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An Interview With…
        - Virginia Vale
        - Mary Ellen Kay
        - Marie Harmon
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Caren Marsh.CAREN MARSH

by Boyd Magers

Vivacious Caren Marsh was born April 6, 1919, and just celebrated her 100th birthday in Palm Springs, CA. Her late sister, actress Dorothy Morris told me, “We were both born in Los Angeles, but that’s because Hollywood had no hospital!” She kept the family name of Morris but Caren says she changed hers because, “there were too many people named Morris at the time…Chester Morris, Wayne Morris and MGM starlet Ann Morris, to name a few.”

Caren continued, “My parents wanted me to go to college, and I wanted to be a dancer. A girl in high school told me about an audition for dancers in ‘Rosalie’ (‘37), an Eleanor Powell musical at MGM. I went and I got it! This led to work in more and more pictures, mainly as a dancer. Being tiny (Caren’s 5'), I was a ‘pony.’ The tall girls are called ‘showgirls.’ I worked with the great choreographers—Busby Berkeley, Nick Castle—who had given me tap dance lessons; Hermes Pan and Jack Donahue. I was a dancer in one of Dorothy’s pictures, ‘Seven Sweethearts’ (‘42). While doing one of
Cartoon drawing of Judy Garland with her stand-in Caren Marsh both dressed as Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz". those musicals, someone at Metro spotted me and asked for me to be Judy Garland’s double in ‘Wizard of Oz’ (‘39). You don’t see me at all. They light the set, do the camera setups, then I leave and Judy comes in. But it lasted a long, long time. And those wind machines blew hard! They tested the tornado sequence on me—inside the house when the neighbor goes by, all that sort of thing.”

“The first time I had a real acting part was in an Army Signal Corps hygiene training film, “Pickup Girl” (1944). I played a girl who goes out on a date with a solider. Paul Kelly was the star—but not the boy I dated. Jack Edwards played that part. I got my first closeup in ‘Best Foot Forward’ (‘43). Lucille Ball was so nice—I was invited to sit in her dressing room, and she told me: ‘You’re wasting time, Caren. You’re so cute and have talent. You should go to New York and then come back out here!’ I later took her advice.”

In 1944, Caren was seen as one of the front row dancers in “Hands Across the Border” with Roy Rogers. “The still men were always taking pictures. One day they asked me to step out from the dance line and have my picture taken with Roy. I did, and I only recently found out (from Boyd Magers) that it wound up on the title lobby card! It’s my picture with Roy, instead of Ruth Terry, who was his leading lady!”

Caren with Roy Rogers in "Hands Across the Border" ('44).

A year later, Caren did land a lead, opposite Bob Steele in “Navajo Kid” (‘45). “Bob Steele couldn’t have been nicer. I had never ever seen him in a movie—and was expecting a much taller man. He was short! But such friendly eyes. You liked him immediately. We shot locations in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. I had a scene on a large wagon which had wobbly wheels—I thought they’d fall off, but Bob assured me they wouldn’t. I trusted this well-built, two-fisted man of action. Unfortunately, because of fast shooting schedules, you didn’t get to hang out with people—you’d shoot this, shoot that.”

Caren and Syd Saylor stop to talk to Bob Steele in "Navajo Kid" ('45).

After that came a good role in PRC’s “Secrets of a Sorority Girl” (1946). Another plum role arrived as Caren was selected to play Richard Erdman’s girlfriend-wife in “Wild Harvest” (1947). “That was with Alan Ladd, another short man. His wife, Sue Carol, was a powerful person. I got a lot of publicity on this picture. LIFE did a layout on me that was never used, unfortunately. Some big story must have popped up. I had my picture taken with a new Paramount star named Kirk Douglas. It was just great! I also had a small part as a young mother in a Bing Crosby film (“Welcome, Stranger” [‘47]).”

“Around this time, I took Lucy’s advice and went to New York. I did several things and in 1949 was signed to work with ventriloquist Paul Winchell in his show at the Capitol Theater in Manhattan! Since it wouldn’t start for a month, I took the plane home to visit my folks. When the plane was over Burbank, the pilot went too low and we crashed into the side of a mountain at Chatsworth—right where I had done the Bob Steele picture only a couple of years before!” The plane broke in half on impact and erupted in flames. Of the 136 passengers and crew, only eight survived. Terrifyingly, Caren recalls, “I was seated on the 4th seat from the rear with an emergency exit door across the aisle. It popped open on impact. I crawled out, down the mountain about 500 yards to a fire road and collapsed. My right foot was mangled. It took over a year to recuperate! I was told I would walk again, but never dance; but the doctor was wrong! In 1950 I married Bill Doll, Mike Todd’s press agent, and had a great life filled with travel. Bill, Mike, Elizabeth Taylor and I went to Miami for ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (‘56). Bill and I traveled all over the world.”

Caren today.In recent years Caren taught dancing in Palm Springs, and once a month visited stroke victims. "A while back a dancer friend called me to be in a soap commercial with him. I never saw it, but I did get a nice fat check! My life today is still very fulfilling.”

 

 

 

Caren’s Western Filmography


Movies: Hands Across the Border (1944 Republic)—Roy Rogers; Navajo Kid (1945 PRC)—Bob Steele.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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