MGM’s 1940 movie of Pride and Prejudice was the first screen adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, and with its Victorian fashions, truncated plot, and cuddly Lady Catherine, it’s not universally beloved among Janeites.
But the death earlier this month of actor Marsha Hunt – at 104, the last survivor among the major cast members -- nevertheless marks a milestone: Austen adaptations have finally been around long enough to outlast all the human beings who created them.
Hunt, who played a foolish, bespectacled Mary Bennet, was hardly the most famous member of a cast headed by Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. But, as I learned from Hunt’s obituary, she was an up-and-coming young character actor of whom great things were expected – until, a decade after P&P, her progressive sympathies landed her on Hollywood’s blacklist during the 1950s Red Scare.
Hunt was never a member of the Communist Party, but the blacklist ended her shot at movie stardom. In later years, she enjoyed a busy career playing secondary roles on television.
Admirably, despite the losses she had suffered because of her political convictions, Hunt did not retreat into quiescence. Instead, she became an activist, working on behalf of the United Nations, refugees, and the homeless. Rest in peace, Mary Bennet.