Teala Loring. The name conjures up memories of Saturday matinees, pictures with titles like “Return of the Ape Man,” “Bowery Bombshell” and “Arizona Cowboy”.
The oldest of four daughters and a son, Teala began her career on the stage at the age of three. “My mother, Marguerite Gibson, had an act in vaudeville and nightclubs, I joined her when I was just a tot. So I was an old pro when I landed a contract at Paramount when I was 18.”
Born Marcia Griffin, she’s a Libra (Oct. 6, 1924), bubbly, fun and upbeat at all times. “When I was in pictures, I was rather shy—I would often be by myself, knitting or reading. The only actress I became friends with was Brooke Evans, who is Paramount producer Buddy Da Sylva’s niece. She later married and we lost touch.”
While at Paramount, Teala was given the buildup treatment, with cheesecake photo sessions and all. “I did a lot of small parts there (as Judith Gibson— “Bombs Over Burma”, “Double Indemnity”). At the same time, they had a girl named Julie Gibson. We were always getting each other’s calls and mail. Eventually, producer Irwin Allen stepped in and said he didn’t like my name. I was doing a Technicolor short for him and he came up with a ‘good old Irish name,’ Teala. My mother liked it too, and she suggested Loring, which was an old family name. So I became Teala Loring, and I’m still called Teala today.”
Teala worked with everybody from Bela Lugosi and the Bowery Boys to Charlie Chan and Lum and Abner, but there are two westerns to her credit. “Riding the California Trail” was the first. “One of the Cisco Kid pictures with Gilbert Roland. He was a ladies man, but he got nowhere with me. There was another girl in that picture—a Spanish type named Inez Cooper, so I was off the hook, as far as Gilbert was concerned. (Laughs) The director, Bill Nigh, was a very nice man, a good director. I worked in a lot of pictures for him. We shot on location out in the valley for 3 or 4 days at Monogram Ranch. There were no freeways, so we had to stay overnight in a big inn. It was a very nice place. Again, I rebuffed Gilbert Roland. I would have dinner, go to my room to learn my lines.”
Asked if she ever dated an actor, she recalls, “Only one, Rudy Vallee. This was in 1942 when he was doing a picture at Paramount (“The Palm Beach Story”). He asked me to attend his radio show and then have dinner. My mother helped me put my long hair up into a bun, very formal. It was a lot of trouble. When Rudy got there, he asked, ‘Would you take your hair down?’ To which I responded, ‘No’. It was too hard getting it up like that. Rudy was a pleasant, nice person, but kind of an old fogie, must have been in his late 40s by this time.”
Asked about her other western, “Arizona Cowboy,” Teala has more to say. “It was my last picture. I never saw it until Boyd Magers sent it. I was married in June of 1950, so I was honeymooning when it was released. It was Rex Allen’s first picture. He was nervous and antsy when we made it—because it was his first, thus it was so important to him, but I think he did a very good job. Gordon Jones was the comedic sidekick, and he was so much fun off the screen as well. His clowning helped put Rex at ease. It was very nice of him to do that. Minerva Urecal I remember because of her most unusual name (Laughs) and because she was such a good character actress. Roy Barcroft—a nice man in real life, but he always seemed to play badguys in pictures.”
“The main thing I recall about ‘Arizona Cowboy’ was that it was very painful to make. (Laughs) Literally. I broke my little toe just 2 or 3 days before we started to shoot. I got up to answer the doorbell, and I hit this heavy chair. I didn’t tell Republic—we had already done the wardrobe and makeup tests. I usually wore boots in the picture, but one time, I had on a party dress. For that, I wore sandals. Then, the foot swelled so much, I couldn’t get the boots back on for the next shot. It hurt so much, yet, it doesn’t show when you watch the movie. My pain, and Rex’s nervousness were not the least bit noticeable.”
As Teala does some riding in “Arizona Cowboy”, I asked about the pain, she responded, “Yes, it hurt. The toe was on my right foot, but I still had trouble mounting. They didn’t show me getting on the horse. I was surprised my riding looked so good, as I was very nervous—I’m scared to death of horses. I could do fairly well when the horse went at a slow pace, but once it went into a trot, I was wiped out! My brother and sisters can all ride, and I would sometimes go riding with them, but I was always terrified. There was supposed to be a scene in ‘Arizona Cowboy’ where I picked up a gun to shoot at someone—but it was so heavy and I was obviously having trouble, so they cut it!” (Laughs)
Teala worked with the Bowery Boys twice. “They did quite a bit of ad-libbing. Usually it was among themselves, but occasionally it would be with me. Since my dialogue would not fit in with what they said, I sometimes had to ad-lib myself! This didn’t bother me as I’d been in pictures for a few years. They would throw something in and you had to be prepared! Leo Gorcey was a nice guy, and his brother David was a good looking kid. They must have had different mothers. (Laughs) Huntz Hall thought he was God’s gift to women and the world! He apparently never looked in any mirrors. (Laughs) He asked me for a date, and of course, I said, ‘No’. He said, ‘I’ll ask you again,’ but, fortunately, he never did.”
As for the most fun in her career, Teala states she prefers the stage. “When I was at Paramount, they sent me to New York for eight months to do the play ‘Let’s Face It’, with Danny Kaye. I enjoy having the audience with me. You lose that feeling when you’re making a film.”
About how her famous siblings landed in show business, Teala reveals, “My mother, who was a terrific singer and comedienne in her own right, would make friends with people who could do us some good. Queenie Smith, a famous character actress, taught acting—she had a school—and my two sisters and brother studied there. Apparently none of the studios liked our real name—Griffin. Debra Lee Griffin became Paget, another old family name, Lezlie Gae Griffin became, of course, Lisa Gaye, courtesy of someone at Universal. My very youngest sister, Meg, was not yet born. My brother, Frank Griffin, later became a very successful makeup artist. He had two lines in one of Debbie’s pictures, ‘Love Me Tender’. But for the most part, he went behind the camera. Meg moved to Texas 20 years ago—mother went there when she wrongly thought she was dying, and Meg just stayed. Debbie was already there, and later Lisa moved there. I have six children, spread out all over the country…and 12 grandchildren. It’s hard to get everybody together at the same time. I talk to Debbie at least once a week on the phone, but as for Lisa, I don’t even have her phone number. I’ve seen her on TV in one of those Trinity Broadcasts, but she never talks about her career. She says, ‘That was my past. I don’t want to talk about it.’ I, myself, am having a ball, thinking about the good old days. Lisa seems to feel it’s an intrusion into her religious studies. I have Bible study every Tuesday, but I don’t think reminiscing about films takes away from that.”
Why didn’t the three sisters ever appear together? Teala laughs, “Because I was always pregnant! Debbie did the big pictures and by the time Lisa was in the business, I was having one child a year (almost every year) starting in 1951.” You’d have to look hard and wide to find anyone as nice as Marcia Griffin/Judith Gibson/Teala Loring/Mrs. Eugene Pickler!
Sadly, Teala died January 28, 2007 in Spring, TX.
Teala’s Western Filmography
Movies: Riding the California Trail (‘47 Monogram)— Gilbert Roland; Arizona Cowboy (‘50 Republic)—Rex Allen.