Ian Hunter was born in the Kenilworth area of Cape Town, South Africa where he spent his childhood. In his teen years he and his parents returned to the family in England to live. Sometime between that arrival and the early years of World War I, Hunter began exploring acting. But in 1917 - and being only 17 - he joined the army to serve in France for the remainder of the First World War.
On his return Hunter studied under Elsie Fogerty at the Central School of Speech and Drama, then based in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Within two years he did indeed make his stage-acting debut. Hunter would never forget that the stage was the thing, when the lure of movie making called - he would always return to the stage throughout his career. With a jovial face perpetually on the verge of smiling and a friendly and mildly English accent, Hunter had "good guy" lead written all over him. He decided to work in British silent films taking a part in Not for Sale (1924) for British director W.P. Kellino.
Hunter then made his first trip to the U.S. - Broadway, not Hollywood - because Basil Dean, the British actor and director, was producing Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal at the Knickerbocker Theater - unfortunately the production folded after one performance. It was a more concerted effort with film the next year back in Britain, again with Kellino. He then met the film director Alfred Hitchcock in 1927 and was featured in Hitchcock's The Ring (1927) - about the boxing game - and stayed for the director's Downhill (US: When Boys Leave Home, 1927) and Easy Virtue (1928), based on the Noël Coward play. By late 1928 he returned to Broadway for only a months run in the original comedy "Olympia" but stayed on in America to work in Hollywood on Syncopation (1929) for RKO, his first sound film.
As if restless to keep ever cycling back and forth across the Atlantic - fairly typical of Hunter's career - he returned to London for Dean's thriller Escape (1930). In The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935) with Bette Davis, Hunter made his connection with Warner Bros. But before settling in with them through much of the 1930s, he did three pictures in succession with another British director, Michael Powell. He then began the films he is most remembered from Hollywood's Golden Era. Although a small part, he is completely engaging and in command as the Duke in the Shakespearean extravaganza of Austrian theater director Max Reinhardt and émigré William Dieterle, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) for Warner's. It marked the start of a string of nearly thirty films for the studio. Among the best remembered was his jovial King Richard the Lionheart in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Hunter was also paired in seven movies with Kay Francis between 1935 and 1938.
Hunter was playing the field as well - he was at 20th Century Fox as everybody's favorite father-hero - including Shirley Temple - in The Little Princess (1939) as Captain Reginald Crewe. And he was the unforgettable benign guardian angel-like Cambreau in Loew's Strange Cargo (1940) with Clark Gable. He was staying regularly busy in Hollywood until into 1942 when he returned to Britain to serve in the war effort. After the war, Hunter remained in London, committed to stage work and acting in films. He appeared once more on Broadway in 1948 and made Edward, My Son (1949) for MGM-British with George Cukor directing and Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr in the lead roles. Although there was some American playhouse theater in the mid-1950s, Hunter was bound to England, working once more for Michael Powell (The Queen's Guards, 1961) before retiring in the middle of that decade after nearly a hundred films.
Among dozens of film roles, his best-remembered appearances include That Certain Woman (1937) with Bette Davis, Tower of London (1939, as King Edward IV), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941, as Dr. Lanyon). Hunter returned to the Robin Hood legend in the TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1955 in the recurring role of Sir Richard of the Lea.
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