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An Interview With…
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Marjorie Stapp, the leading lady to Charles Starrett in 1949’s “Blazing Trail” and “Laramie” was born in Little Rock, AR, September 17, 1921.

“When I was in the 7th or 8th grade, my family moved to California. Originally, I was placed under contract to 20th Century-Fox, although I made no pictures for them at the time. They loaned me to Goldwyn for the Danny Kaye movie, ‘Kid From Brooklyn.’(‘46).” When asked why she’s in that movie so little, Margie states, “I wanted to go to the University of Chicago, so I wanted out of the picture. Samuel Goldwyn was furious with me—so I was cut out of the opening number and other parts, although you can still spot me at the train station, greeting Danny. I told Goldwyn he’d already fired two other girls, and was getting along fine without them, so he could get along without me…but he was not happy. I only stayed at the University six weeks—then I returned to California!”

Charles Starrett, Smiley Burnette, Marjorie Stapp and Fred Sears in a dramatic moment from Columbia's "The Blazing Trail".

Margie’s first leading role was with Charles Starrett, the Durango Kid. “That was on freelance. I was acting in theater, always doing plays. I’d let the casting people know I was in a play and they’d come. I changed agents frequently—I was impatient. With each new agent we’d make the rounds of the casting people. In those days there were 5,000 actors and only a few casting people—the studios all had their own—now it’s 100,000 actors and so many hassles—you even have to read and get call-backs on tiny parts these days—which is ridiculous. That’s how I got the part in ‘Blazing Trail’. Charles Starrett was such a gentleman. He would help me up on the horse, every time! And there were many times when I had to be on a horse! The grips would have done it—but he was always right there—I liked him very much. He was a charming man, so helpful to me.”

Smiley Burnette was different. “He did ignore people—I didn’t talk to him at all! But, he was always joking, the few times he was there!”

Steve Darrell, Steve Pendleton, Marjorie Stapp and Charles Starrett all react to a humorous Smiley Burnette in "The Blazing Trail" ('49).

She worked for director Fred Sears several times “but never had personal contact off the set.” The director who did impress her was Fritz Lang, who directed the film noir classic, “Blue Gardenia” (‘53). “Fritz Lang was a top, top director, but very temperamental—yelling at grips, Anne Baxter, everybody. But, he knew how to handle me—he said, ‘Dear Margie—take it easy now; relax.’ He yelled at everybody but me! He came to see me in a play and said, ‘You’re a very fine actress.’ If he hadn’t been so old, he’d have used me in other pictures. Most directors would tell me, ‘OK, bring it up or bring it down’—but normally I didn’t need direction.”

Early on, Marjorie worked as a receptionist…for Bugsy Siegel! “But I didn’t know it, until he was murdered and I recognized his picture in the paper! The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas had an office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. They had four phones (which never rang) and I was to take reservations. All the filing cabinets had nothing in them. But, it was a big plush office. I got so bored doing nothing, I started going on interviews. I’d take two, three hours or more for lunch. One day, the man who hired me had to wait on me for two hours, then he fired me! (Laughs) Earlier, he’d introduced me to Mr. Siegel (no first name or nick-name was given). He was just like George Raft, he had bodyguards—just like in the movies!”

Margie worked with many of the top cowboy stars of her day, but not always in westerns. She appeared in “Battle of Bloody Beach” (‘61) with Audie Murphy. “I twisted my ankle once—Audie was near and caught me before I hit the ground. He always asked how the ankle was. It was a very nice relationship. I don’t understand the stories you hear about Audie Murphy.”

As for Hugh O’Brian and “Wyatt Earp”…“Hugh was dating my girlfriend, Lorna Thayer, when I did that. She was jealous of her boyfriends, so other than mentioning my knowing Lorna, nothing much was said or done. Hugh was easy to work with.”

Nick Adams with Marjorie Stapp in "The Rebel" episode "In Memory of a Son" ('60).Nick Adams “was a dear man. Nick said to me, ‘Margie, you should be a big star. You should send your picture to every producer; send them your resume. If you’d do that, you’d go places. You are so good. You really should do that.’ But, I couldn’t push myself that way… Nick and I worked well together.” (On a “Rebel” episode.)

Tim Holt starred in “Monster That Challenged the World” (‘57). “I didn’t get to know him too well. He thought the little girl who played Audrey Dalton’s daughter was good and mainly paid attention to her (Mimi Gibson).”

Jeffrey Hunter starred in ‘57’s “Gun For a Coward.” “He asked me out, but unfortunately I was going with somebody, so I didn’t go. I liked him a lot—a very attractive man!”

Margie worked with Randolph Scott and James Garner, but “they didn’t impress me. The biggest star that did impress me was Burt Lancaster. I was in ‘Elmer Gantry’. When they shoot things, they do the master shot, the two-shot, then the closeup. Well, we did the master, the two shot and Burt did his closeup. When it came time for my closeup, Burt stood there and gave me my lines! Big stars don’t do that—usually it’s the script girl who gives you bad readings that aren’t helpful. But Burt did it; what a guy! The director, Richard Brooks, was a nut. He’d only give you your scene—not the whole script! I never had that happen before—or since!”

Rory Calhoun starred in “Saga of Hemp Brown” but Margie was more impressed with the main villain. “I am friends with Claudia Bryar, who is the wife of John Larch. John murdered me in the picture! A few years ago, Claudia appeared in ‘Psycho 3’ with my husband, Robert Brown—and John was on the set, but having trouble getting around.”

Steve Conte and Marjorie Stapp in a terse moment for "26 Men: Incident at Yuma" ('57). "26 Men" starred Kelo Henderson and Tris Coffin and was filmed in Arizona.Remembering “The Far Country”, she says, “Walter Brennan was a real character. At four in the afternoon, a pretty, young boy, who was a grip, was standing there. Walter grabbed him by the crotch and laughed, ‘I couldn’t help it—it comes over me this time of the day.’ So, I avoided Walter Brennan each afternoon around 4, that’s for sure! (Laughs)”

Good billing, but Margie is hardly in the Columbia serial “Adventures of Sir Galahad” as Queen Guinevere. “They cut out 90% of what I did. I was captured by The Black Knight—and the horse I was riding didn’t have the saddle properly fastened underneath. It was not tied at the bottom. It was a grip’s fault. I was riding side-saddle and sliding off as I was galloping up that hill. I held onto the reins for dear life! I was so mad, I was telling everybody off. I yelled at anyone and everyone. It apparently made them angry at me, because most of my part was cut out! Dialogue, if not entire scenes. They were really angry at me, but I was furious about the situation! Lois Hall was the other female (the Lady of the Lake), and I found her to be both beautiful and talented—I wish we’d gotten to know each other better. Sir Galahad, George Reeves, was a bit of a jolly…making jokes, things like that.”

An early marriage ended in divorce, but produced a daughter. “She lives in New York. That’s where I met Bob, my husband. I did ‘The Subject Was Roses’ on Broadway, and we met at a vocal class. When we returned to California I started doing TV things, like three Movies of the Week, ‘Quantum Leap,’ ‘Jake and the Fat Man,’ ‘Columbo.’ I have several of the films I made. I have a copy of my ‘26 Men’ with Tris Coffin and Kelo Henderson. Tris was so handsome—such a good actor, and the same can be said for his sidekick, Kelo Henderson. I was surprised Kelo didn’t do more—he should’ve gone further.”

Margie and her husband moved to North Carolina for a few years but eventually moved back to California. “I wanted to go back home. We took an apartment on the 9th floor of a building next to the Farmer’s Market, across from CBS Studio Center.”

Marjorie’s Western Filmography

MOVIES: Blazing Trail (‘49 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Laramie (‘49 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Rimfire (‘49 Lippert)—James Millican; Far Country (‘55 Universal-Int’l.)—James Stewart; Gun For A Coward (‘57 Universal-Int’l.)—Fred MacMurray; Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (‘57 Warner Bros.)—Randolph Scott; Saga of Hemp Brown (‘58 Universal-Int’l.)—Rory Calhoun; Wild Westerners (‘62 Columbia)—James Philbrook. SERIALS: Adventures of Sir Galahad (‘49 Columbia)—George Reeves. TV: 26 Men: Incident at Yuma (‘57); Wyatt Earp: It Had To Happen (‘58); Tales of the Texas Rangers: Ambush (‘58); Rebel: In Memory of A Son (‘60).