Jeffrey Hunter was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1926. In 1950 after graduating from college, he was awarded a 20th Century Fox contract. His first film was “Fourteen Hours” and his first major role was in “Red Skies of Montana” in 1952 with Richard Widmark and Constance Smith. One of his most famous roles was in the iconic Western “The Searchers” with John Wayne. His other notable films in the 1950’s include “A Kiss Before Dying”, “In Love and War”, and “The True Story of Jesse James”. In 1961 he played the part of Jesus Christ in “King of Kings”. During the 1960’s he worked mainly on television. He died as a result of a fall in 1969.
Jeffrey Hunter article by Mike McCrann:
Hollywood has a long history of gorgeous male movie stars—Rock Hudson, Warren Beatty, Tyrone Power, Paul Newman—the list is endless, and everyone has his favorite. My personal pick for the most handsome is Jeffrey Hunter. Jeffrey Hunter was one of the most beautiful young actors of the 1950s who seemed headed for top stardom. He is best known today for the colossal John Ford western The Searchers and for having played Jesus Christ in King of Kings five years later. Jeffrey Hunter never became a mega star, and his shocking death in 1969 at the age of 42 made him a lingering cinematic shadow in the following decades.
Jeffrey Hunter’s great roles were all for movie legend John Ford. Ford cast Hunter (over Robert Wagner, I might add) in the role of Martin Pawley in the epic The Searchers starring John Wayne. This famous film was a big hit when released in 1956 and is now considered by many critics as one of the greatest films ever made. Jeff was fabulous in the film—especially in his many shirtless scenes and in his classic moment with Natalie Wood (the future Mrs. Robert Wagner) where he protects her from being killed by John Wayne, who can’t accept the fact his kidnapped niece has been raised by and sexually active with the Indians who took her as a child. Jeffrey Hunter was never better on film.John Ford used Hunter in two other wonderful films, including The Last Hurrah (1958) with Spencer Tracy as the corrupt but lovable Irish mayor of Boston. In this black and white classic, Jeffrey Hunter looked totally hot in his tweeds and button-down Ivy League clothes, and he gave a fine performance. Ford used Hunter one more time in the underrated Sergeant Rutledge, filmed in glorious color.
The zenith or nadir of Jeffrey Hunter’s career was being chosen by director Nicolas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause) to star as Jesus in King of Kings. Although the film and Hunter received OK notices and made some money, it was dubbed by Hollywood pundits as “I Was A Teenage Jesus” and probably did more harm to Hunter’s career than any other film he ever made. (I remember seeing this film when I was a junior in high school and feeling a bit alarmed as I realized I had a sexual attraction to Jesus! This did not seem quite right to a teenager just coming to terms with his sexuality. But, sorry, Jeff Hunter with his shoulder-length hair and piercing blue eyes was one hot savior. I was only annoyed because they had shaved his armpits!)
Jeffrey Hunter’s career wound down as the ’60s wore on. Audiences wanted edgier actors like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. His last claim to fame was playing the Captain in the original captain for Star Trek—a role that eventually went to William Shatner. Had Hunter done this series and not died from a freak fall in his home, we might still be seeing him on TV or film, enjoying the last stage of a long career.
All we have of Jeffrey Hunter are the memories of him in his 1950s films—especially Martin Pawley in The Searchers and the impossibly sexy Jesus Christ in King of Kings. I fondly salute Jeffrey Hunter, for me the most beautiful man in the movies.
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