Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Martin Fuss in Cleveland, Ohio, 6 May 1916. Education: Attended Western Reserve University, Cleveland, M.A. Career: 1942–43—schoolteacher, Cleveland; 1944–47—actor, Columbia, then teacher and stage producer and director; 1951—associate producer, then producer for Universal,
Flame of Araby (Lamont)
Steel Town (G. Sherman); Battle at Apache Pass (G. Sherman)
Take Me to Town (Sirk); All I Desire (Sirk); Tumbleweeds (Juran); Taza, Son of Cochise (Sirk)
Magnificent Obsession (Sirk); Naked Alibi (Hopper); The Yellow Mountain (Hibbs); One Desire (Hopper)
The Spoilers (Hibbs); Captain Lightfoot (Sirk); There's Always Tomorrow (Sirk)
All that Heaven Allows (Sirk)
Battle Hymn (Sirk); Tammy and the Bachelor ( Tammy ) (Pevney); My Man Godfrey (Koster); Interlude (Sirk)
This Happy Feeling (Edwards); Stranger in My Arms (Käutner); The Restless Years ( The Wonderful Years ) (Käutner)
Imitation of Life (Sirk); Pillow Talk (Gordon) (co)
Portrait in Black (Gordon); Midnight Lace (Miller) (co)
Back Street (Miller); Tammy Tell Me True (Keller); Flower Drum Song (Koster)
If a Man Answers (Levin)
The Thrill of It All (Jewison) (co); Tammy and the Doctor (Keller)
The Chalk Garden (Neame); I'd Rather Be Rich (Smight)
The Art of Love (Jewison)
Madame X (Rich); The Pad . . . and How to Use It (Hutton)
Rose (Rich) (exec); Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill)
Airport (Seaton and Hathaway)
Lost Horizon (Jarrott)
The Lives of Jenny Dolan (Jameson) (exec)
Suddenly, Love (Margolin) (co); A Family Upside Down (Rich—for TV) (co)
Louisiana Hayride (Barton) (as Gordon Pearson)
A Guy, a Gal, and a Pal (Boetticher) (as Jimmy Jones)
Hit the Hay (Lord) (as Ted Barton); Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (Bernhard) (as Ted Sloan)
Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1963.
"Magnificent Obsessions," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1988.
Daily Cinema (London), 21 August 1967.
Greater Amusements , December 1967.
Castell, David, in Films Illustrated (London), April 1973.
Show (New York), September 1973.
Movieline (Escondido), vol. 3, September 1991.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 18–24 March 1996.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1996.
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Ross Hunter's career has certain parallels to that of George Cukor, who was often called a "woman's director." In Hunter's case, he was (after an inauspicious acting career) a "woman's producer": the dramatic focus of many of his most successful films was a woman's quest for romantic love. Additionally, his most typical films were soap operas and comedies (as opposed to noirish crime dramas, Westerns, or war films), genres always held by the critical establishment to be of special interest to women.
In many of Hunter's best efforts as producer, the specifics of the scenario are transcended by sheer production values. Douglas Sirk has generally been given credit for the melodramas made with Hunter, but if it is the producer's job to actually produce and assemble the variety of elements, Hunter must certainly be acknowledged for that particular confluence which appeared so significantly and expressively in Magnificent Obsession , All that Heaven Allows , Battle Hymn , and Imitation of Life (along with such similarly themed non-Sirk melodramas as Portrait in Black and Back Street ). Indeed, it is not far-fetched to see in Hunter, with his preoccupation with style, the roots of Fassbinder's brand of New German Cinema.
Some of the most successful of Hunter's films starred his friend Rock Hudson. Perhaps Hunter's most interesting non-Sirk film, also featuring Hudson, is Pillow Talk , a socially and politically schizophrenic comedy. On one hand, the film openly deals with sex and presents the kind of liberated career woman not to be found on screen since World War II. Yet at the same time, the scenario depicts a repressed sexuality and an almost anachronistic obsession with female virginity. Hunter's association with Doris Day, Hudson's Pillow Talk co-star, continued with the suspense melodrama Midnight Lace and the comedy The Thrill of It All . He also produced a series of comedies with Debbie Reynolds, including Tammy and the Bachelor , and a "Tammy" sequel, Tammy Tell Me True , starring Sandra Dee. Along with Day, these two actresses celebrated the type of idealized 1950s/early-1960s celluloid virginity which was then expected of "good" girls but which today is laughably outdated.
It must be pointed out as well the tremendous irony of Rock Hudson, whose homosexuality was to remain publicly closeted for most of his lifetime, appearing in Pillow Talk as a character whose pretended fear of homosexuality is a way of "getting girls." Although a bright, sophisticated, and stylish comedy for its time, Pillow Talk thus becomes on another level an unusually vile and hypocritical work.
The commercial climax of Hunter's career was undoubtedly Airport , based on the Arthur Hailey best-seller: an unashamedly oldfashioned (for 1970) thriller which combined Academy Award-winning actors with soap opera, suspense, and production values. The result was one of the most commercially successful films of its time, spawning a spate of sequels and other similar "disaster" spectaculars.
Hunter's sensibility, his interest in style, production values, and good taste, had the tendency to descend into kitsch or camp if not controlled by a strong director such as Sirk. The potential capstone of his career, the musical version of Lost Horizon , was a fiasco in almost all areas. It was deadened by the tasteful if dull casting of Liv Ullmann and Peter Finch, as well as by undistinguished music by Burt Bacharach. Its story, production values, and old-fashioned Hollywood sensibility doomed the film and—in the midst of the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, and the increasingly youthful age of the typical moviegoer—made Hunter himself an anachronism. Even though he never officially retired, he remained mostly inactive during the almost two decades before his death in 1996.
—Charles Derry, updated by Rob Edelman