DCS: jeffrey hunter

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king of kings

Hank McKinnies, Jr. began his acting career on radio and in local theater. His big break came when he was spotted by talent scouts and offered a contract with 20th Century Fox. Using the stage name “Jeffrey Hunter,” he was cast in a bit part in a 1950 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with a young Charlton Heston as “Mark Antony.”

After a few more roles, Jeffrey was loaned out to Warner Brothers to make The Searchers with John Wayne. He played “Martin Pawley,” Wayne’s adopted nephew, a role originally intended for Fess Parker, until Disney Studios refused to loan Parker out. The Searchers is considered very influential and was named the greatest American western by the American Film Institute in 2008.

In 1961, Jeffrey starred as “Jesus Christ” in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings. His performance received the full spectrum of review and reaction — from high praise to ridicule. Based on Jeffrey’s boyish good looks and piercing blue eyes, the film was nicknamed by critics “I Was A Teenage Jesus.” He bounced back with a heroic part in the all-star war epic The Longest Day.

The 60s brought Jeffrey to a starring role in a tongue-in-cheek Western series called Temple Houston, co-starring veteran character actor Jack Elam. The series never quite found its footing or its audience and, by the time it was cancelled, the joke circulated that its premise concerned a synagogue in Texas.

Jeffrey accepted the offer to shoot a pilot for a new science-fiction series called Star Trek. He would play a starship’s commanding officer Christopher Pike. After filming wrapped, he sent show creator Gene Roddenberry a letter asking for separation from the project, wanting to concentrate on his film career. Scenes from the pilot were used in the two-part “The Menagerie” episodes once Star Trek was picked up by the network.

Jeffrey sustained a serious concussion when an explosion on a movie set in Spain went wrong. He was in shock on the plane ride back to the United States and was unable to speak. After a thorough examination at a hospital, he was released. Months later, he suffered an intracranial hemorrhage while on a flight of stairs at his home in Van Nuys, California. He was found by his wife — unconscious with a fractured skull. He was taken for emergency brain surgery, but it was unsuccessful. Jeffrey passed away the next morning at the age of 42.

Actress Ruta Lee, a guest star on Temple Houston, once commented: “Jeffrey was one of the prettiest people that ever was put on the screen.”



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