Arthur Lee Hunnicutt (1910–1979)
Personifying the rustic but savvy characterizations of his home state, Arthur Hunnicutt became one of the most sought-after character actors in Hollywood, being nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1952’s The Big Sky.
Arthur Hunnicutt was born on February 17, 1910, in Gravelly (Yell County) and attended school in the area. He attended Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway (Faulkner County), now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). The Depression forced him to drop out of college when he ran out of funds. Even so, Hunnicutt was already perfecting the ability to project his Arkansas drawl and persona into a character he played in many plays and movies. He began his motion picture career in 1942, playing in B-westerns, most notably as “Arkansas” in the Charles Starrett Columbia western series of the early 1940s.
Jockeying between New York and Hollywood, Hunnicutt continued to perfect his character, adding a permanent beard and grizzled look to his portrayals; he got larger and larger roles and eventually graduated to higher quality movies, such as Lust For Gold (1949), Broken Arrow (1950), Stars in My Crown (1950), and The Red Badge of Courage (1951). The Big Sky (1952), directed by Howard Hawks, resulted in Hunnicutt’s Academy Award nomination for his role as Uncle Zeb, who is freed from prison by Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas) and Boone Caudill (Dewey Martin) for a long voyage up the Missouri River. Uncle Zeb is a salt-of-the-earth teller of tall tales; he once bragged of sewing back on a man’s ear which had been torn off by a bear, saying, “Yep… but I sewed it on backwards, and he hated me until the day he died on account of every time he heard a rattlesnake, he’d turn the wrong way and step right into it.”
From that point, Hunnicutt was in constant demand. He played Davy Crockett in The Last Command (1955), an elderly Butch Cassidy in Cat Ballou(1965), and sidekick to John Wayne in El Dorado (1966). Hunnicutt also played television roles, such as the patriarch of a feuding mountain family onThe Andy Griffith Show. He had other memorable roles on a variety of television shows, including Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, andPerry Mason.
Hunnicutt died on September 26, 1979, and was survived by his wife of many years, the former Pauline Lile, who returned to Arkansas after his death.He is buried in Coop Prairie Cemetery in Mansfield (Scott County).