Jeffrey Hunter (November 25, 1926 - May 27, 1969) was a film and television actor. He was born Henry McKinnies, Jr. in New Orleans, Louisiana, and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he began acting in local theater and radio in his early teens. He served stateside in the U.S. Navy in World War II, then studied drama at Northwestern University.
In 1950, while a graduate student in radio at the University of California, Los Angeles and appearing in a college play, he was spotted by talent scouts and offered a two-year motion picture contract by 20th Century Fox that was eventually extended to 1959. He made his Hollywood debut in Fourteen Hours (1951), had star billing by Red Skies of Montana (1952), and first billing in Sailor of the King (1953).
Hunter's handsome looks and gentle manner recalled two earlier Fox stars, Tyrone Power and the young Henry Fonda. A loan-out to co-star with John Wayne in the title roles of the now-classic western The Searchers (1956) began the first of three pictures he made with director John Ford, followed by The Last Hurrah (1958) and Sergeant Rutledge (1960).
Ford also recommended Hunter to director Nicholas Ray for the role of Jesus Christ in the biblical King of Kings (1961), a difficult part met by critical reaction that ranged from praise to ridicule. Among an all-star cast in the World War II battle epic The Longest Day (1962), he provided the climactic heroic act of breaching the defense wall atop Normandy's Omaha Beach.
Having guest starred on television dramas since the mid-1950s, Hunter was now offered a two-year contract by Warner Bros that included starring as a circuit-riding Texas lawyer in the NBC series Temple Houston (1963-64), which Hunter's production company co-produced.
Although Temple Houston did not survive its first season, NBC offered him the lead role of Captain Christopher Pike in the pilot episode (The Cage) of a new science fiction series, Star Trek. His pensive take on the role was in contrast to the more idiosyncratic style of William Shatner, who took the part after Hunter, deciding to concentrate on motion pictures, declined to film a second Star Trek pilot requested by NBC in 1965. But Hunter was soon filming the pilot for yet another NBC series, the espionage thriller Journey Into Fear, which the network failed to pick up.
With the demise of the studio contract system in the early 1960s and the out-sourcing of much feature production, Hunter like many other leading men of the 1950s had to find work in B-pictures produced in Europe, Hong Kong, and Mexico, with the occasional television guest part in Hollywood.
In May 1969, shortly after marrying actress Emily McLaughlin, he suffered a cerebrovascular accident while at home, causing a fall and a skull fracture. He died the following day.
Hunter's two previous marriages included actress Barbara Rush in the early 1950s.