Gordon Hunt DEAD AT 87, Director, Acting Teacher and Father of Helen Hunt, Husband of “Best” B.J. (a)Ward
A true Renaissance Man in Hollywood, Hunt died Saturday night at his home in Sherman Oaks after a battle with Parkinson’s disease, his daughter told The Hollywood Reporter. He had been working and teaching his decades-long acting class until very recently.
“He was a master of reinvention, a journeyman artist,” she said. “He knew and taught that the work doesn’t always find you. You need to create and re-create the work every day.”
Starting in the early 1980s, Hunt – who had served for years as the casting director at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles – spent about a decade at the famed animation house Hanna-Barbera, coming in to run its voice department. He went on to work as the recording director on cartoons featuring The Smurfs, Richie Rich, The Jetsons, Super Friends, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo and many others.” There was only a small coterie of voice actors [when Hunt started], and so I began to bring in people from the theater whom I had worked with who turned out to be really, really good at doing this,” he said in a 2005 interview. “[They were] people like Rene Auberjonois, Ed Asner, really skilled actors who really loved coming in and doing these cartoons. And Jonathan Winters was Grandpa Smurf. We had classic actors as well, like Mel Blanc and some of those other great voices. I was there at the golden age of voice-overs. It was quite a treat for me.” Hunt was a voice actor himself in several cartoons; he most notably played the amoral engineer Wally on the 1999-2000 UPN series Dilbert.
In the 1990s, Hunt transitioned to network sitcoms and directed 31 episodes of NBC’s Mad About You. He won a DGA award in 1996 for helming an installment of the acclaimed series that featured Carl Reiner reprising his role as Alan Brady from The Dick Van Dyke Show.
His daughter and co-star Paul Reiser recently were interviewed for a documentary about the show, and it dawned on Hunt that “every episode we cited he had directed.” His work included the ones in 1997 in which her character, Jamie Buchman, gave birth. Gordon Hunt also directed episodes of other sitcoms including Caroline in the City, Coach, Frasier and Suddenly Susan.
For the stage, Hunt guided productions at the Taper; musicals like My Fair Lady and Camelot at the Hollywood Bowl; a salute to Noel Coward at Carnegie Hall; and off-Broadway plays like A Little Family Business, starring Angela Lansbury.
In his 70s, he directed for yet another medium – video games – for the hugely popular Uncharted franchise. Hunt taught acting for more than four decades, with his pupils including his daughter, Robert Morse (Mad Men), Jimmy Fallon, Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) and Robert David Hall (CSI).
A native of Pasadena whose father designed the circular 76 gas station logo, Hunt wrote the valuable acting guide How to Audition, first published in 1977 – an e-book edition just came out this week – and was a beloved mentor to many in the industry, including casting directors Jeff Greenberg (Modern Family) and April Webster (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
A big fan of Bruce Springsteen and Rachmaninov, he also co-wrote a song about Errol Flynn that has been performed by Rosemary Clooney and Michael Feinstein. A documentary about him, Pebbles, Ripples & Waves, directed by Roger Bridges, is near completion. Helen Hunt won her best actress Oscar for As Good as It Gets (1997), and she collected lead comedy actress Emmys for four straight years (1996-99) for portraying Jamie on Mad About You.
She dedicated her 2014 film, Ride, which she wrote, directed and starred in, to him. The film revolves around surfing, and she noted that her father body-surfed in Santa Monica Bay from 1934 until about 2012.
“If you asked 100 people who knew him, 100 of them would say he was the kindest man they ever knew,” she said.
Survivors also include his wife, B.J. Ward, a voice actress; daughter Colleen; brothers George and Peter; and grandchildren Makena, Emmett and Lizze.