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DONNA MARTELL

Exotic actress Donna Martell made her film debut, under the name Donna DeMario, in Roy Rogers’ “Apache Rose”. “My agent took me out to Republic, they liked me, and I was signed on the spot! I was 17, so naturally my mother had to accompany me to the studio. Like so many other girls at the time, I had looks that stopped traffic. It was all so easy for me.”

Her first studio contract was with Universal-International. “I had options at Warner Bros., 20th and MGM—but I wanted Universal. They had a star system—lots of classes, publicity. I thought I would do better there. After two years, they refused to loan me out. TV was coming in. I knew that was the way of the future, so I left and did all the major shows. I was up for the title role of ‘Annie Oakley’, but Gene Autry’s agent wanted me under contract. I said ‘No.’ Stayed with my agent—and lost the show to Gail Davis.”

Donna Martell and Tex Williams co-starred in six 30 minute Universal-International featurettes--"Coyote Canyon", "Girl from Gunsight", "South of Santa Fe", "Ready to Ride", "Nevada Trail" and "Western Courage".While at Universal, Donna appeared in a series of 30 min. musical western shorts with Tex Williams. “Tex was a darling, wonderful man. So were Deuce Spriggens and Smokey Rogers, his sidekicks. Although I can sing, I told Universal ‘No’ when they wanted me to sing in the pictures. So, I was dubbed. I was also too young to go to parties at the guys’ houses, unfortunately. I didn’t socialize with anyone, unless it was for publicity.  I did become friends with Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson. Rock was a special friend—we even did Christmas shopping together. He was going with Vera Ellen at this time, so there was no romance. Rock and I’d go to Moorpark, lay on the grass and just talk, talk, talk.”

About Randolph Scott, with whom she appeared in “Ten Wanted Men”, Donna smiles, “A darling. I wouldn’t fly at the time. We shot on location in Old Tucson, so Mr. Scott gave me his compartment on the train and he flew to Old Tucson on my ticket! We were in Arizona two weeks.”

Concerning her “Gray Ghost” TVer with Tod Andrews, “Tod had a very bad cold—we had to kiss in a scene. We really didn’t have to do it—you can fake those kissing scenes.”

“I worked on ‘Tales of Wells Fargo’ with Dale Robertson. Dale is a love. We were neighbors. He’s a darling guy, handsome.”

Gene Autry, Onslow Stevens, Donna Martell and Elaine Riley in "Hills of Utah" ('51 Columbia).“I also did a ‘Cheyenne’ with Clint Walker. I love Clint. We had lunch every day. One day, the table consisted of Paul Newman, Roger Moore, James Garner, Ben Johnson, Clint and me. The girls all hated me! I was a teenager; Hoppy, Randolph Scott, they were all up in age. They were older than my parents, so I never socialized with them.”

“I also did six or eight of the Gene Autry TV shows, in addition to the features. They kept sending scripts and I’d do them! Gene used to do his own makeup and hair, so you had to do your own as well. They were very frugal at Flying-A Productions. You had to do everything for yourself. The script girl would be the only other female there, so she had to help me with some of the costumes. We’d do two shows at one time—so costume changes were frequent! Gene was very nice—and the shows were a great training ground. I worked with Dick Jones on the ‘Range Rider’ shows, but we became friends years later through his wife.”

Donna Martell was seen on six episodes of "Kit Carson" with Bill Williams. Here she is with Kit's sidekick El Toro (Don Diamond).The actress’ 1953 marriage didn’t slow her work schedule. “Just after my third child—five weeks after the baby was born—I was offered a really good part on ‘Tall Man’ with Barry Sullivan. I accepted—but on the set, Barry spouted profanity. I wouldn’t put up with it. I walked off the set, saying I’d come back when he cleaned up his dialogue. After a few minutes, I received an apology. That’s the only time in my career someone showed disrespect for me. He was talking to someone else, but he knew I could hear him. I just had to say something.”

“Having children did effect my career, however. I was up for a part in ‘Davy Crockett’ but I had to refuse the role—my third pregnancy. Mike Todd flipped over me. We had lunch one day—but I was pregnant with my first child, so Shirley MacLaine got the part in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Mike Todd was a little dynamo, I can see why Elizabeth Taylor fell for him.”

About her life today—“I’m widowed. I had lived at home until I married, so this was my first time alone. I am very family oriented. My real name is Irene DeMaria, and for years I ran my own business, Town and Country Floor Coverings, in the Valley.”

Donna’s Western Filmography


Movies: Apache Rose (‘47 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Twilight On the Rio Grande (‘47 Republic)—Gene Autry; Coyote Canyon (‘49 Universal-International)—Tex Williams;  South of Santa Fe (‘49 Universal-International)—Tex Williams; Girl From Gunsight (‘49 Universal-International)—Tex Williams; Nevada Trail (‘49 Universal-International)—Tex Williams; Ready to Ride (‘50 Universal-International)—Tex Williams; Western Courage (‘50 Universal-International)—Tex Williams;       Hills of Utah (‘51 Columbia)—Gene Autry; Last of the Desperadoes (‘55 Associated)—James Craig; Ten Wanted Men (‘55 Columbia)—Randolph Scott. TV: Gene Autry: Killer’s Trail (‘51); Gene Autry: Frontier Guard (‘51); Kit Carson: Hero of Hermosa (‘51); Kit Carson: Riders of Caspistrano (‘51); Kit Carson: Snake River Trapper (‘52); Kit Carson: Outlaw Paradise (‘52); Hopalong Cassidy: Blind Encounter (‘52); Range Rider: Ghost of Poco Loco (‘52); Range Rider: Harsh Reckoning (‘53); Kit Carson: Outlaw Army (‘53); Kit Carson: Haunted Hacienda (‘53); Frontier: Ferdinand Meyer’s Army (‘55); Sheriff of Cochise: Great Train Robbery (‘56); Broken Arrow: Apache Girl (‘57); Gray Ghost: Master Spy (‘58); Bat Masterson: One Bullet From Broken Bow (‘59); Cheyenne: Home Is the Brave (‘60); Shotgun Slade: Donna Juanita (‘60); Tales of Wells Fargo: John Jones (‘61); Tall Man: unknown title (‘61); Bonanza: Toy Soldier (‘63).

 

Donna Martell with James Coburn in "The Best Policy" episode of TV's "Tall Man" ('61).