NEW YORK — Actress Kim Hunter, best known for her Oscar-winning role as Stella Kowalski — the role she originated on Broadway — opposite Marlon Brando in the 1951 screen classic “A Streetcar Named Desire,” died Wednesday at age 79, family members said.
Hunter, whose role in a 1943 Ginger Rogers film about women who lived communally during WWII led to her being blacklisted as a suspected communist sympathizer during the 1950s, died of natural causes at her Greenwich Village apartment.
Hunter amassed an impressive array of stage, film and television credits during a career spanning seven decades, appearing as recently as last year in an Off Broadway revival of “The Madwoman of Chaillot” for the Neighborhood Playhouse.”
Her varied career also included 1950s Broadway productions of “Darkness at Noon” and “The Children’s House”; a screen role as the ape-woman Zira in the original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” and two sequels; and an Emmy-nominated turn on the ABC daytime drama “The Edge of Night.”
Charlton Heston, who co-starred with her in “Planet of the Apes,” issued a statement saluting Hunter as “a fine actress and a wonderful person.”
She is perhaps best remembered as Brando’s long-suffering and loyal wife Stella, the younger sister of Vivien Leigh’s Blanche DuBois, in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a role she originated on Broadway. Her bigscreen performance earned Hunter an Academy Award for best supporting actress.
The following year, she co-starred as the ex-wife of a newspaper editor played by Humphrey Bogart in “Deadline U.S.A” and played opposite Jose Ferrer in the comedy “Anything Can Happen.”
Born Janet Cole in Detroit and raised in Miami, Fla., Hunter made her stage debut in a local production where she was spotted by talent scouts and put under contract by film producer David O. Selznick.
She was loaned out for her first film, the 1943 thriller “The Seventh Victim,” and the same year was cast with Ginger Rogers in Edward Dmytryk’s “Tender Comrade,” about a group of women who shared a house while their husbands were off serving in WW II.
Partly as a result of her appearance in that film, Hunter’s name surfaced in Red Channels, a pamphlet listing those suspected of having communist sympathies, and she ended up on the Hollywood blacklist.
She continued to work onstage and resumed film acting as the blacklisting faded. She also chalked up numerous television credits as far back as 1948 as a recurring player on ABC’s “Actors Studios” and with guest roles ranging from an Emmy-nominated turn on “Baretta” to an appearance on the NBC sitcom “Mad About You.”
She returned to Broadway in 1996 for a revival of “An Ideal Husband” at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, where she had co-starred in “A Streetcar Named Desire” years before. Hunter returned to feature films with a part in Clint Eastwood’s 1997 drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Hunter was married to William Baldwin in 1944; they had a daughter and divorced in 1946. In 1951, she married actor and producer Robert Emett, with whom she had a son. Both children survive her.