Saturday, July 24, 2021

Jeffrey Hunter


Jeffrey Hunter was born Henry Herman "Hank" McKinnies, Jr. in New Orleans on November 25, 1926.  His family relocated to Milwaukee in the 1930s, where he attended Whitefish Bay High School, serving as Captain of the football team.  He was already active in the local theatre scene and was performing on radio as well, having made his professional debut while still a student. 

After graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and served his country during World War 2.  He trained as a radar technician and was assigned to the Ninth Naval District in Great Lakes, Illinois.  He never saw any combat duty however, having broken an arch-bone in a high school football accident.  He was discharged after one year of service and was a recipient of the World War 2 Victory Medal.

Following his discharge, he enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.  There he majored in speech and radio and began appearing in college productions.  During the summers, he gained practical experience working with the NBC Radio Institute in Chicago.

His first film role came in 1949, when he and other Northwestern students were cast in Julius Caesar.  While not a big role for him, the film is best remembered as the breakout vehicle for actor Charlton Heston.  You can watch it in its entirety on YouTube.

He graduated in 1949 and immediately enrolled in UCLA to get his master's degree in radio.  During this time, he was first spotted by talent scouts and eventually signed with 20th Century Fox.  While they were impressed by his acting and his natural good looks, they were less than enthusiastic about his name.  The studio christened him "Jeffrey Hunter" on June 1, 1950.

His first role at Fox was in the 1951 film Fourteen Hours opposite Debra Paget.  Subsequent films that year included Call Me Mister and The Frogmen, in which he co-starred with another new young actor, Robert Wagner.

Buoyed by the response from these films, Fox positioned Hunter in leading-man roles.  His first starring role was in 1952's Lure of the Wilderness, opposite Jean Peters. He had a good run for the next several years, starring in such hits as Dreamboat (1952), Three Young Texans (1954) and Princess of the Nile (1954).

In the mid-1950s, Hunter's career unexpectedly stalled, and he was loaned out to United Artists, where he appeared with Joanne Woodward in A Kiss Before Dying and opposite John Wayne in The Searchers.  This led to a resurgence in his career, and he'd soon go to work for Disney.

His career hit another snag in 1957 however, when Hunter was diagnosed with hepatitis.  It kept him from working for more than a year and he lost several roles, including the lead in 1957's Appointment With A Shadow.  Veteran actor George Nader replaced him in the role.  Another rebound was just around the corner.

In 1961, Hunter appeared as Jesus Christ himself in the $8 million epic King of Kings (left).  Though panned by critics (natch), it was a huge hit at the box office and remains one of Hunter's most fondly remembered films.  Of the role, Hunter once stated "I've broken my shackles at last.  Christ was a carpenter and 33 years old, and I am 33, and I suppose my physical measurements fitted the description in the New Testament.  At the time of His death, He was robust, and not a delicate man."

Two years later, Hunter returned to the small screen, assuming the title role of a new western series called Temple Houston.  Although it was a moderate ratings hit, NBC canceled the series after only one season.  Just like Baywatch.

Following the cancelation, Hunter signed on to the role for which I most remember him, that of Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot (right).  As most people know, this pilot episode was rejected by NBC, but executives gave producer Gene Roddenberry a second chance, asking him to produce one with more action and adventure. Hunter would not return to the series however, and the reason for this is still a subject of debate among die-hard Trekkies.  

In 1968, Hunter was in Spain filming Cry Chicago, when he was injured in an on-set explosion.  A car window, which had been rigged to explode outward, instead exploded inward, and Hunter sustained a serious concussion.  On the return flight to the United States, he went into shock and could neither speak nor move.  Upon landing in Los Angeles, he was rushed to the hospital, but doctors shockingly found nothing wrong.  But the wheels of fate were already in motion.

On May 26, 1969, Hunter collapsed in his Van Nuys home and fractured his skull.  Doctors attributed it to an intracranial hemorrhage and performed immediate brain surgery.  Surgeons were unsuccessful however, and Hunter died later that evening.  He was 42 years old.

Jeffrey Hunter was interred at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Sylmar, California.  This blogger recommends avoiding the site during the noontime hour, as the shade of a nearby tree makes taking pictures difficult.

Location: Olive Section, Lot #141, Grave E.

Here's a clearer picture borrowed from the web.

Rest in peace, Captain.


  • Hunter auditioned and actively lobbied for the role of Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, but creator Sherwood Schwartz felt he was too good looking to be an architect.  Hmm.  What does that say about Robert Reed?

  • Hunter was a descendant of Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States.

  • In 1955, Hunter opened his own production company, Hunter Enterprises.  Ironic name, isn't it?

  • In 1957, Hunter recorded an album of love songs, including one dedicated to his wife.  However, the album was never released, and shockingly, it is not on YouTube.

  • Hunter was close friends with future James Bond actor Roger Moore, who's son Geoffrey Moore was named in his honor.

  • Hunter died just one week before the final episode of Star Trek aired on NBC.

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