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Margia Dean.MARGIA DEAN

Margia Dean (pronounced Mar-juh), the Queen of Lippert Studios (she appeared in nearly half its product), was born Marguerite Louise Skliris of royal Greek descent in Chicago, IL, April 7, 1922. “When I was a little girl, my family moved to San Francisco. I appeared in a lot of little theatres, the Reginald Travers Repertory Theatre and the Henry Duff Players among them. I was Little Eva in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, Becky Thatcher in ‘Tom Sawyer’, a lot of child roles on stage. I was 7 and I knew I wanted to be an actress. Later, I won the Women’s National Shakespeare Contest, playing Juliet. While in high school, I’d do leads in the plays. I became Miss San Francisco, then Miss California and finally a runner-up—to Patricia Mary Donnelly of Detroit—in the Miss America contest (in 1939). I won the talent contest in that pageant by doing Shakespeare, when I should have sung! I have a torchy-kind of voice. After I lost (the title) to Donnelly I was told singing would have been better—as  spouting  Shakespeare  wasn’t  the  type  of thing a Miss America could go around the country doing. (Laughs)”

After the contest, Margia returned home. “I was told if I stayed in New York, I would be promoted for a Broadway show. My mother was a working woman and couldn’t stay in NY with me, so I decided to return to   San Francisco to finish high-school.” As a young actress she appeared at the Geary and Curran Theatres in San Francisco and at the Biltmore Theatre in L.A.

In Hollywood, Margia landed her first film role in 1944’s “Casanova in Burlesque” (Republic). “It was here I received my new name—How, I don’t recall exactly. If I left the ‘i’ out, people would mispronounce it—with an ‘ia’ it became Marja—but I answer to anything. (Laughs) That first picture was a spoof of ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and starred Joe E. Brown and June Havoc. Dale Evans was in it, too.”

Ad for "The Desert Hawk".That same year, she was cast in “The Desert Hawk” (‘44), a Columbia serial. “I played the wizard’s (Ernie Adams) daughter. I was in and out of the thing. I barely remember working with Mona Maris, as most of my scenes were with the lead, Gilbert Roland. I was the second female lead. I did all my scenes in two to three weeks. Gilbert Roland was a nice person, a charming person. (This was Roland’s first role after military discharge.—ed.) He had a lot of interesting stories. He told me about his long-ago romance with, I believe, Natalie Talmadge, way back in the silent days. Well, Joe Skank wanted her for his own lover, so he sent some big henchmen over and they attacked Gilbert! They castrated one of his testicles! Skank was very mascioco, sort of an underworld character. I met him twice. He was nice—to me. (Laughs)”

“I had a small role in a Gene Kelly–Marie McDonald film, ‘Living in a Big Way’ (‘47) as one of Marie’s society friends. Gregory LaCava directed it, but it wasn’t a success. Marie was forced on him and he didn’t like that—and he didn’t like Marie McDonald! LaCava was the biggest director I ever worked with, but it was a hit and miss thing. Another hit-and-miss involved Frank Borzage, a top guy at Metro who handled Joan Crawford and a lot of big, big stars. I had an appointment to meet Louis B. Mayer, but before I did, Frank Borzage had a heart attack! Once I was tied to a run-of-the-play show. I had a comedy role; Alfred Hitchcock saw me and wanted me for a part in an Ingrid Bergman film (‘Notorious’ ‘46) and I couldn’t do it.”

But Margia soon  became Queen of Lippert. “I was never under contract—anywhere—not at Lippert nor 20th Century-Fox, nor anywhere else. It just happened I worked at those studios often, but I also worked at Columbia, Paramount and elsewhere.” Asked to describe Robert L. Lippert, Margia explains, “He was a dynamic, self-made man; short, stocky and bald, but a nice-looking man in the face. He smoked a cigar, and looked like the typical Hollywood producer type. (Laughs)”

(Robert L. Lippert owned theatres in and around San Francisco and was reportedly one of the theatre owners who started free dish night. In 1945 he headed Action Pictures, an independent production unit that made three lowbudget features which were released through Screen Guild, a new firm for which Lippert served as executive VP. In 1949, Lippert reorganized Screen Guild, assumed the post of president, and by summer was releasing films under the company’s new name, Lippert Pictures Inc., which lasted until 1955. The following year he formed Regal Films and released product through 20th Century Fox.—ed.)

Margia’s first western at Lippert was “Grand Canyon” with Richard Arlen, Reed Hadley and Mary Beth Hughes. “I worked with all of them more than once, but I knew Reed Hadley the best. It was a nothing role and I recall little about this film.”

“I Shot Jesse James” is more memorable for Margia, “Because it was the first film directed by Sammy Fuller. He became a cult figure. He had a big following later, and this film is considered to be very good! My part in it was small. I came in and sang a song—which, incidentally, is me singing! That’s about all I did in the film. The picture was quite acclaimed.”

As for her first good role in a western, “Red Desert”, “Don Barry was very nice, pleasant and polite to me. But, he was short. And that can create something of a problem. Tom Neal was in it, and I found him to be the serious, brooding type. It was so tragic that he later murdered his wife and went to prison.” With their reputations, I asked if either Don or Tom came onto her. Margia states they did not. “Maybe they were happily married at the time. (Laughs)” Jack Holt was yet another cast member. “He was an old timer, an elderly character actor by then, but way before my time he had been a big star. He was a nice, dignified gentleman. Lippert was good about using once-big names who were a little past their prime!” As for her part, “It was my first leading lady, but still a thankless part. You go in early in the morning for hair and makeup; then are driven a long ways to a dusty, hot, sticky location. At dusk, they take the leading lady’s close-up—just when she’s grimy! (Laughs) Those tight corsets and five pounds of wigs were all uncomfortable—as were those stagecoach rides—which were so bumpy! (Laughs)”

"Red Desert" ('49)--one of my personal favorites--with Don Barry, Jack Holt, Margia Dean, Tom Neal.

“Rimfire” starred James Millican, Mary Beth Hughes and Reed Hadley. “James Millican was polite and pleasant, but again I knew Reed Hadley better. It was a good little picture. Some of them I made were corny, but this was pretty well done. These films were done fast with last minute script changes. If you hit your spot and said the dialogue, it was printed. To be pretty good in something like that is more of an achievement than being good in a big picture where you do it over and over.”

“Baron of Arizona” starred Vincent Price. “I had a nice cameo in it—a showy part, a love scene with Vincent Price. I like myself in it. Sometimes I cringe when I see myself; other times I’m proud of what I did. Vincent was charming. We talked a lot on the set. He was cultured and educated. Years later, I was traveling in Italy and visited him on the set of the picture he was shooting. He was a gracious, nice gentleman.”

“Lonesome Trail” co-starred Wayne Morris and John Agar, and was produced by Earle Lyon, whom Margia calls, “A nice guy.” She recalls Agar better than Morris. “John was a good friend but Wayne Morris I didn’t know too well. I did see John socially. His wife, Loretta, was a darling woman. He was devastated at Loretta’s death. He told me he thought he would go first. It’s a shame (ex-wife) Shirley Temple never let him see their daughter. The girl looks like John. Maybe Shirley isn’t the sweet little thing we think she is!”

Margia recalls little about “Frontier Gambler”, and although she was cast over and over as one, she doesn’t think she was type-cast as a dancehall girl. “I was brunette, the glamorous type, where the ingénues were usually blonde. The heavies were more interesting parts, anyway!”

She considers “Last of the Desperadoes” with James Craig to be “A good western.” Although “Badlands of Montana” provides her a good role, Margia recalls “Ambush at Cimarron Pass” much better. “First, Clint Eastwood was in it. He was tall, lanky and good looking, like Gary Cooper—I have a poster from the film, and I’m billed above Clint, as it was a star role for me. I recently ran into Clint at a restaurant here in town and reminisced with him about it. I thought, at the time, Clint would be a star, but I never dreamed he’d become the superstar he is today.”

Margia Dean (R) looks on with obvious disdain as James Craig holds Myrna Dell in "Last of the Desperados" ('56 Associated).

Scott Brady was not Margia's "cup of tea" when they made "Ambush at Cimarron Pass" ('58 20th Century Fox).As for the leading man, “I didn’t like Scott Brady. We clashed and had a feud! He was very cocky and rude. He would tell smutty jokes on purpose, trying to shock you. I did know him socially, but he was not my cup of tea. He’s pretty lousy. There was a scene in the film where he’s carrying me off, all the while saying vile things to me as the camera rolled! I knew his brother, Lawrence Tierney, who was a very nice guy. It’s sad how he became a drunk and even a derelict for awhile. On a positive note, Scott did help him financially—he did things for Lawrence.”

Another co-star, who ended up tragically, was George Reeves. “I worked with him on ‘Superman and the Mole Men’. I suppose it was suicide, but many people still feel his death was murder!”

In some pictures, such as “Stagecoach to Fury”, Margia has good billing but little part. “In those films, I was cut out. I’d go see it, and I wouldn’t be there. But they left the star billing alone! (Laughs)”

Asked what she thinks to be her most famous picture, Margia believes it is “The Creeping Unknown” (‘56). “The first film, I believe, that shows a rocket in space. It made a lot of money. I go mad in it.”

Her last film to date is “Moro Witch Doctor” (‘64). “That picture is about what is going on today! The Moros, who are Muslims, go after white Christians with bolo knives! If you kill one, you’ll have 100 of them as your servants in heaven, or so they think. It was a dangerous film to do. That was really roughing it. We had machine-gunned guards all along.” The leading man? “Jock Mahoney was not very pleasant to work  with. He wasn’t gracious or warm or anything. He didn’t do anything wrong, he was tall and nice looking with sex appeal for some people. But he was a pompous ass, and pardon me for saying that, but he just wasn’t friendly or pleasant. But, we were out in the jungle, where you pottied behind bushes. You could get malaria…it was hundreds of miles even from Manila, in the Philippines. Jock and I were the only whites, and I wore a blonde wig that, due to the humidity and filth, began to look like Harpo Marx’s hair! (Laughs) The makeup guy took care of it. He was obviously homosexual, campy, quite effeminate. I felt comfortable around him, and thought of him like a girlfriend. I could change clothes and do other things around this hairdresser without thinking anything about it. There also was a rugged leather-jacketed young man who was his boyfriend. I found out later the hairdresser was wearing my wig and clothes when they went out together! Listening to them talk, you’d think it was two teenage girls! At the end of the shoot, at the cast party, the hairdresser shows up—he walks on the set looking masculine, and bringing his wife and two children! (Laughs)”

Margia feels she and Brian Keith had "terrible direction" in "Villa!" ('58 20th Century Fox).Another dangerous picture was “Villa”. “I am not a good horsewoman. I can ride in and out of a scene, but let the doubles take over for the stunts. In ‘Villa’, we were on the top of a rocky hill. I was on a horse with the entire Mexican cavalry behind me. I never should have agreed to do it, but I rode that horse down that rock-filled hill! If it had slipped, I would have been crushed by all those horses behind me. A couple of them did slip and fall. I was later told, by a professional stuntwoman, that she would never do that—so I never should have agreed to do something a professional wouldn’t do. Also, the director, James B. Clark, was a former film editor. He’d fill the camera with pictorial things, unnatural things. Brian Keith and I had a love scene, but I had my back to him—we couldn’t look into each other’s eyes. That director was shooting for the scenery. He made it uncomfortable, and thus made it hard to be convincing. I remember they built this Indian village—and a portable toilet. One fella in the cast was urinating and the thing blew away. Cesar Romero was terrific, charming, so witty, so humorous and down-to-earth. He was the only one good in the picture—I didn’t like myself or Brian Keith, but of course we had the terrible direction. Cesar was so handsome, what a waste that he was a homosexual. He was so masculine, until he drank—then it showed—the campy way they are. He wasn’t a big drinker, but when he did take a drink, he gave it away.”

Although some actors find it difficult to work with animals, Margia says, “I did ‘Shep Comes Home’ with Flame. The dog always did it right on the first take—but the actors kept goofing up. (Laughs) That’s probably why they say actors don’t like working with animals. (Laughs)”

Later Margia became a producer (Margo Productions). “I produced a B movie, ‘The Long Rope’ (‘61), for Hugh Marlowe—when women weren’t producers. Bill Witney had directed ‘Secret of the Purple Reef’ (‘60) which I was in. He was likeable and worked well with actors. He was capable and within the price range, so I hired him to direct ‘The Long Rope’. He did a good job. I also produced a TV pilot along the same lines as ‘The Long Rope’ that didn’t sell. I was associate producer for a Pat Boone film in England, ‘The Horror of It All’ (‘64).”

After films, Margia went into the world of business. “In a way, I was lucky. The big stars I knew ended up tragically—on drugs or alcohol—most are dead. After films gave me up, I was very lucky as a businesswoman, something I never thought I would do, or be a success at. I became vice president in a real estate firm. I designed costumes, but mainly did interior decorating. My husband (Felipe Alvarez) and I have owned apartment houses, a dress shop (The Pink Parasol), and a restaurant (Margia’s Beverly Coffee Shop), but we have since sold all our holdings. We were married in ‘65. My husband is an architect, he’s written short stories, he is a good singer, and he speaks five languages!”

“I had 30 star roles and over 20 bit parts—it was more glamorous then, than today. I used to travel and meet the crown heads of Europe. I could name drop—as I have been on Onassis’ yacht, and I dated Aly Khan. I don’t care much for today’s pictures. I find the violence even more obscene than the pornography. I play bridge and still do a lot of traveling. We have a house in the Hollywood Hills, with a view of the ocean. I am very content.”

Margia’s Western Filmography


Movies: Grand Canyon (‘49 Lippert)—Richard Arlen; Rimfire (‘49 Lippert)—James Millican; Red Desert (‘49 Lippert)—Don Barry; I Shot Jesse James (‘49 Lippert)—John Ireland; Return of Jesse James (‘50 Lippert)—John Ireland; Bandit Queen (‘50 Lippert)—Barbara Britton; Baron of Arizona (‘50 Lippert)—Vincent Price; Fangs of the Wild (‘54 Lippert)—Charles Chaplin Jr.; Last of the Desperadoes (‘55 Associated)—James Craig; Lonesome Trail (‘55 Lippert)—John Agar; Frontier Gambler (‘56 Associated)—John Bromfield; Stagecoach To Fury (‘56 20th Century Fox)—Forrest Tucker; Badlands of Montana (‘57 20th Century Fox)—Rex Reason; Villa (‘58 20th Century Fox)—Brian Keith; Ambush at Cimarron Pass (‘58 20th Century Fox)—Scott Brady. Serial: Desert Hawk (‘44 Columbia)—Gilbert Roland.

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