Exotic and sexy describes Mara Corday! A talented actress from the ‘50s, she’s known for her numerous appearances in westerns as well as her many battles with Tarantulas, Black Scorpions and Giant Claws in sci-fi classics.
Mara was contracted by Universal-International in the early ‘50s. “Mamie Van Doren and I received the most fan mail at the time. It was because of our frequent pin-up sessions, I’m sure. Actually, Julie Adams had a great figure but it was often hidden in period costumes and ankle-length ‘50s dresses!”
In Mara’s first western, “Drums Across The River”, the leading man was Audie Murphy. “Audie was psychotic—insane! After killing all those people during the war, you’d have to be a little nuts! We were shooting on the backlot—it got to be suppertime and Audie asked me out for a little dinner. We got in his car, anxious to get that prime rib! It was turning dark and we were at a stoplight. There were kids in back of us and when the light changed, they honked because Audie didn’t start right away. The teenagers gave him the finger—and took off up the street. And right behind were Audie and me. He reached in his glove compartment—while rolling down his window. He got a gun and said, ‘I’m gonna get them!’ We followed along Ventura Boulevard—I said, ‘My God, I just signed a contract. I can’t die now!’ Audie said to me, ‘Oh, I scared you, didn’t I?’ I told Tony Curtis, ‘I’m terrified of him.’ Tony told me a story about Audie shooting up one of his sets one day! Audie was very quiet, soft-spoken and boyish—yet a flirt with the girls. But he had a short fuse, so you walked around on eggshells whenever he was near.”
Mara especially adored “Drums” co-star, Walter Brennan. “A sweet, professional man. One time, Lyle Bettger asked, ‘What is my motivation?’ Walter said, ‘Just say the damn line!’ Hugh O’Brian was very intense—didn’t kid around. He was about as serious as Jeff Morrow!”
“In ‘Man Without A Star,’ my option had just been picked up. Kirk Douglas has mellowed extremely since then. Early on in the film I played a whore—there were two scenes at a dancehall. All the guys were leaning on the bar. All of us girls took a poll as to which butt was best. We picked Richard Boone’s. We told him, ‘We pick you’ and Kirk heard. It made him so angry at me! Publicity wanted a photo of Kirk grabbing me by the necklace—he grabbed it and almost choked me! When I said something he stated, ‘I’m not acting! You should take this business more seriously. I don’t like your attitude and your kidding around.’ I said, ‘Go screw yourself, I just got renewed!’ How dare he tell me I can’t kid around! Kirk also treated little King Vidor, the director, badly. Whatever King said, he had to defer to Kirk. In the ‘70s—13 or 14 years later, I met Kirk and now he’s the sweetest man in the world!”
“Steve McQueen pulled the same antics on ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’ He was an egomaniac at the time—the most unprofessional actor I’ve ever worked with. He’d go off and ride his motorcycle. We’d all sit around waiting. Director George Blair was a recovering alcoholic. We were getting way behind schedule because of McQueen’s delays. Steve proclaimed, ‘Hey, I’m enjoying my bike better than a little TV show.’ I noticed George’s breath had alcohol—and at the last of the show, Steve McQueen was directing it! I had a line—‘Are you bounty hunters?’ I naturally spoke to Wright King because it was plural. McQueen didn’t want Wright King acknowledged. ‘You keep looking at me!’ I told him, ‘Then you must change the line—to bounty hunter.’ That muffled him up. Another scene, he wanted me to go crazy. I said I shouldn’t go that high. I asked George Blair, ‘Do you think I’m doing alright?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ but McQueen said, ‘I don’t!’ He had a huge ego!!”
“In ‘Raw Edge’ I enjoyed working with Yvonne DeCarlo, but she worried about our coloring. She made me wear a dark fall—over my real hair, which had to be dyed black. I knew I’d have dark makeup as well. But Yvonne and I became very close friends. She confided in me she was going to marry Bob Morgan, the stuntman. She asked if she was doing the right thing. I said, ‘Do you love this man? Then you are doing the right thing.’ Yvonne is adorable, very professional. Bob’s accident—losing a leg while filming ‘How the West Was Won,’ was a big tragedy. It affected both of them—it was just a matter of time before they split up.”
“A Day of Fury” was a Technicolor CinemaScope western. “I didn’t like it. The director, Harmon Jones, a nice man, had been an editor. He told you line readings—in otherwords, how to say the lines. He’d put emphasis on certain worlds that I wouldn’t have. It made everyone stilted. Jock Mahoney was like a wooden stick. I was horridly rigid. Dale Robertson overacted. However, Jan Merlin, a good actor, did a very fine job in the show! He was the villain who shoots the preacher! Dale Robertson is my old buddy. I’d known him since my Earl Carroll showgirl days, ‘47-‘49. Dale dated a cute blonde girl in the show. I did skits with Pinky Lee.”
“Naked Gun” was made during Mara Corday’s freelance days. “I shot it in five days. It started off as ‘Sarazin Curse.’ Two days later, they changed it to ‘The Hanging Judge’—and decided to have the story revolve around him. Then the next day it was called ‘Naked Gun’—all this while we are shooting it! It was the first thing I did after Universal. I knew I was in trouble when they asked what I wanted to play—the heavy or the ingenue.” One of the “Naked Gun” co-stars was Veda Ann Borg. “Veda was sad—she was getting a divorce around this time.” And Jody McCrea—the son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee? “Jody had a big crush on me—but he was a little nuts. He’d turn into a werewolf; I later heard he caused a lot of trouble on one of those A. C. Lyles Paramount westerns.”
In “The Quiet Gun” Mara played an Indian, “Probably because of my sharp features, but actually I’m Welsh.”
Describing Jeff Chandler (“Foxfire”) Mara says, “The word shy takes on a new meaning when applied to Jeff. He never looked you in the eye. He always looked down. But the women were all after him.”
When she first came to Hollywood, Mara appeared on episodic TV, “I did four ‘Kit Carson’ with Bill Williams. We’d shoot two shows together at the same time. I’d sit in front of the house then later walk out of the house as somebody else! We did our own makeup—and it was filmed on the backlot of Republic. I met Barbara Hale, Bill’s wife. We were working late one night—she dropped by—saw we were exhausted and blowing our lines. She left and came back with a can of mixed nuts. She saved us and I told her that.
Another matinee idol was John Payne (“Restless Gun”), “He had one expression—a raised eyebrow! He had a good sense of humor—laughed at himself. I’d do my impression of John—by raising my eyebrow.”
About Ben Johnson, “A darling, a precious person. We did a ‘Laramie’ together. I was so saddened to hear of his death.”
Another Universal-International contractee was Clint Eastwood. “My buddy! One of my closest, dearest friends—a Godsend! When my insurance ran out, he put me in ‘The Gauntlet.’ Then my insurance was okay. When it ran out again, he put me in ‘Sudden Impact.’ I was the hostage—and it’s here that Clint said the famous line, ‘Make my day!’”
Mara’s late husband, Richard Long, played Jarrod Barkley on “Big Valley”. Asked why she never did a “Big Valley” with her spouse, “I thought when we married we would make a great show biz team but Richard didn’t want me in the business. He’d keep me up at night before I was to work. I’d have to go to my mother’s house because he’d get very, very drunk. The day before ‘Giant Claw,’ I was up all night. Sam Katzman, the producer, saw me and said ‘My God, didn’t you go to bed last night?’”
“I was supposed to play the lead opposite Fred MacMurray in ‘The Oregon Trail’ but Richard turned it down—without my knowledge or consent! I was to do another Audie Murphy picture (‘Night Passage’) and I overheard Richard telling my agent I would not do it. (Elaine Stewart got the part.) We had a big fight. ‘How dare you turn down my work!’ Jules Levy, a producer of ‘Big Valley’, told me, ‘We’ll use you on the next show—it’s about a woman who runs a brothel on the waterfront and shanghais men. They titled it ‘Barbary Red’ and Jill St. John eventually did it. I asked why and Jules said, ‘Richard told us he couldn’t work with you.’”
“Richard Long was an enigma. I divorced him 10 times the first year of our marriage, getting a lawyer and everything...and 13 times the second year. He’d plead—literally on his hands and knees, ‘Please forgive me, I don’t know why I did it, give me another chance.’ I loved him and I am still in love with him—22 years after his death.”
One of Mara’s favorite pictures is “Man From Bitter Ridge” with Lex Barker. “Lex was the other love of my life. He took me out to learn to ride horses. He said just sit in the saddle and pretend your mother is rocking you to sleep. He taught me to ride in 20 minutes! We had lunch and dinner together—and a romance. I truly loved him very much. When Lana Turner came back from Hawaii, where she was doing ‘The Sea Chase’ with John Wayne, Lex took back up with her. In 1973 he came back into my life. But Richard was dying. Lex wanted to get back together. I told him I couldn’t. Had he not died suddenly we probably would have gotten together after Richard passed away. Lex died in ‘73, Richard in ‘74. When he was dying, Richard chose to be in bars with strangers instead of with me and the kids.”
Although Mara Corday did not read about the man who revealed, after Lana Turner’s death, that Lana granted permission to say Lex never molested her daughter, Cheryl Crane, and that Lana, not Cheryl, had killed gangster Johnny Stompanatta, Mara stated, “I knew it all along. Lex was doing the movie with me at the time of the so-called molesting. It was in August and he didn’t go back to his house! I asked Lex if maybe he had a weak moment...‘No, not only did I not molest her—I felt sorry for her. I told Lana to fix her up—she could be a pretty girl.’”
After Long’s death, Mara consulted a psychic to talk to him. “She was a Mexican woman—someone like Rosa Lopez—she could barely speak English. A friend said she wasn’t a phony, she was legitimate. She also didn’t charge me any money! I asked her to ask Richard if he and Suzan Ball, his first wife who died of cancer when they were married, were together and happy. The psychic told me Richard expected me to say something dumb like that. ‘He also wants you to forgive him for all the bad times in the marriage.’ That was just like Richard—how could this woman know? I’ve lost touch with this medium. She went back to South America. But I would love to contact her again.”
Mara’s Western Filmography
Movies: Drums Across the River (‘54) Universal-International)—Audie Murphy; Dawn at Socorro (‘54 Universal-International)—Rory Calhoun; Man From Bitter Ridge (‘55 Universal-International)—Lex Barker; Man Without a Star (‘55 Universal-International)—Kirk Douglas; A Day of Fury (‘56 Universal-International)—Jock Mahoney; Naked Gun (‘56 Associated Releasing)—Willard Parker; Raw Edge (‘56 Universal-International)—Rory Calhoun; Quiet Gun (‘57 Regal)—Forrest Tucker. TV: Kit Carson: Fury at Red Gulch (‘51); Kit Carson: Feud in San Felipe (‘51); Kit Carson: Border Corsairs (‘52); Kit Carson: Ventura Feud (‘53); Restless Gun: Shadow of a Gunfighter (‘59); Tales of Wells Fargo: Train Robbery (‘59); Man From Blackhawk: Contraband Cargo (‘59), Wanted Dead or Alive: Death, Divided by Three (‘60); Laramie: A Sound of Bells (‘60).