Linda Hunt has been in show business for many decades. The Academy Award-winning actress has appeared in more than 50 productions, and since 2009 she’s starred as Hetty Lange in the now-classic television show NCIS.
Hunt has featured in a total of 280 episodes of NCIS, gradually becoming what many would say is one of the best characters on the show. As it turns out, Hunt isn’t only a great actress, but also a very dedicated wife by all reports.
The 76-year-old has been married to her partner, Karen Kline, for more than ten years – in total, the couple have spent more than 30 years by each other’s side. The truth is that their love story really is quite extraordinary!
Linda Hunt was born on April 2, 1945, in Morristown, New Jersey. She was raised in Connecticut by her parents, Elsie and Raymond Hunt. At an early age, though, when Linda was only half-a-year old, her parents started to worry.
Linda Hunt – early life
Linda’s motor skills weren’t developing at the normal rate, and so her mother and father took her to a hospital in New York to seek help.
What doctors found wasn’t exactly the news Linda’s parents wanted. As The Bulletin reported in 1991, examinations showed she was suffering from a form cretinism – a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth – which would likely eventually lead to Linda being institutionalized.
Elsie and Raymond, however, were not going to let hope fade. They were determined to support their beloved Linda, and used books and theater to encourage her and help with her development.
By the time Linda started school, her motor skills were pretty much on par with the average child. Sadly she struggled due to her learning difficulties and short stature.
“I was totally alienated by school almost from the first day, I had a bad experience with a teacher and was made to feel stupid. I felt bad that I didn’t fit in,” Hunt said.
“Everybody either wanted to take care of me or push me around, you know? I was teased a lot, sure I was, of course,” she told CBS.
“Fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, everybody was taking their spurts except me.”
A passion for acting
The harsh treatment was tough on Hunt, as it would’ve been for anyone. She, though, decided to use it as a sort of motivational technique, since she understood that she was unique.
“I was a very determined kid. This happens to kids who are different in any way,” Linda told the Daily Beast.
Though Linda had a rough time at school, her parents were determined to see their beloved daughter succeed in life. Then, at the age of 8, she saw something that changed everything.
Speaking to The Bulletin, Linda explained that she had always had a love for acting and theater. Her biggest source of inspiration came when she was 8 years of age, after her parents brought her with them to see the Broadway musical Peter Pan.
“I’m lucky that I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” she told the newspaper. “[Mary Martin, who played Peter] was astonishing in her belief in the world she was creating, and that was fascinating to me. She had the power to make others believe what was in her mind.”
“It was bigger than life. And that in some sense, I longed to be bigger than life because I wasn’t,” she explained to CBS.
Linda Hunt’s height – dwarfism
At that point, Linda decided that she would devote her life to acting and theater. She explained that she wanted to become a “high priestess of theater”. In high school, she got a private acting coach, and was sent to an excellent boarding school.
Linda’s parents would do whatever they had to in order to see their daughter achieve her dreams.
“I was so lucky my parents were encouraging on every level,” she said.
Yet at the same time as Linda’s parents wanted her to pursue a professional acting career, they were also worried that she didn’t have a backup plan. As a result, her father Raymond encouraged her to study directing as well – he even tried to push her towards a teaching degree for if things didn’t work out.
Luckily, things did. When Linda Hunt finished high school she was diagnosed with hypopituitary dwarfism. The condition halts the regular amount of growth hormones being released into the body. Consequently, Linda is much shorter than the average woman (she stands at 4 feet 9 inches tall).
Naturally, as was the when she was younger, Linda wasn’t about to let any diagnosis stop her.
After studying at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Theatre School of DePaul University in Chicago, it was time for Hunt to reach for the stars. She moved to New York City, where her passion for working in theater only grew.
Moved to New York
That said, once in the “Big Apple” she didn’t know what to do or where to begin.
“I moved into a shoebox-sized apartment in the city when I was in my early 20s with my father’s help,” Hunt recalled.
“I was very young and very lost, I didn’t even attempt to act professionally. That would of meant getting an agent and going to auditions. I wasn’t capable of doing any of that. It was truly emotionally beyond me.”
Instead, Linda got some smaller jobs working backstage at theaters off-broadway, and her community of friends helped her keep her spirits up. At the same time, she underwent a range of treatments for her dwarfism. They weren’t successful, leading her to question if she really could succeed in the industry. In the end, she moved back to her parents’ to rethink her decision.
Now, as mentioned, she had previously had a private acting coach while at school. It turned out that moving back to her parents’ house was the best thing she could have possibly done.
“My acting coach reminded me again about the importance of acting in my life,” Linda explained.
“And the knowledge that this was my gift. I had lost myself for a while, and that awareness gave me back to myself. Soon, I was sending out resumes and reading for parts.”‘
In 1975, Linda made her Broadway debut, starring in Ah, Wilderness. That, in turn, led her to landing her first onscreen gig. In 1978, she appeared in the film Fame – just four years later, Hunt made history.