Ross Hunter

Ross Hunter (May 6, 1920  March 10, 1996) was an American film and television producer and actor. Hunter is best known for producing light comedies such as Pillow Talk (1959), and the glamorous melodramas Magnificent Obsession (1954), Imitation of Life (1959), and Back Street (1961).

Ross Hunter
Martin Terry Fuss

(1920-05-06)May 6, 1920
DiedMarch 10, 1996(1996-03-10) (aged 75)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
OccupationFilm and television producer, actor
Years active19441979
Partner(s)Jacques Mapes

Over the course of his career, Hunter produced films of various genres but found his greatest success with light-hearted comedies, musicals and melodramatic "tear jerkers" that were high on romance and glamour.


Early life

Hunter was born Martin Terry Fuss in Cleveland, Ohio. His birth year is controversial, while 1920 seems to be the most logic if he worked as a teacher before his service in World War II, also 1926 and 1929 are named.[1] He was of Austrian-Jewish and German Jewish descent.[2]

Hunter attended Glenville High School where he later taught English and drama (he also taught these subjects at Rawlings High School).[2]

During World War II, he worked in United States Army Intelligence.

After his time in the Army, he returned to his job as a drama teacher. He eventually moved to Los Angeles after his students sent his photo to Paramount Pictures. Paramount Pictures passed on signing him to a contract and he subsequently signed with Columbia Pictures.[3] It was at Columbia that a casting agent changed his name from "Martin Fuss" to "Ross Hunter".[2]


During the 1940s, Hunter acted in a number of B-movie musicals.[3] He was a leading man in his first movie, Louisiana Hayride (1944), starring Judy Canova.

Hunter had support parts in Ever Since Venus (1944) and She's a Sweetheart (1944) and was promoted to star for A Guy, a Gal and a Pal (1945) (directed by Budd Boetticher.

Hunter was reunited with Canova for Hit the Hay (1945). He was the second lead in a war film, Out of the Depths (1945) and had a support role in Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1946).

His career stalled in part because he was stricken with penicillin poisoning.[4]

He returned to teaching drama at the Ben Bard Dramatic School and also taught speech therapy.[5] Hunter missed working in films and decided to return to the business and focus on film production.[3]

During the late 1940s, Hunter enrolled at the Motion Picture Center Studio where he was trained - for free - in film production. "I never wanted to be on the receiving end again," he said. "I wanted to be the man who handed out the jobs."[6]

Dialogue Director

Hunter was dialogue director in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), for Eagle Lion Films. He performed similar duties on Woman on the Run (1950) at Universal with Anne Sheridan who Hunter says promoted and mentored him. "It was my real big break," he later said.[7]

He was dialogue director on The Sword of Monte Cristo (1951) at Fox, and When I Grow Up (1951) for Sam Spiegel at United Artists.

Associate Producer

In 1951, Universal-International hired him as an associate producer for the film Flame of Araby, starring Jeff Chandler and Maureen O'Hara.[8] During production Hunter cut $172,000 from the film's budget, which pleased Universal executives, who raised his salary.[3]

The producer was Leonard Goldstein, who also used Hunter as an associate on Steel Town (1952), with Anne Sheridan, directed by George Sherman; The Battle at Apache Pass (1952), with Jeff Chandler, directed by Sherman; Untamed Frontier (1952), with Joseph Cotten and Shelley Winters; The Duel at Silver Creek (1952) with Audie Murphy, directed by Don Siegel; and Son of Ali Baba (1952), an "Eastern" with Tony Curtis.

They also worked on Take Me to Town (1953), a Western with Sheridan and Sterling Hayden directed by Douglas Sirk who became important to Hunter's career. Sheridan's normal price was $475,000 per film but she agreed to $100,000 to work with Hunter. "It was Annie who really gave me my first break," later recalled Hunter. "She was a very great lady."[9]

Staff Producer

In 1953, Universal-International hired Hunter as staff producer on the strength of his previous credits as a theatrical producer and director.

Hunter's first film as sole producer was All I Desire (1953), a melodrama directed by Sirk starring Barbara Stanwyck. It was made for $460,000 and earned over $2 million.[6]

Hunter followed it with two Westerns, Tumbleweed (1953) with Audie Murphy, and Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) with Rock Hudson, directed by Sirk.

Magnificent Obsession

The breakthrough film of Hunter's career was the 1954 film remake of the 1935 film Magnificent Obsession, starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman and directed by Sirk. It was a huge hit, making over $5 million, establishing Hudson as a star.[10]

Hunter produce a film noir with Sterling Hayden, Naked Alibi (1954) and a Western with Lex Barker, The Yellow Mountain (1954).

He was reunited with Hudson and Sirk on a costume swashbuckler set in Ireland, Captain Lightfoot (1955).[11]

Having enjoyed success with a remake, Hunter remade another old melodrama, There's Always Tomorrow (1955), directed by Sirk with Stanwyck.

He produced One Desire (1955), a melodrama with Hudson and Anne Baxter, then All That Heaven Allows (1955), which reteamed Sirk, Hudson and Wyman. The latter was especially popular making over $3 million.[12]

Hunter stepped in at the last minute to produce a "northern", The Spoilers (1955), another remake, with Jeff Chandler and Anne Baxter.[13] He did Battle Hymn (1957), a biopic with Hudson and Sirk.

Romantic Comedies

Hunter's first romantic comedy as producer was Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) with Debbie Reynolds. It was very successful making $3 million.[14]

Less popular were two films he did with June Allyson, Interlude (1957), a melodrama with Rossano Brazzi directed by Sirk, and My Man Godfrey (1957) with David Niven directed by Henry Koster.

This Happy Feeling (1958) was a romantic comedy with Reynolds and John Saxon written and directed by Blake Edwards. He produced The Restless Years (1958), a teen melodrama with Saxon and Sandra Dee. Dee was also in A Stranger in My Arms (1959), a melodrama from the author of Written on the Wind with Allyson and Jeff Chandler.

Imitation of Life and Pillow Talk

Hunter had the biggest hit of his career to date with Imitation of Life (1959), a remake of the 1934 film directed by Sirk, with Lana Turner, Dee and Rock Hudson look-alike John Gavin. it was the fourth-most successful motion picture of 1959, grossing $6.4 million.[15] It was Universal-International's top-grossing film that year, and ranked as Universal's most successful film until the release of Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).[16]

The film was rivalled in popularity by the romantic comedy Pillow Talk, starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.[17]

While "Ross Hunter movies" were a hit with audiences, his work was largely dismissed by critics. Hunter later said, "I gave the public what they wanted: a chance to dream, to live vicariously, to see beautiful women, jewels, gorgeous clothes, melodrama."[17]

Hunter followed these with two mystery melodramas, both written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts" Portrait in Black (1960), starring Turner, Anthony Quinn, Dee and Saxon, and Midnight Lace (1960) starring Day, Rex Harrison and Gavin.[18]

Hunter produced a sequel to Tammy, Tammy Tell Me True (1961) with Dee replacing Reynolds in the title role, and Gavin as the male lead. Gavin starred in a remake of Back Street (1961) with Susan Hayward, which was a box office disappointment.

Hunter produced a popular adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song (1961).

In 1962 Hunter announced he had six films coming up: If a Man Answers, a new Tammy, remakes of Dark Angel and Madam X, The Thrill of It All and The Chalk Garden. Plans to make In the Wrong Rain and Fanfare were postponed.[19]

He did two romantic comedies with Dee, If a Man Answers (1962) with Bobby Darin and Tammy and the Doctor (1963) with Peter Fonda.[20]

Hunter produced a hugely popular comedy with Day and James Garner, The Thrill of It All (1963), directed by Norman Jewison. He then did his first ever straight drama, The Chalk Garden (1964) with Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills, which was well reviewed and performed well commercially. "I'd like to make one Chalk Garden type movie a year if I can find a good one," Hunter said.[4] Dark Angel wound up not being made. He said around this time, "My principle is to know the audience you're aiming for - women, teenage, family audience - and aim straight at it, casting and budget accordingly." He said Goldwyn offered him the remake rights to Stella Dallas but he did not think he could do it.[21]

Seven Year Pact

In November 1964 he signed a seven year contract with Universal to make three films a year, with an overall budget of $75 million.[6][22]

He produced I'd Rather Be Rich (1964) with Dee, a remake of It Started with Eve (1941), and The Art of Love (1965) with Garner, directed by Jewison.[23]

Hunter produced a remake of Madam X (1966) with Turner. He was going to remake Dark Angel but it was not made. "Tear jerkers are more difficult to make than any other kind of movie," he said.[6]

In 1965 it was estimated that 32 of his films had, in eleven years, grossed $150 million.[6]

Hunter did a lower budgeted comedy without stars, The Pad and How to Use It (1966), from a play by Peter Shaffer but it was little seen. He had a big hit with the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Gavin. Rosie! (1968) was less successful, a comedy with Rosalind Russell (playing a role intended for Katharine Hepburn) and Dee.[4]

In 1970, he had a major box office hit with Airport which also earned him a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. However Hunter had a falling out with Universal, and left the studio after almost two decades.


Hunter went to Columbia where produced the musical remake of the 1937 film Lost Horizon. The film was a box office failure and ultimately lost $7 million.[8] It would be the last feature film Hunter produced.

He was briefly head of Brut Productions but left after disagreements with the company.[24]


In 1975, he was hired by Paramount Pictures to produce for television.[25]

His first produced film for them was The Lives of Jenny Dolan (1975) with Shirley Jones.[26][27]

In 1977, he was nominated a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series for producing Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers (1976) (he shared the nomination with his long-time professional and personal partner, Jaques Mapes).

He produced A Family Upside Down (1978) with Fred Astaire and Helen Hayes, and Suddenly, Love (1979) with Cindy Williams.

His last project was the 1979 television movie The Best Place to Be with Donna Reed.[28]


Hunter died of cancer at the Century City Hospital in Los Angeles on March 10, 1996.[3][17][29] He was survived by his long-time partner, set designer Jaques Mapes who was also his production partner.[30] Mapes died in May 2002.[29] Hunter is interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.[1]



Year Title Role Notes
1944 Louisiana Hayride Gordon Pearson
1944 Ever Since Venus Bradley Miller
1944 She's a Sweetheart Paul
1945 A Guy, a Gal and a Pal Jimmy Jones
1944 Hit the Hay Ted Barton
1945 Out of the Depths Clayton Shepherd
1946 The Bandit of Sherwood Forest Robin Hood's Man Uncredited
1946 Sweetheart of Sigma Chi Ted Sloan
1951 The Groom Wore Spurs Austin Tindale Uncredited
1956 There's Always Tomorrow Cameo appearance Uncredited


Year Title Notes
1950 The Jackie Robinson Story Dialogue director
1950 Woman on the Run Dialogue director
1951 The Sword of Monte Cristo Dialogue director
1951 When I Grow Up Script supervisor
1951 Flame of Araby Associate producer
Alternative title: Flame of the Desert
1952 The Battle at Apache Pass Associate producer
1952 Steel Town Associate producer
1952 Untamed Frontier Associate producer
1952 The Duel at Silver Creek Associate producer
1952 Son of Ali Baba Associate producer
1953 Take Me to Town
1953 All I Desire
1953 Tumbleweed
1954 Taza, Son of Cochise
1954 Magnificent Obsession
1954 Naked Alibi
1954 The Yellow Mountain
1955 Captain Lightfoot
1955 One Desire
1955 All That Heaven Allows
1955 The Spoilers
1956 There's Always Tomorrow
1957 Battle Hymn
1957 Tammy and the Bachelor
1957 Interlude
1957 My Man Godfrey
1958 This Happy Feeling
1958 The Restless Years
1959 A Stranger in My Arms Alternative title: And Ride a Tiger
1959 Imitation of Life
1959 Pillow Talk
1960 Portrait in Black
1960 Midnight Lace
1961 Tammy Tell Me True
1961 Back Street
1961 Flower Drum Song
1962 If a Man Answers
1963 Tammy and the Doctor
1963 The Thrill of It All
1964 The Chalk Garden
1964 I'd Rather Be Rich
1965 The Art of Love
1966 Madame X
1966 The Pad and How to Use It
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie
1967 Rosie!
1970 Airport Nominated: Academy Award for Best Picture
1973 Lost Horizon
1975 The Lives of Jenny Dolan Television movie
Executive producer
1976 Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers Miniseries
Nominated: Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series
1976 A Family Upside Down Television movie
1978 Suddenly, Love Television movie
1979 The Best Place to Be Television movie


  1. Staggs, Sam (2010). Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life. St. Martin's Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-312-37336-8. In 1984, when Ross did an oral history with Ronald Davis, of Southern Methodist University, he attached this addendum to the legal agreements page, written in his own hand: 'I'd like to set the record straight as to birth date - which is all over the place in 20 different versions. Born in Cleveland, Ohio-on May 6, 1929. Real name is Martin Terry Fuss.' And yet, on his crypt in Westwood Memorial Park, the dates are 1920-1996.
  2. Show: The Magazine of the Arts. 2. MOTA Company. 1962. p. 63.
  3. Morrison, Patt; Goldman, Abigail (March 11, 1996). "Ross Hunter, Prolific Movie Producer, Dies". Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  4. Chicago Visitor: Producer Plugs Films That Entertain Clifford, Terry. Chicago Tribune 4 July 1965: d10.
  5. Current Biography Yearbook. 28. H. W. Wilson Co. 1968. p. 192.
  6. Tear-jerker Famine; It's a Crying Shame Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 18 Apr 1965: M3.
  7. Dream Maker for a Dream-Loving Audience Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times 11 Mar 1973: p11.
  8. Dick, Bernard F. (1997). City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures. University Press of Kentucky. p. 154. ISBN 0-813-17004-4.
  9. Norma Lee Browning (April 28, 1968). "Three Cheers For Ross Hunter". Chicago Tribune.
  10. "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  11. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
  12. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  13. KIRK DOUGLAS SET TO ACTIVATE UNIT: Actor's Bryna Productions Will Make Six Films Under United Artists Contract By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 Jan 1955: 23.
  14. "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, 8 January 1958: 30
  15. "Database: 1959". Box Office Report. Retrieved from Archived 2007-02-03 at the Wayback Machine on January 16, 2007.
  16. Schwartz, Dennis (January 29, 2002). "Review of Imitation of Life". Archived from the original on December 19, 2010. Over the course of time, many have come to consider this as a great film about post-war America—something the public recognized before most of the critics did.
  17. Gussow, Mel (March 12, 1996). "Ross Hunter, Film Producer, Is Dead at 75". nytimes. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  18. "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  19. FILMMAKER TALKS ABOUT 5 PROJECTS: Hunter, Here in Visit, Tells of MacDonald-Eddy Plan 'Tammy Takes Over' Is Next Joanne Woodward to Star British Film Opens Today 7 Vie for Golden Laurel Albert Lamorisse Visits By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times 16 May 1962: 33.
  20. Looking at Hollywood: Ross Hunter Gives New Actors Chance Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 26 June 1962: a1.
  21. Film Clips ARKADIN. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 32, Iss. 3, (Summer 1963): 140.
  22. STUDIO GIVES FETE FOR ROSS HUNTER: Party Heralds Universal's 7-Year Pact With Producer By PETER BARTSpecial to The New York Times. 10 Nov 1964: 56.
  23. Ross Hunter;Obituary The Times 18 Mar 1996: 1.
  24. Ross Hunter gets a brutal shakeup Norma Lee Browning. Chicago Tribune 24 Apr 1974: b12.
  25. David Shipman "Obituary: Ross Hunter", The Independent, March 13, 1996
  26. "REAL FLOWERS': Pouring On the Glamor" Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times 14 Apr 1975: f19.
  27. "The 'Ross Hunter touch'" by Arthur Unger. The Christian Science Monitor 23 Oct 1975: 19.
  28. Donna Reed: Back Where She Wants to Be Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 4 Dec 1978: f1.
  29. Oliver, Myrna (May 10, 2002). "Jacques Mapes, 88; Art Director Became Producer". Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  30. Hofler, Robert (October 11, 2004). "Secrets and bios". The Advocate. Here Publishing (948): 76. ISSN 0001-8996.
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