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An Interview With…
        - Elena Verdugo
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Universal-International’s child star of the ‘50s was born in L.A. on February 6, 1941. “On my birth certificate, it says Ghislaine Elizabeth Marie Perreau-Saussine. ‘Theresa’ was added later.”

Gigi Perreau made her film debut at age 2 in 1943’s “Madame Curie” and was at the ripe old age of 8 when she made her first western, “Never a Dull Moment” with Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray. “It was like TV’s ‘Green Acres’, or ‘The Egg and I’—a city woman marries a rancher and faces many amusing situations when they go west to live. This woman has two kids—Natalie Wood and me. Natalie played my older sister. Andy Devine, who had a split in his teeth, was a very wonderful protector of mine. Natalie, thanks to her mother, would move this way or that way, and my face would be out of the camera. Mr. Devine would say, ‘Cut. Gigi’s face isn’t in the camera.’ That was very nice of him! I learned very early on, if you can’t see the camera, the camera can’t see you!”

“There’s an old Hollywood joke where they ask you if you can ride and the actor or actress lies and says ‘yes,’ and then heads for some stables to learn how! In my case, this didn’t happen. My younger sister, Janine, wanted to learn to ride, so we’d already been riding. I could ride side-saddle before making this film! We took our riding lessons at Pickwick Riding Stables in Burbank. However, in the scene where I am to flip-flop over the fence, I did most of it but a double did the actual toss! However, I had to be dropped for the closeup!”

Since Gigi was underage, a welfare worker had to be on the set. “You still had to go to school, until you were 18—Saturdays were the fun day. I loved working, but I didn’t have a lot of time to socialize with the kids. They would put up a canvass dressing room, and you had to get your three hours of school whenever you could; you had to have it before 4pm. It was usually in a far-away corner where there would be peace and quiet.”

Gigi was first under contract to Samuel Goldwyn. “Then I went to Universal-International. My parents didn’t push—it just happened. I didn’t have a business manager or any of those things people today deem necessary. At Universal, I sometimes made as many as five films a year!”

In late ‘57 Gigi began work on “Death Rides This Trail”. “It was done at Universal-International. By this time, I was no longer under contract. However, they had been hiring me back again and again. They changed the title to ‘Wild Heritage’. We worked on it until the beginning of ‘58. There was a lot of publicity about it, saying it was the first ‘grown-up’ picture for two former child stars, Gary Gray and myself. Also, there was a lot of publicity on the fact Gary and I were getting our first screen kisses! (Laughs) It was also the ‘first’ screen kiss for Troy Donahue, Judi Meredith, Rod McKuen and Miss Sweden of 1957, Ingrid Goude.” When asked about the kiss, Gigi amusingly smiles. “It was with Troy Donahue, on the back of a Conestoga wagon, as it pulls out at the end of the picture. I don’t think you can even see it in the released print! This ‘first kiss’ (laughs) was kind of funny, and embarrassing. To screen kiss you have to go to the corner of the mouth; cut your head to one side. It was cut and dried—not romantic at all. Also, I didn’t have a thing for Troy. This was before he was a star, so it wasn’t any big deal. Gary Gray says he doesn’t even remember kissing Ingrid Goude. (Laughs) You’d think he would remember that, wouldn’t you? Also, Judi Meredith kissed Rod McKuen. Rod and Gary played my older brothers; Troy and Judi were siblings on a rival ranch.”

Rod McKuen, Gary Gray, Gigi in "Wild Heritage".The movie was shot both on the Universal back lot and, Gigi says, “We filmed a lot of it in Thousand Oaks, just off the Ventura Freeway, at Janss ranch. In those days, there were a lot of little areas in the Valley that were primitive with hills and dirt roads, so you could go on location fairly close to the studio!” In the film, Gigi laughs, “I wore those corset things under my dresses for the first time! I’d have to rest on a slant board, which looks like an ironing board, so I wouldn’t wrinkle my clothes! (Laughs)”

Asked about her many “Wild Heritage” co-stars, Gigi responds, “Judi Meredith is a pretty lady. In 1985, I was teaching at Notre Dame High and a boy came up to me and said, ‘You know my mother, Judi Meredith.’ We saw each other a few times at school functions. Ingrid Goude is a darling. She couldn’t speak English very well and had to have a teacher.” Maureen O’Sullivan? “She’d been my mother five years earlier on ‘Bonzo Goes to College’. I loved her, a delightful person. I used to go to her home in Beverly Hills and play. Her son, Michael, who was a couple of years older, was very nice…and very good looking. It was crush time. Tragically, he was later killed in a plane crash. Maureen’s most famous child, Mia Farrow, was very little at this time.”

Will Rogers Jr. was top-billed. “He was a simple man who was not confident with acting. It was not his thing.” As for George ‘Foghorn’ Winslow, “We went to school together. George was really cute with that funny deep voice of his.” As for her two other on-screen siblings, “Rod McKuen had the worst skin I have ever seen. No makeup could cover it up! He was unique—and already starting to write poetry back then. That was more important to him. He did some wonderful things, like writing the song ‘Jean’; but acting wasn’t for him. He was quiet and he was interesting, he’d tell stories—more of a story teller than an actor. Gary Gray is like a big brother—he is close to my brother Gerald’s age who later became Peter Miles, thanks to Lewis Milestone and being cast in ‘Red Pony’. He now writes under the name Richard. When he got chicken pox, he was replaced in ‘Boy With Green Hair’ by Dean Stockwell. Gary is fun, and it’s nice to work with him. Gary and I first played siblings a dozen years earlier in Olivia De Havilland’s ‘To Each his Own’, for which Olivia won the Oscar! Gary was my oldest brother and Billy Gray played my other brother. Billy’s actress-mother, Beatrice Gray, had to be on the set. In ‘Wild Heritage’, she played one of the family friends (married on-screen to former cowboy star Johnny Carpenter) saying their farewells to us, before we went west! So, I was seeing her again—but as an actress, not as a stage mother!”

“Wild Heritage” was given a lot of hype at the time. “Maureen’s ‘Tarzan’ pictures had just been released to TV, so that was played up big. They even said we were filming near where she’d made those films! She’d played Will Rogers’ daughter in ‘A Connecticut Yankee’ and was now playing opposite his son. The studio arranged for four of us, Gary, Rod, Judi and myself to attend the premiere of June Allyson’s ‘My Man Godfrey’. Gary drove, in his dad’s new Lincoln! (Laughs)”

Gigi turned to television early on, but her first western wasn’t until “The Rifleman” in 1960. “I did two of those. It was a wonderful show, and starred Chuck Connors. Johnny Crawford was this sweet, sweet kid. I remember Peter Whitney played the bad guy on one show (“Heller”). I went in to read and told them, ‘I have to do this role! No one else can have it.’ And I got it! It was so good, there was talk of a spin-off—but that didn’t come together. I was abused by my father or step-father. He’s a bad man—I had slashes on my back! The girl (me) points a gun at him—he gets down on his knees and pleads for his life. It was such a meaty, wonderful role!”

“Stagecoach West” came later in 1960. “Wayne Rogers is very nice, but rather stuck up, a little aloof. He became an incredible multi-millionaire businessman. He rents dressing rooms to the studios!”

Gigi was back at Universal doing “Laramie” then was cast in “Rawhide.” “I played a young novice nun. I have a still of me with Clint Eastwood. Clint is looking at me, in my nun’s habit, chewing gum and blowing a bubble!” (Laughs) Clint was very professional; in fact, everybody worked hard. There were no shenanigans and stuff like that. You were there on time, worked hard and knew your lines. People didn’t pull stunts like they do today—showing up two hours late, for instance! I thought I was so lucky to be working. My parents taught me discipline. I was aware this was a job, like any other job. I enjoyed adults, and people thought of me as a little adult. Good or bad, I enjoyed being with adults.”

Nick Adams, Gigi Perreau and Richard Hartunian in "The Rebel: The Promise" ('61).When Gigi made “The Rebel,” “I got reacquainted with Carol Nugent, who was Nick Adams’ wife. They had two kids who later played with my kids. Nick was an interesting guy, very ambitious, and a hanger-on who thought if he was around these people something would rub off on him. Nick particularly liked Bobby Darin when he was married to Sandra Dee. I’d be at their house and Nick would call, saying he was coming by! I’m not like that at all—not pushy and persistent, but I never had to be. In fact, it was no let-down when it was over. I have no problems like what Paul Petersen says he has. I see him every June—several former child stars go to Donna Reed’s hometown—and do a workshop. Shelley Fabares, who had no problems, is the president of the Donna Reed Foundation.”

From ‘61-‘62 Gigi was a regular on the ABC adventure series “Follow the Sun” which starred Brett Halsey (“Four Fast Guns” and several Italio-oaters), Barry Coe and Gary Lockwood. “Brett and Barry were both charming, delightful young guys. Brett was dating Debbie Lowe, who had married Tyrone Power and had his child. I was newly married and didn’t really socialize with them. Acting was not a passion with them. Brett was not volatile—I never saw a temper. A little moody, but always professional. Both were great guys. Gary Lockwood, on the other hand, was younger than Brett or Barry. He later dated and married (briefly) Stefanie Powers. He was kooky, pushy and very into his career; more hot and cold, but a fun guy who was dating Tuesday Weld at the time we did the series.”

John Lupton and Gigi Perreau in "Chicken", an excellent episode of "Gunsmoke" ('64).In ‘64 Gigi was a guest on “Gunsmoke.” “Miss Kitty was wonderful—the whole cast. It was a great experience. It was a bonus, doing the show.”

Gigi’s last western was an episode of “Iron Horse.” “Dale Robertson was a movie star, now doing TV. He was wonderful; but a little over the hill.”

Gigi Perreau was one of the first 50 to have a star on Hollywood Boulevard. “I was at the groundbreaking ceremonies, with my gold shovel. My god-daughter, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, occasionally goes down there—and has to clean it! (Laughs) It was taken up when they were putting in the Metro—the subway system. Now it’s back, so when tourists go to Gower, then walk to Vine, they have to pass over my star!” As to her career in general, “I thought of it as a job. I think of it as having an interesting past—it is still the past to me. I love today and am looking to tomorrow. I’m grateful for my career—I learned from it. I’m working on my book, EVERYBODY’S LITTLE GIRL, but can’t finish it until I’m no longer working full time. I now teach drama at an all-girls Catholic school, which was the school I attended. When I retire from teaching, I plan to go back to acting!”

Gigi’s Western Filmography

Movies: Never a Dull Moment (‘50 RKO); Wild Heritage (‘58 U-I).
TV: Rifleman: Heller (‘60); Rifleman: Death Trap (‘61); Stagecoach West: Land Beyond (‘60); Laramie: Dark Reward (‘60); Rebel: Don Gringo (‘60); Rebel: The Promise (‘61); Rawhide: Incident at Poco Tiempo (‘60); Gunsmoke: Chicken (‘64); Iron Horse: Death By Triangulation (‘67).

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