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An Interview With…
        - Elena Verdugo
        - Adele Mara
        - Linda Stirling
        - Virginia Vale
        - Mary Ellen Kay
        - Marie Harmon
        - Helen Talbot
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        - Edith Fellows
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        - Beverly Garland
        - Maureen O'Hara
        - Ann Rutherford
        - Noel Neill
        - Jane Greer
        - Lisa Gaye
        - Virginia Carroll
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        - Jean Porter
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        - June Vincent
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        - Carroll Baker
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        - Marjorie Lord
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        - Connie Stevens
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Nancy Saunders, Charles Starrett’s gorgeous leading lady in six Durango Kid westerns of the late ‘40s, was born Nancy Lou Sanders June 29, 1925, in Hollywood (not L.A.) CA. “I am that rarity—I was actually born in the town of Hollywood, on the day of the Santa Barbara earthquake. I was born in the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, which was later torn down—most likely because of the earthquake, as my mother told me the chandeliers in her room kept swinging back and forth. The hospital was full and they gave her what was called the Tower Room. My father, Leonard Sanders, worked in the newspaper business; he and my mother Blanche were from Washington state—Dad got a job on the L.A. EXAMINER and she followed him down and they were married. My mother, a beautiful blonde, was a showgirl in pictures. She worked under her maiden name, Blanche Thompson. After they divorced, she changed her married name to Saunders, and worked as Blanche Saunders (in 1930’s “Vagabond King”). As a result, I was around show business and show people all my life. I just sort of fell into it.”

Specifically, she explains, “Donald Dillaway, who was at RKO, saw me at the Coconut Grove in the old Ambassador Hotel. He was a lovely man, I had a crush on him (we didn’t date—just a fan crush thing). His wife Denise was sweet and nice. He became fond of me, and on this night (I was on a date, of course), he came over to the table to talk. He said, ‘This sounds terrible, but here’s my card. If you want, come over to RKO and we’ll set up a screen test.’ He was very nice but I put it out of my mind. I adored the movies, but had no thought of going into them. If I liked a movie, I’d watch it 10 times. I had grown up around them, but I wanted to be a secretary. However, two weeks later, I called and he said, ‘I remember you.’ I went over, they gave me a silent test, and I was given one of those six-month RKO contracts. They gave us classes, lessons. The best picture I did was ‘The Locket’ (‘46) with Robert Mitchum. I was even featured on the cover of LIFE magazine—‘Life Visits 9 Hopeful Starlets.’ Also on the cover were Jane Greer, Martha Hyer, Debra Alden, Virginia Huston, Mimi Berry, Bonnie Blair, Bonnie Lester and Nan Leslie.” Later on there were other magazine covers.

Nancy Saunders, Sheriff Steve Clark and The Durango Kid are interrupted while reading a forged bill of sale in Columbia's "Prairie Raiders" ('47).

“My boyfriend and I were over at Jim Bannon’s house—he was married to Bea Benaderet of ‘Burns and Allen’ and ‘Petticoat Junction’ fame. She was a very nice woman. Jim was in the Red Ryders at the time. He told me he had to shoot a couple of magazine covers; for me to come over and do them, too. It was not profound at all. He just invited me over. No agents or studios were behind it at all.”

After the first option, Nancy was foolishly dropped by RKO. “Don Dillaway was upset, but I didn’t push hard or struggle to be an actress. Other girls would die to have the opportunities I had. Anyway, Don called Max Arnow at Columbia—told him to ‘See Nancy’ so I went over to Arnow, did a test, and was put under contract at Columbia.”

Asked if she ever had any trouble with anybody at the studios, she reluctantly said, “Yes, with Max Arnow! He chased me around his desk—twice; then gave up. (Laughs) Other than Max, nobody else ever bothered me in that way. (Laughs)”

Nancy Saunders checks Charles Starrett's injured hand in "Law of hte Canyon" ('47 Columbia).As for any other troubles she may have encountered in pictures, “There was one cameraman, I think his name was Phil, and I didn’t think he liked me. He didn’t think I was very professional. I didn’t stand on my marks where the lights could hit me just so. My life was uneventful. I went to nightclubs, movies, the sort of thing everybody did. I did go out with Robert Scott (Mark Roberts) a few times. He had previously dated Adele Jergens, who was worldly. I am not worldly. (Laughs) Robert/Mark was a nice fellow. All the girls at Columbia loved him. We all called him ‘Dimples’ behind his back—I don’t think he ever found out. We somehow drifted apart and I married. So, I didn’t, in general, see movie people socially.”

At Columbia, Nancy gained the distinction of being the only actress to appear in six Durango Kid westerns. “The studio just told you to do this or that, I didn’t ask. They’d say go to the beach or go to the Columbia ranch for a western. They just put me in them, so my working with Charles Starrett was nothing like Nan Leslie working with Tim Holt, for instance. (Laughs)”

“The first one I did was ‘South of the Chisholm Trail’ (filmed June 24-July 2, ‘46. Released Jan. ‘47). We started it on my birthday…and George Chesebro was working on the set. I was given a tent dressing room where somebody brought me a big bottle of Southern Comfort for my birthday. I offered it to anybody who wanted some, I certainly wasn’t going to drink on the job, and the first day at that! George Chesebro went into my dressing room and drank most of it! He passed out cold! (Laughs) They finally revived him and we got back to work. George was a very nice man—he used to tell me interesting stories about the old days in pictures. I was so young at the time. Charles Starrett was a nice man and his wife Mary was just darling. I went to their home, and even had to go to court with them over some lawsuit, but I didn’t have to testify. We got along fine. There were a lot of other girls on the lot, they could have fallen into the Starrett roles, but I got them all. Fred Sears was in some of the pictures—he was also the drama coach at Columbia—he held classes for speech, that sort of thing.”

As for any accidents, “There were no accidents, that I recall. We shot them all at the Columbia Ranch in Burbank—but we did go to Iverson’s, Corriganville and other places for long shots of horses.”

Charles Starrett, Nancy Saunders and Paul Campbell round-up badmen Bob Wilke, John Cason, Hugh Prosser and another man (backs to camera) in Columbia's "Six Gun Law" ('47).

As to her riding expertise, Nancy recalls she was doubled some by Polly Burson, but the girl who doubled in the first Starrett was a blonde named Opal, “or something like that. Polly Burson was wonderful!”

As for doubling, “Columbia had me doubling Rita Hayworth in two pictures. I put on a blonde wig and drove through the streets in ‘Lady From Shanghai’ and I was made up as a gypsy in ‘Loves of Carmen’. (Laughs) I could ride, though. I went to a girls’ school near Oceanside, inland from the ocean, near San Diego. It was set on a 3,000 acre ranch. There were 40 girls and we learned to ride English saddle. I went from age 8 until 15. The head mistress’ husband taught all the girls to ride. I loved riding. In fact, I loved cowboys—especially I loved the stuntmen and I loved talking to the stuntmen! My best friend was Margaret Farnsworth, who was married to Dick Farnsworth. At first she was hard to get along with, but when she got pregnant with their first child she became pretty charming. Later, I was working for Air Cal Airlines (later American bought them out) and a co-worker said she was getting married to Diamond Farnsworth, Dick and Margaret’s second child. My job, incidentally, was working with the travel agency part, booking tour groups. In fact, I went to Europe seven times while I worked there, which is great, because most people save all their lives, and by the time they go, they are too tired to enjoy it!”

Nancy’s husband was not connected to show business. “I married Marcus McCallen in 1960. He was a distillery rep for Seagrams and later Jim Beam. He passed away in ‘03. We had 43 years together.”

While at Columbia, Nancy Saunders did a lot of 3 Stooges comedies. “I liked the Stooges a lot. They were darling. Shemp was the quiet one; Larry was the outspoken one and fun. I had a good time doing them. They were produced by Jules White—who was wonderful. Years later, in Burbank, I was at the market. Jules came up and said ‘Hi Nancy’ as if I were doing them the day before. Virginia Hunter was one of the girls at Columbia, and she did Stooges, too. She was going with Jock Mahoney at the time.”

Al "Fuzzy" St. John and Lash LaRue protect Ted Adams and daughter Nancy Saunders in "Outlaw Country" ('48 Western Adventure Prod.).

After the Durango Kids, Nancy worked with both Lash LaRue and Whip Wilson. “My agent got me the parts. I was freelancing at the time. What I remember most about Lash is he was a hairdresser at one time. As for Whip, I guess he was a pleasant guy who did his job, but I don’t remember him at all. I do remember the director, Wallace Fox. He was a good director, he really took his time with me and I appreciated it. He gave me business to do, not just tell me to stand here or there. The films were shot fast, and there was no interaction with, or socializing with, anybody. There was no time. But Fox did take time with me.”

A co-star also made an impression. “Dennis Moore taught me to fly an airplane. We finished the picture and went our separate ways, so I never soloed. (Laughs)”

Whip Wilson bandages Nancy Saunders' injured arm in Monogram's "Arizona Territory" ('50).

A personal favorite Nancy Saunders’ picture is “Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Malone” (‘50). “Dorothy Malone was in it and many people have told me they think I look like Dorothy. James Whitmore, on the other hand, told me I looked like Esther Williams.”

After several years of inactivity, Nancy returned to the small screen in an episode of “Jim Bowie.” “I didn’t even remember Jim’s name, Scott Forbes, I only recall playing his brother’s girlfriend in one episode that only took a day or two to shoot. Chris Nyby was the director.”

Nancy’s Western Filmography

Movies: South of the Chisholm Trail (‘47 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; West of Dodge City (‘47 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Prairie Raiders (‘47 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Law of the Canyon (‘47 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Six Gun Law (‘48 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Whirlwind Raiders (‘48 Columbia)—Charles Starrett; Outlaw Country (‘49 Western Adventure)—Lash LaRue; Arizona Territory (‘50 Monogram)—Whip Wilson. TV: Jim Bowie: Rezin Bowie, Gambler (‘57).




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