Obituary: Ross Hunter

Ross Hunter was one of the most successful producers in Hollywood's history. He followed his hunches or, as he himself put it, "the way life looks in my pictures is the way I want life to be. I don't want to hold a mirror up to life as it is". Variety called Airport (1970) "a handsome, often dramatically involving epitaph to a bygone brand of film-making". As much could be said of all Hunter's pictures. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby described it as "an immensely silly film", but went on to add that "it will probably entertain millions of people who no longer care very much about movies". That was also true of most of Hunter's pictures.

A former schoolteacher who dabbled in acting, his first job in Hollywood was as the romantic interest in Louisiana Hayride (1944). Leads followed in a handful of other Columbia B-movies, but when offers dried up he returned to teaching. After some stage work, producing and directing, he was back in the studios as dialogue director and occasional writer. In 1951 he became an Associate Producer at Universal, which had seldom made a wiser move.

Hunter's first film as producer, Take Me to Town (1953), starred Ann Sheridan, perhaps the most undervalued of all the great Hollywood stars. Barbara Stanwyck starred in Hunter's second film, All I Desire. Like many gay men, Hunter idolised the big female stars. Those who arrived at Universal were not always on the way down, but they had in common the fact that they had made their names elsewhere. Hunter put them back into glossy melodramas - but the sort which American critics found so old-fashioned that Universal showed its films only to the trade press in Britain for the whole of that decade.

Those two particular movies were directed by Douglas Sirk, a German emigre. When he and Hunter made a pro-Indian Western, Taza, Son of Chochise (1954), it seemed to prove that they were happy in any genre. Its star was Rock Hudson, whose career received a huge impetus when he played opposite Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obssession (1954), and Hunter reunited the stars and director for another tearjerker, All That Heaven Allows (1956), with Wyman as a widow who defies New England society by marrying her gardener.

Anne Baxter co-starred with Hudson in One Desire (1955) and with Jeff Chandler in the fifth and worst version of The Spoilers (1955), while Debbie Reynolds arrived for two sentimental tributes to teenagers, Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) and This Happy Feeling (1958); and Barbara Stanwyck did her woman-of-the-world job again in another remake, There's Always Tomorrow (1956). June Allyson did two more remakes, Interlude (1957) and My Man Godfrey (1957).

But if Hunter's policy of remakes looked haphazard to his bosses he did come up trumps with Imitation of Life (1959), in which Lana Turner took Claudette Colbert's old role as a widow who is having trouble with her daughter. The public turned up in large numbers to see Turner, whose career was unharmed by the scandal a year earler, when her daughter knifed her lover. Hunter immediately put her into another glossy melodrama, Portrait in Black (1960), but yet another rehash, Madame X (1966) found patrons no longer anxious to see Turner.

However, in teaming Hudson with Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1958), Hunter set off Universal's most successful series of films since the Deanna Durbin musicals. They were based on the slapstick comedies of Durbin's era, with luscious people in plush settings and more than a hint of salaciousness. Hudson only did three with Day, although as he said himself people thought there were more. The only other one produced by Hunter himself was The Thrill of It All (1963), when Day's frustrating husband was, in fact, James Garner.

The Chalk Garden (1964) should be noted, if only because it turned Enid Bagnold's play into a vehicle for moppet Hayley Mills. The Pad and How to Lose It (1966) was another travesty of another superior West End drama, in this case Peter Shaffer's The Private Ear. Hunter then engaged Julie Andrews, Hollywood's brightest new talent, for a musical set in the 1920s, Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967): like most of his films the tone was excessive but the star was showcased beautifully, and admirably supported by such drolls as Beatrice Lillie and Carol Channing. The result was the biggest success in Universal's history, taking more than $15 million in the domestic market, but three years later Hunter's Airport, from a novel by Arthur Hailey, topped that with a whopping $45 million. At this point Hunter set his sights on remaking Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1973) - with music. This was one of the most prestigious movies in Columbia's past and they had no intention of selling the rights to Universal. Hunter moved to Columbia, engaged Burt Bacharach and Hal David to write the score, with a cast headed by Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, John Gielgud and Michael York, who recalled Hunter as ebullient and radiating confidence - qualities sorely needed when critics scoffed at the result. Their notices killed any box-office potential and with it, overnight, Hunter's movie career. He moved to Paramount in 1974, but the work he did there was for television: The Lives of Jenny Dolan (1975), the pilot for a series with Shirley Jones, and The Moneychangers (1976), a mini-series from Arthur Hailey's novel, with Kirk Douglas and Anne Baxter. These aired on NBC, which Hunter joined to produce another mini-series, The Best Place To Be (1978), with Donna Reed and Helen Hayes.

David Shipman

Martin Fuss (Ross Hunter), film producer, actor: born Cleveland, Ohio 6 May 1926; died Los Angeles 10 March 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?