  • DIED: February 13, 1958, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Suicide by sleeping pills
  • BURIAL: MIddletown Cemetery, Middletown, Pennsylvania (unmarked grave)



Quentin Crisp’s Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 25th, 2008
Dec 25

Happy 100th Birthday

Quentin Crisp!


Quentin Crisp



né Denis Pratt


  • BORN: December 25, 1908, Carshalton, England, UK

  • DIED: November 21, 1999, Machester, England, UK

  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Natural causes

  • BURIAL: Ashes spread down Broadway in New York City



Dennis Morgan’s Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 20th, 2008
Dec 20

Happy 100th Birthday

Dennis Morgan!


 Dennis Morgan



né Earl Stanley Morner


  • BORN: December 20, 1908, Prentice, Wisconsin
  • DIED: September 7, 1994, Fresno, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Respiratory failure
  • BURIAL: Oak Hill District Cemetery, Oakhurst, California


Dennis Morgan's grave

(findagrave.com / Fran)



Morey Amsterdam’s Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 14th, 2008
Dec 14

Happy 100th Birthday

Morey Amsterdam!


Morey Amsterdam




 BORN: December 14, 1908, Chicago, Illinois

DIED: October 27, 1996, Los Angeles, California

CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack

BURIAL: Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills, Court of Remembrance


Morey Amsterdam's grave

(findagrave.com / A.J. Marik)



Sally Eilers Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 11th, 2008
Dec 11

Happy 100th Birthday

Sally Eilers!




née Dorothea Sally Eilers


  • BORN: December 11, 1908, New York, New York
  • DIED: January 5, 1978, Woodland Hills, California
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack
  • BURIAL: Forest Lawn-Glendale, Freedom Mausoleum, Columbarium of Understanding


(findagrave.com / A. J. Marik)



Anna Sten’s Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Dec 3rd, 2008
Dec 3

Happy 100th Birthday

Anna Sten!




 née Anel Sudakevich


  • BORN: December 3, 1908, Kiev, Ukraine, Russia
  • DIED: November 12, 1993, New York, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack
  • BURIAL: Ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean



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