Kim Hunter, the actress whose long and rich stage career included playing Stella in the original Broadway production and subsequent film of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, died of a heart attack at her Greenwich Village apartment Sept. 11. She was 79.
It was to Ms. Hunter that Marlon Brando, as the loutish Stanley Kowalski, famously bellowed "Stella! Stella!" at a lit apartment window where his wife hid. She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the sexually enthralled Stella.
Ms. Hunter appeared in a couple films after "Streetcar," including the Humphrey Bogart vehicle "Deadline U.S.A.," but her screen and television careers went dead after when her name appeared in "Red Channels," the Communist scare pamphlet. Soon she was blacklisted. The actress never belonged to the Communist Party, and, according to the New York Times, she blamed her troubles on having sponsored a peace symposium in 1949.
If Hollywood temporarily turned its back on Ms. Hunter, Broadway did not. Following A Streetcar Named Desire, she acted in Sidney Kingsley's Darkness at Noon (1951); Horton Foote's The Chase, staged by Jose Ferrer (1952); a revival of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour directed by Hellman (1952); and the light romantic comedy The Tender Trap. (1955)
Still, even as she found employment, the blacklist shaped her career. About Darkness at Noon, she said, "Sidney damn near ruined it. He was so terrified people would think the play was pro- and not anti-Communist, he made everything black and white." She also said that the ultra-liberal Hellman refused to hire Elia Kazan to direct The Children's Hour, because he had named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ms. Hunter returned the theatre's loyalty to her by seemingly refusing to quit the stage. In 1996, she played Miss Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy at Queens Theatre In The Park. The same year, she made her final Broadway appearance was in 1996 in the British revival of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Two years later, she was in Philadelphia appearing in Greytop In Love at the Walnut Street Studio Theatre. In 2000, she took part in a concert reading of The Gospel According to Saint Luke at Westport's White Barn Theatre. Her final stage appearance was in the Colleagues Theatre Company's Off-Broadway staging of The Madwoman of Chaillot last autumn.
She was born Janet Cole on Nov. 12, 1922, in Detroit and raised in Miami. There she caught the theatre bug and landed her first stage role at 17 in the title role of Penny Wise at the Miami Women's Club. Later, her career took her to the Pasadena Playhouse in California, where she appeared in Arsenic and Old Lace and was spotted by a talent scout. A contract with the producer David O. Selznick followed. In 1947, he helped found the Actors Studio; she was a staunch believer in the Method style of acting.
Her other stage roles included Write Me a Murder, Weekend, The Penny Wars, a 1973 Broadway revival of The Women starring Myrna Loy, Alexis Smith and Dorothy Loudon, and To Grandmother's House We Go, opposite Eva Le Gallienne.
On film, her later credits were "Lilith," "The Kindred" and, most famously, the original "Planet of the Apes" and two sequels. In all the films she played Dr. Zira. Ever the Method actress, she spent hours at the Bronx Zoo, according to the Times, studying behavior of apes.
Ms. Hunter lived for many years in a picturesque apartment directly above the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. Over the years the building became a familiar theatrical landmark, as often cited for the old playing area within as for the great actress who lived upstairs.
She is survived by a daughter Kathryn, from her first marriage to William Baldwin, and a son Robert, from her second marriage to Robert Emmet, who died in 2000.