Martita Hunt

Martita Hunt
Martita Hunt

As Miss Havisham, with John Mills, in David Lean's film of Great Expectations
Born 30 January 1900(1900-01-30)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died 13 June 1969(1969-06-13) (aged 69)
Hampstead, London, England, UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1920–69

Martita Hunt (30 January 1900 – 13 June 1969) was an English theatre and film actress.



Early life

Hunt was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 30 January 1900[1] to British parents Alfred and Marta Hunt (née Burnett). She spent the first ten years of her life in Argentina before she returned with her parents to England to attend Queenwood Ladies' College, in Eastbourne, and then to train as an actress under Dame Genevieve Ward and Lady Benson.

Early theatrical career

Hunt began her acting career in repertory theatre at Liverpool before moving to London. She first appeared there in the Stage Society's production of Ernst Toller's The Machine Wreckers at the Kingsway Theatre in May 1923. From 1923-9 she appeared as the Principessa della Cercola in W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters (Globe, 1924) and as Mrs. Linden in Ibsen's A Doll's House (Playhouse, 1925) in the West End, along with engagements at club theatres such as the Q Theatre and the Arts Theatre and a short 1926 Chekhov season at the small Barnes Theatre under Victor Komisarjevsky (playing Charlotta Ivanovna, in The Cherry Orchard and Olga in Three Sisters).

In September 1929, she joined the Old Vic company, then led by Harcourt Williams, and in the following eight months played Béline in Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, Queen Elizabeth in George Bernard Shaw's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, and Lavinia in Shaw's Androcles and the Lion. However, her time there was more noted for a succession of Shakespearian roles (the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, the Queen in Richard II, Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Portia in Julius Caesar), including some alongside John Gielgud (Rosalind in As You Like It, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, and Queen Gertrude in Hamlet). Donald Roy, in her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, states:

"With an arresting appearance and a dominant stage presence, she proved most effective as strong, tragic characters, her Gertrude in Hamlet being accounted by some critics the finest they had seen."

She then returned to the West End (briefly returning to the Old Vic to play Emilia in their 1938 Othello), notably playing Edith Gunter in Dodie Smith's Autumn Crocus (Lyric, 1931), the Countess of Rousillon in All's Well That Ends Well (Arts, 1932), Lady Strawholme in Ivor Novello's Fresh Fields (Criterion, 1933), Liz Frobisher in John Van Druten's The Distaff Side (Apollo, 1933), Barbara Dawe in Clemence Dane's Moonlight is Silver (Queen's, 1934), Theodora in Elmer Rice's Not for Children (Fortune, 1935), Masha in Chekhov's The Seagull (New Theatre, 1936), the Mother in an English-language version of Garcia Lorca's Bodas de sangre entitled Marriage of Blood (Savoy, 1939), Léonie in Jean Cocteau's Les Parents terribles (Gate, 1940), Mrs Cheveley in Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband (Westminster, 1943), and Cornelia in John Webster's The White Devil (Duchess, 1947).

Early film career

Hunt also appeared in many supporting and cameo roles in several popular British films such as Good Morning Boys (1937), Trouble Brewing (1939), and The Man in Grey (1943). The Wicked Lady (1945) was an international success, but her next film role in David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) became her most famous and most lauded. As Miss Havisham, she reprised her role from the 1939 stage adaptation by Alec Guinness which provided the inspiration and template for Lean's film. Her performance met with significant acclaim and Roger Ebert later wrote in 1999 that she "dominate[d] the [film's] early scenes, playing Miss Havisham as a beak-nosed, shabby figure, bedecked in crumbling lace and linen, not undernourished despite her long exile."[2] It was fitting, however, that her signature cinematic role should be so closely associated with Guinness, whom also played Herbert Pocket in both the stage and film adaptations: as Guinness recounted in his 1985 memoir Blessings in Disguise, Hunt had served as an important mentor in the early years of his acting career.

Later career

From this time on she divided her time between British films, Hollywood and the stage. She won a Tony Award in 1949 for her Broadway début as Countess Aurelia in the English-speaking première of Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot (though she had relatively less impact on the production's 1952 tour). Her last stage role was as Angélique Boniface in Hotel Paradiso, an adaptation from Feydeau, again alongside Guinness at the Winter Garden Theatre in May 1956.

Some of her other films include Anna Karenina (1948), My Sister and I (1948), The Fan (1949), Folly to be Wise (1952), The March Hare (1956), Anastasia (1956), Three Men in a Boat (1956), The Admirable Crichton (1957), The Prince and the Showgirl (1957),[3] The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), Becket (1964), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965).


Martita Hunt died of bronchial asthma[1] at her home in Hampstead, London, aged 69, on 13 June 1969. Her estate was valued at £5,390.[1] She never married. She was an aunt of actor Gareth Hunt.

Selected filmography


  1. ^ a b c Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ Roger Ebert, "Great Expectations":
  3. ^ reprising her stage performance as the Grand Duchess in its source, Terence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince (Phoenix, 1953)
  • Who Was Who in the Theatre, 1912–1976, 2 (1978), pp. 1241–2
  • W. Rigdon, The Biographical Encyclopedia (1966), p. 556
  • D. Quinlan, The Illustrated Directory of Film Character Actors (1985), p. 152
  • S. D'Amico, ed., Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 11 vols. (Rome, 1954–68)
  • P. Hartnoll, ed., The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre (1972), p. 259
  • The Times (14 June 1969), pp. 1, 10
  • J. Willis, ed., Theatre World, 26 (1970), pp. 268–9
  • F. Gaye, ed., Who's Who in the Theatre, 14th edn (1967), pp. 769–70
  • E. M. Truitt, Who Was Who on Screen, 3rd edn (1983), 360
  • The Guardian (14 June 1969), p. 5
  • R. May, A Companion to the Theatre (1973), p. 110
  • J.-L. Passek, ed., Dictionnaire du cinéma (1991), p. 334

External links

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