Peter H. Hunt, Tony Award-winning ‘1776’ director, dead at 81

Peter H. Hunt, who won a Tony Award for his direction in 1969 of the now-classic musical “1776,” helmed the 1972 film version and numerous episodes of CBS’ “Touched By An Angel,” died Sunday at home in Los Angeles from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.

Hunt’s death was reported by his wife, Barbette Hunt, to the Los Angeles Times. His death was confirmed by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where Hunt was the former artistic director. He was the uncle of actress Helen Hunt.

A Broadway lighting designer through much of the 1960s (“Annie Get Your Gun,” “Noel Coward’s Sweet Potato), Hunt made his directorial breakthrough with the smash hit “1776,” the Revolutionary War-era musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone. The original Broadway cast included such stars-in-the-making as William Daniels, Betty Buckley and, as Thomas Jefferson, Ken Howard. Ronald Holgate, as Richard Henry Lee, won the Tony Award for best featured actor in a musical, while the production itself won Best Musical. Hunt won a Tony for his direction.

The musical, set during the Continental Congress of 1776 leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, ran at three theaters on Broadway from March 1969 until February 1972. A Broadway revival of the musical, directed by Diane Paulus (“Jagged Little Pill) had been set to open this spring in a partnership between the Roundabout Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater, but has been postponed until next spring due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

Many of the original Broadway cast members, including Daniels, Howard and Howard Da Silva, reprised their performances for Hunt’s 1972 film version.

If the director’s Broadway career didn’t immediately live up to his early promise — four productions would come and go fairly quickly, until 1997’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel” musical, which ran for several years — Hunt, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, would establish himself as a strong presence in both theater development and as a prolific and longstanding television director. He reunited with “1776‘s” Ken Howard on the 1973 series “Adam’s Rib,” directed episodes of the Mel Brooks 1975 comedy series “When Things Were Rotten,” the 1989 pilot episode of “Baywatch” and nearly 40 episodes of the Roma Downey fantasy series “Touched By An Angel” between 1996 and 2003.

From the mid-1980s until 1995, Hunt was the artistic director of the prestigious and influential Williamstown Theatre Festival, and continued to direct productions there through 2003’s “The Threepenny Opera and The Seagull.”

Among other TV credits, Hunt produced and directed acclaimed adaptations in the 1980s of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Life on the Mississippi,” “The Innocents Abroad” and “The Mysterious Stranger.”

Hunt is survived by his wife, son Max, daughters Daisy and Amy, and brother George. His late brother Gordon was the father of Helen Hunt.


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