Jeffrey Hunter (25 November 1926 – 27 May 1969; age 42) was the stage name of Henry Herman McKinnies, Jr. Although a veteran of dozens of films, Star Trek fans best remember him for his portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike in the first pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series entitled "The Cage", filmed in 1964. Hunter filmed his scenes between Friday 27 November 1964 and Wednesday 9 December 1964, and Friday 11 December 1964 and Friday 18 December 1964 at Desilu Culver Stages 15 and 16, and the 40 Acres back lot. Although this pilot was never aired during the show's initial run, it was incorporated as flashback sequences in the TOS episodes "The Menagerie, Part I" and "The Menagerie, Part II". It ultimately made its premiere as a standalone episode in 1988.
After the rejection of the original pilot, Hunter moved on to new roles and the part of the Enterprise captain went instead to William Shatner when the series began production for a second pilot. Herbert F. Solow, being interviewed for E! Mysteries & Scandals, stated that the first pilot was screened for Hunter's wife. She stated after the screening that Hunter would not be returning for the second pilot, as he was a "movie star" and did not do television.
Yet Solow's superior, Oscar Katz, remembered it somewhat differently, "Business Affairs negotiated with Jeffrey Hunter and we all thought it was the usual actor/network situation – they don't want to do it for reason XYZ, and it's a device for getting the price up. We kept increasing the price and he kept saying no. One day I said, "What's with Jeffrey Hunter?" and I was told he just won't do it at any price. Finally I said, "Tell Jeffrey Hunter to get lost"." (Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry)
Hunter was born in New Orleans but moved with his family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the age of three. He began acting as a teenager, performing for the North Shore Children's Theater and a local group called the Port Players, as well as working in radio.
While attending Whitefish Bay High School, he served as co-captain of the school football team. After graduation, he served in the United States Navy for one year before continuing his acting studies at Northwestern University in Illinois, all the while continuing to work in theater and radio. He then moved on to study drama and radio at the University of California in Los Angeles.
In 1950, his performance in the university's production of All My Sons caught the eye of talent scouts from both Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. He then did a screen test for Paramount, where he met his future wife, Barbara Rush. Although a job with Paramount did not pan out due to a change in studio executives, Hunter was subsequently signed with 20th Century Fox, and went on to perform in many films for the studio until his contract expired in 1959.
After turning down Star Trek, Hunter spent the remainder of the 1960s finding work on B-movies produced in foreign countries, as well as occasional guest star work on television.
Hunter's first work for Fox was a supporting role in the 1951 film noir Fourteen Hours, which also featured fellow Trek alumni Jeff Corey, Richard Beymer, and, as an extra, Brian Keith (with whom Hunter later worked on an episode of Climax! in 1957). Around the same time, he filmed a small role in the musical Call Me Mister, which also featured Robert Easton (who appeared in several other Fox-produced films starring Hunter) and was actually released two months prior to Fourteen Hours. This was followed by a war drama entitled The Frogmen, co-starring TOS veterans Warren Stevens and James Gregory, and the adventure film Red Skies of Montana, which also featured Warren Stevens as well as Lawrence Dobkin. Hunter then acquired his first lead role in 1953's Sailor of the King.
Hunter went on to star in the Western Three Young Texans and the adventure film Princess of the Nile, both released in 1954 and both co-starring Michael Ansara. These were followed by 1956's The Proud Ones (with Whit Bissell) – in which Hunter played a sheriff's deputy who got into a shoot-out with a gunslinger coincidentally named Pike – and 1957's The True Story of Jesse James (with Barry Atwater, Biff Elliot, Frank Gorshin, Clegg Hoyt, Frank Overton, and Jason Wingreen). Hunter also worked on 1956's The Great Locomotive Chase (co-starring Kenneth Tobey and Morgan Woodward) for The Walt Disney Company and 1957's Gun for a Coward (with Dean Stockwell) for Universal. Hunter's last film for Fox as a contract player was 1958's In Love and War, co-starring Paul Comi and France Nuyen.
Perhaps Hunter's most notable film work were those films in which he collaborated with director John Ford, none of which were produced by 20th Century Fox. His first and most famous collaboration with Ford was the acclaimed 1956 western The Searchers, in which Hunter played the nephew and riding partner of John Wayne's character. Hunter would again work with Ford in the 1958 drama The Last Hurrah and the 1960 western Sergeant Rutledge, appearing with Constance Towers.
In what may be his best known and certainly most controversial film role, Hunter starred as Jesus Christ in the 1961 Biblical film King of Kings. The film, which chronicles the life of Christ from his birth to his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, was critically panned and flopped at the box office (the only religious epic from MGM to do so). Hunter himself was ridiculed for his portrayal of Christ, due mainly to his youthful appearance. (According to Michael and Harry Medved's 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, the film was derisively called "I Was A Teenage Jesus".) Since then, however, the film has become more highly-regarded and has even earned back its US$6 million budget as a result of worldwide sales.
The following year, Hunter was part of the ensemble cast of the 1962 World War II epic The Longest Day, which had him again co-starring with John Wayne. It was following this that Hunter began to take on more roles in television, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (in an episode with Abraham Sofaer), Combat! (with Rex Holman), Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater (with Sally Kellerman, Nancy Kovack, and Jason Wingreen), The F.B.I. (working with the likes of Stephen Brooks, Jonathan Lippe, Julie Parrish, and Paul Sorensen), Kraft Suspense Theatre (again working with Warren Stevens), and Daniel Boone (with Sabrina Scharf, John Crawford, and Pamelyn Ferdin). He also had guest spots on the classic shows Death Valley Days and The Green Hornet. He was even the star of his own series, playing a circuit-riding Texas lawyer in the NBC western series Temple Houston (1963-64).
Hunter's film credits during this time included the William Conrad-directed The Man from Galveston (1963, with Grace Lee Whitney) and Brainstorm (1965, with Biff Elliot, Steve Ihnat, Phillip Pine, Bill Quinn, and Joan Swift), the science fiction adventure Dimension 5 (co-starring France Nuyen, Maggie Thrett, Robert Ito, and Jon Lormer), and a cameo appearance in 1967's A Guide for the Married Man (with Majel Barrett and Jason Wingreen), in which he and a number of other celebrities – including Lucille Ball – played "Technical Advisers". Hunter then co-starred with Lawrence Tierney and Marc Lawrence in 1967's Custer of the West. The remainder of his film career consisted of foreign-made B-movies, with the last being 1969's Viva America. He also made his last TV appearance that year, in an episode of Insight with Booker Bradshaw. He lobbied hard for the role of Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch in 1968, but the role was given to Robert Reed.
On 27 May 1969, Hunter tragically died during surgery to repair a skull fracture resulting from a fall in his home after he had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. His death occurred only one week before the airing of the final Original Series episode, "Turnabout Intruder" on June 3.
Shortly before his death, in an incident that received little mention in the press, he suffered from stroke-like symptoms with semi-paralysis of his right arm and loss of speech capability during a flight from Spain to the United States. Injuries Hunter had received a few weeks prior, on a movie set in Spain, when a car window shattered near him, were suggested as the cause of these symptoms, and also of the stroke that led to his death.
Christopher Hunter, Jeffrey's son, in an interview for an E! Mysteries & Scandals episode dealing with his father, stated that he thought the explosion cracked his skull. Later in the program, Christopher made the statement that "I think alcoholism did contribute to his death as much as anything else."
- "The Unknown Captain", Glenn A. Mosley, Starlog, issue 231, October 1995, pp. 22-25 (retrospective with excerpts from period interviews)