"Charming" and "delightful" are the two words that best describe The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s by Marsha Hunt, a well-respected star of the golden age of Hollywood movies. The book, an art book of 400 pages featuring approximately 350 8 x 10 black-and white pictures, consists of the photos Marsha Hunt received after each of her fashion or film shoots.
The book is beautifully produced and artfully assembled by era (the 1930s and the 1940s). Each decade is broken into categories such as "evening wear," "hair styles" even "muffs" (fur handwarmers). Of course, there are many photos from her films where she is shown with stars such as a young John Wayne, Robert Young, Bob Cummings, Gene Kelly, Jack Benny playing a gondolier, and many other notables of the era.
The book is a treasure, and so is Marsha Hunt. In her commentary, she is down-to-earth, self-effacing, and has a delightful sense of humor about the era and about herself.
About Marsha Hunt
Marsha Hunt started working as a fashion model in her mid-teens while studying acting in New York. By age 17 she had been signed by Paramount. She was in a dozen films there before moving to MGM, the film studio she considered her "home."
At that time, studios used a contract system where most of the roles in any films they produced went to the "stable" of actors and actresses signed to the studio. As a result, the film companies were invested in promoting those contract players they considered stars. Marsha Hunt was among this group.
Hunt wanted to be taken as a serious actress so she refused to do "leggy" publicity shots a la Betty Grable. The publicity department needed a way to get her name and face around, so they decide the best route was via fashion shoots for which Hunt was a natural. As a result, the book provides delightful and varied documentation of women's attire and accessories through the '30s and '40s. The wardrobe items ranging from furs to shoes and hats to hairstyles from the time.
Marsha Hunt's career during this time involved 62 films and some work on Broadway, and over this span, she wore the clothing of many of designers. For this reason, the book is also a rare document of many now-legendary designers: Edith Head, Dolly Tree, Howard Shoup, Orry-Kelly, Edward Stevenson, and Travis Banton.
The Effect of the Red Scare
Marsha Hunt's film career slowed and finally halted during the McCarthy era. She was cited in Red Channels, which was a report on communist influence in radio and television published in 1950. It named 151 actors, writers, musicians, and broadcast journalists who were suspected of Communist ties. Those who were still working, including Hunt, found it impossible to work after that.
Hunt's second marriage, a long and happy one, was to screenwriter and novelist, Robert Presnell, Jr. In the late 1940s they purchased a house in Sherman Oaks, California, and in the 1950s Hunt began to fill her time with community activities. She served on the Board of Directors of a mental health center, and Hunt became a tireless worker for the United Nations and its agencies, dedicating herself to world hunger, cerebral palsy, and homelessness. When the blacklisting eventually eased, she appeared occasionally in films and on television.
The Way We Wore
The book is a photographic delight of the Classic Era of Film -- the early talkies of the '30s and the film noir of the '40s. The lighting, costumes, and stylized look are unique to this era, and Marsha Hunt wears the garments with grace; the careful staging and lighting of the photographs give depth to each frame. It is an education just turning the pages.
While the book is a delight for anyone who loves clothing or Hollywood's Golden Age, the book should be in every fashion library in the country and should be on hand for production firms, clothing designers, photographers and design schools.
The book is being made newly available by Paragon Agency, and it can be ordered via their website: The Way We Wore.
At America Comes Alive:
For the story of the first woman to be hired as a studio photographer, read about Ruth Harriet Louise. Incidentally for a single woman to move to Hollywood in that era, she could not simply rent a room or an apartment; she was required to find a "respectable" person with whom she could live.