Monday, December 6, 2010

The Marsha Hunt Tribute

At a recent TADW event at the LA Family Housing building in North Hollywood, Owen Panno, Lindsay Kazan and Kaitlyn Wolf  performed a song Marsha Hunt wrote entitled, "Cry of a Refugee Child" in her honor.  Ms Hunt was one of the founders of TADW in 1957 and is now in her 90's.

From Owen Panno's blog: 

Considering I’m still digesting my Thanksgiving dinner and the Christmas season is fast approaching, it seems an appropriate time to reminisce and reflect on my experiences with an absolutely phenomenal woman – Marsha Hunt. I had the pleasure of serving as TADW staff liaison, and, with TADW alumni Kaitlyn Wolf and Lindsay Kazan, performed at a tribute organized for Ms. Hunt at the LA Family Housing building on Lankershim Boulevard on Sunday, November 14.

Marsha Hunt, 93 years young, was one of the co-founders of the Teenage Drama Workshop along with William Schlosser. Before that though she was an actress with several dozen film credits to her name. As described by Roger Memos, a documentary filmmaker who organized this benefit, she was “the first Angelina Jolie” – as early as the 1940s she used her celebrity to champion causes she believed in, not for her own personal gain but to assist others less fortunate.

Unfortunately for her career, these activities led to her being blacklisted in the mid-1950s. This did not deter her, though – as her career began to wane she dedicated herself further to the causes dear to her heart. Alongside the Teenage Drama Workshop, other non-profit organizations she assisted present at the benefit were Planned Parenthood, Tree People, and the hosts, LA Family Housing.

The Teenage Drama Workshop was asked to perform a song written by Ms. Hunt – on top of her acting talents, she is an accomplished songwriter. The song we performed, “Cry of a Refugee Child,” was written in 1978 as a response to the forgotten Vietnamese children during the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the fall of Saigon.

I created a new arrangement of the song and two-part harmonies based on Marsha’s original sheet music. Afterward, she remarked how thrilled she was to hear others singing her song as she had never heard anybody else sing it. She also related to us that, surprisingly, she was not aware of the workshop’s continued existence until she came across TADW’s 2007 production of Peter Pan – Marsha was thrilled and delighted to see how her program had evolved and continued.

I think more than anything the three of us were astounded by was how dedicated Marsha was to all the causes she contributed to. As they all spoke of their work, Marsha was right there to ask how things had changed in the years since she worked closely with them, asking if they required volunteers and glowing in her recommendations of their services. After our presentation, we were invited on a tour of the LA Family Housing facility – which was a derelict hotel bought, renovated, and repurposed for use by single struggling adults looking to find a way up and out.

We were led through rooms filled with clothes, computer rooms to teach residents about the internet, and a long-term residence center designed to help its residents transition into apartment living. Perhaps the most touching moment of the whole afternoon occurred during our tour when several of the residents, having just learned how beneficial Marsha had been to them, asked politely to speak to her; she took time out from the tour to greet every resident, shake their hand, hug them, offer words of comfort and reassurance. It was truly touching and, I believe, extremely representative of the woman we were so lucky to meet and get to know that day.

In 1978, Marsha Hunt began her “Thankful Giving” initiative. She believed that families at their Thanksgiving table should pass a hat, collecting whatever can be given to donate to a charity of the host’s choice. She was asked by President Jimmy Carter to draft a bill, which had the support of over 200 members of the 95th Congress. President Carter even described the practice in detail in his 1978 Thanksgiving address; unfortunately, national economics prevented a widespread promotional campaign for the idea and it has not caught on widely in this country. Undeterred though, Marsha soldiers on – always cheerful and pleasant, but firm and confident in belief and manner.

Owen Panno 11/2010

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