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Saturday, 1 September 2018


As someone who finds it irresistible to dive head-first into movie facts, gossip and trivia, every now and then something I read stops me in my tracks.

Recently, whilst reading a few items about the film The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, I  decided to click on the other actors in the cast to remind myself about their screen careers and lives in the hope of finding out something new.

I have seen The Searchers dozens and dozens of times and every time it is fresh to me. It works beautifully with Wayne as the troubled Civil War Confederate Ethan Edwards, Ward Bond as the  crusty Captain/Reverend, Hank Worden as the rocking-chair-loving Mose Harper, Henry Brandon as the Indian chief Scar, Natalie Wood as Debbie, abducted by the Comanches when she was a little girl, John Qualen and Olive Carey as Mr and Mrs Jorgensen, Harry Carey Jr. as their young buck son Brad and Vera Miles, their beautiful daughter who attracts the romantic intentions of Ken Curtis as the guitar-playing hick Charlie McCorry and Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley, adopted by the Jorgensens.

It was my delve into Jeffrey Hunter that shocked me a little. 

Jeffrey Hunter was born Henry Herman McKinnies Jr. in New Orleans on 25 November 1926. He grew up in Wisconsin. As a teenager, he acted in local theatre and radio productions. He had a brief stint in the US Navy, continued with his theatre work and eventually got a near-ten-year contract with 20th Century Fox from 1950 to 1959. He received acclaim in films like Red Skies of Montana (1952), Belles On Their Toes (1952), Lure Of The Wilderness (1952), Sailor Of The King (1953), Three Young Texans (1954) and A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

He appeared in about about sixteen films before landing his most famous role as Martin Pawley in The Searchers in 1956. He made two other films with John Ford, The Last Hurrah (1958) and Sergeant Rutledge (1960).

In the late 1950s/early 1960s, epic films were popular and Hunter took on the iconic role of Jesus Christ in King of Kings (1961).

His big screen career began to falter in the early 1960s but Hunter found work on television including a series called Temple Houston (1963-1964) about a frontier lawyer. Much of his work thereafter was as guest star in numerous TV shows. A piece of trivia that I suppose most people know is that he was Christopher Pike, Captain of the Starship Enterprise in the pilot episode of Star Trek. Of course, William Shatner bagged the role of Captain Kirk when the series was fully commissioned.

Now, this is the part of Jeffrey Hunter's biography that shocked me - his death at 42.

This is how the Los Angeles Times reported the story around 30 May 1969:

Actor Jeffrey Hunter, who portrayed Christ in the remake of the motion picture classic "King of Kings," died Tuesday from injuries believed suffered in a fall at his Van Nuys home, police reported. He was found unconscious by an unidentified friend Monday at 4:45 p.m. at the actor's home, 13451 Erwin Street, Los Angeles. 

Hunter had apparently fallen down a flight of stairs. The friend called the Fire Department and an ambulance. Taken to Valley Receiving Hospital, Hunter underwent surgery Monday night and died Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. An autopsy revealed he died of head injuries.

Detective Sgt. Jesse A. Tubbs began an investigation of the apparent accident. He was unable to talk immediately to Hunter's third wife, Emily, who was reported under sedation. The actor formerly was married to actresses Barbara Rush, by whom he had a son, and Joan (Dusty) Bartlett, by whom he had two sons.

This is the Wikipedia description, slightly edited by me, of Jeffrey Hunter's death:

While filming in Spain in November 1968, Hunter was injured in an on-set explosion when a car window near him, which had been rigged to explode outward, accidentally exploded inward. Hunter sustained a serious concussion. According to Hunter's wife Emily, he 'went into shock' on the plane ride back to the United States after filming and 'couldn't speak. He could hardly move.' After landing, Hunter was taken to a hospital in Los Angeles but doctors could not find any serious injuries save for a displaced vertebra and a concussion.
On the afternoon of May 26, 1969, Hunter suffered an intracranial haemorrhage while on a three-stair set of steps at his home in California. He fell, knocked over a planter, and struck his head on a bannister, fracturing his skull. He was found unconscious by his wife and taken to Valley Presbyterian Hospital where he underwent brain surgery. He died at about 9:30 the following morning at the age of 42.

Jeffrey Hunter was a very talented and beautifully handsome actor. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have watched him in The Searchers many times and I have a special fondness for the film, its director, its characters and its cast. Finding out the manner of his death and the age at which it happened, saddened me immensely when I read it for the first time about a month ago.

Rest in peace, sir. You made your mark in cinema history.

Jeffrey Hunter - 25 November 1926 - 27 May 1969


  1. His wife convinced him sci-fi was beneath him and she went in his place to a screening of the pilot and told the producers that Star Trek was beneath him as he was a movie star and would not be returning. Way WRONG move. William Shatner is in his eighties and still gets work.

  2. Only 42 years old...such a tragedy. If he had done all three seasons of ST, he would have been dead before any of the movies were made, and television history would be entirely different.

  3. This was before CT scans. I wonder if he had an intracranial bleed with the first event, and then he re-bled into it with the second event. And maybe with the second event he bled FIRST, then fell down (as opposed to falling first and hitting his head to cause the second bleed ).

  4. This was before CT scans. I wonder if he had an intracranial bleed with the first event, and then he re-bled into it with the second event. And maybe with the second event he bled FIRST, then fell down (as opposed to falling first and hitting his head to cause the second bleed ).