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Debra Paget.DEBRA PAGET

The star of one of the most influential westerns ever filmed, “Broken Arrow”, was the second of a trio of beautiful siblings to enter the movies. Alongside her sisters, Debra feels “like an ugly duckling! (Laughs) I think Teala (Loring) is the prettiest, then Lisa (Gaye), then myself! Lisa has a quick, sharp wit about her, and a good sense of humor.”

Religion played an important part in all three sisters’ lives. “I used to have a show on Trinity Broadcasting; I once did a seminar with Jacqueline White that was fun. We talked about the picture days. I do things for the Lord Jesus Christ—I give speeches, I write gospel songs and poems that are used when I speak.”

Debra was married three times, all ended in divorce, including a brief marriage to flamboyant western director Budd Boetticher. She has no plans to return to films. “Things were decent then. In 1982, I decided to go back to work. A newspaper reporter did a long story on me. Then I prayed about it, and decided not to do it. I did do a play, that was lots of fun, but I will never have a full-time acting career again. I was pleased to learn a contemporary actress, Debra Winger, was named after me.”

Debrahlee Griffin obtained a contract with 20th Century Fox at a very tender age. “I had gone into the theatre at about 9-10 years old and worked professionally from 11 on. I signed a contract at 20th Century Fox at 14. My Mother was my agent. She had a lot of contacts and through her connections, I was signed. It kind of took your breath away at first. I was awe-struck. It took a while to come down off that cloud. I had to have a parent and a schoolteacher with me at all times. I was at Fox for two weeks when I did ‘Cry of the City’ with Richard Conte and Victor Mature. They had shot the small part of a young 18-year-old, who had an innocent look about her, with two different actresses. They didn’t like the results and decided to test three more. When I did the part, they liked what they saw, and I was kept after the six-month option period! I worked with Victor Mature in that when I was about 14 years old. I was so shy, terrified and insecure. He would put me on all the time. I didn’t know it was a put on. I thought he was really mad at me. I’d run to my dressing room and cry. He really wasn’t being bad. I worked with him later and then I understood it was just a put on. But he knew how to get to you!”

James Stewart talks with Sonseeahray (Debra Paget) in "Broken Arrow" ('50 20th Century Fox).“I tested for ‘Broken Arrow’. Jimmy Stewart took the time to test with us, which was not usually done at that time by major stars, they’d have a contract player work with you. But he took all that time to work with Jeff Chandler and I which made a great deal of difference in our getting the parts. In a scene, if Jimmy thought Jeff, who was a gentle, quiet man, or I could do better, he would blow it and they’d have to cut. And he’d whisper to us, you can do this better…focus in. He was just a beautiful human being. I want to cry, thinking about his recent passing. I loved that man, and I love that film. It was my first starring billing.”

As to the contact lenses she was forced to wear to make her look the part of Indian maiden Sonseeahray in “Broken Arrow”, Debra reveals, “The contact lenses were a problem. They weren’t like they are today—not plastic—but GLASS! They covered the entire eye! They dyed the color in them. The light would heat them up and they dried the eyeball. You would sometimes be shot in profile, so only one contact had to be in your eye. The heat would turn that eye to hamburger. They were supposed to stay in 15 minutes—but it would turn into four hours! I’d see rainbows for half an hour after taking them out. Once, when I put the contacts on a table by the shore, they fell into the river! The entire crew was on their knees feeling, trying to find the contact lenses. Finally, my mother had to send off for spares. I still have the originals—they are humdingers.”

Regarding other incidents making “Broken Arrow”, Debra laughingly says, “The White Mountain Apaches—400 of them—were hired, and sent to Sedona, Arizona. The women had long black hair, but by the time they arrived, they had cut their hair off and given themselves Toni Home Permanents because they were ‘going to be in the movies.’ The studio sent to Hollywood for wigs, and that delayed us. They put mops on some of the Indian women. It was so cute! Sedona Lodge was where we stayed, and at the time, it was wilderness. To go to a store you had to drive to Flagstaff. It was fabulous, but I couldn’t find it anymore when I went there later. It had grown so. ‘Broken Arrow’ is now the name of a residential area…they named the streets after the characters, like Tom Jeffords Blvd., Cochise Avenue, Sonseeahray Street. It’s kind of cute, but also sad to see all that beautiful territory disappear.”

Jeff Chandler as Cochise, Paget and James Stewart speak with a miner in "Broken Arrow".

Perhaps the most memorable story deals with the film’s star, James Stewart. “I was so young that I was told, ‘Don’t ever tell him your age. Lie and say you’re 17.’ Well, I had a birthday on the set, and when Jimmy saw the number of candles, he screamed, ‘Oh my God, I’m a dirty old man!’ (Laughs) We had a lot of bad weather—it would wash away the set! We got way behind schedule, and Jimmy’s fiancée, Gloria, came up there. A week after we finished, they were married.”

Robert Wagner, Jeffery Hunter as Little Dog, and Debra Paget as Appearing Day in Fox's "White Feather" ('55 20th Century Fox).“White Feather” five years later was a remake of “Broken Arrow.” “But, they changed it a lot. I didn’t know it was to have been a remake until later. Jeffrey Hunter and I were in that version.”

Asked if “Seven Angry Men” (released by Allied Artists and produced by Vincent M. Fennelly) was a loan out, Debra says, “I thought it came out of Fox. We filmed ‘Seven Angry Men’ at Fox. A lot of fine young men, like Dennis Weaver and John Smith, who later became stars, were in it. None were well-known at the time except for Jeff Hunter. It was done at the Fox Ranch.”

Regarding one of her most famous co-stars, Elvis Presley, “Elvis and I did the ‘Milton Berle’ show 3 months before we did ‘Love Me Tender.’ I didn’t notice Elvis because I had a tough dance number; my mother was there when we did it. Elvis did have a scene with Milton that had something to do about me…and I may have come on at the end, I don’t recall. I was more concerned with that crazy dance—I kept throwing my hip out—they had a woman
Richard Egan and Debra Paget look after the wounded Elvis Presley in "Love Me Tender" ('56 20th Century Fox). on the set who pushed it back in! I just did the job and tried to stay out of pain! (Laughs). Three months later we did ‘Love Me Tender.’ My brother Frank Griffin used the name Ruell Shayne in that. He had a bit, but he did have a lead in ‘Teenage Crime Wave.’ He’s done a couple of Charles Starrett westerns, a western with Guy Madison, and a cult Science-Fiction film, ‘The Giant Claw.’ He’s now a top makeup man. Originally ‘Love Me Tender’ had no songs. Elvis didn’t want to sing, but they wanted to
Elvis and Debra "came together like a couple of children" during the filming of "Love Me Tender". cash in, so he did sing in the movie. I didn’t know Elvis was to do the picture until it was time to do the film. I was very shy, very quiet and very immature for my age. I was in my very early 20’s but I was emotionally more like a 16 year old. Elvis and I just sort of came together like a couple of children really. Following the film, he did ask me to marry him (Smiles) but my parents objected to my getting married. I cared about Elvis, but being one not to disobey my parents, that did not take place. (Laughs) He was a precious, humble, lovely person. Elvis had a lot of talent; there was a lot of depth they never used. He could have been a fine actor.”

As to school and child stars…“I attended the Fox school which still had Shirley Temple’s old school teacher. Merry Anders and Billy Gray were in school with me. I actually graduated from Hollywood Professional School—but by that time I didn’t know anybody so I skipped the prom. Since you are at a studio school, every year you have to go downtown to take a test—to make sure the studio wasn’t cheating, and you really were getting an education. One year, Elizabeth Taylor wanted to go visit her fiancée, and she needed to get ready—do her hair and all. She blinked those long black lashes at the male teacher—and he let her go! (Laughs) Since I played older parts, my day might consist of doing love scenes—then doing math—then back to the love scenes. You had to have good concentration. They gave you four hours of schooling and four hours of working—and they didn’t let you go one minute over! I missed a lot of magazine covers because of it!”

As for Dale Robertson, her co-star in “Gambler From Natchez”, “Dear Dale. Dale and I go back to when I was 15 years old at Fox. He was a great friend of my mother’s—everybody liked my mom. Dale was a great guy—we had good times together, so I knew him long before we did ‘Gambler From Natchez’. It was the first time I did anything spiffy. Usually, I was very sedate, very ladylike, very shy. I sort of turned loose in that one. I broke my finger in a fight scene with Lisa Daniels. I stoved into her and broke it in about three places. For about four nights I couldn’t sleep I was in so much pain. Finally, I went in to see the studio nurse. They put my finger in a little nude colored cast so I could continue working.”

Title card for "The Gambler from Natchez" starring Dale Robertson and Debra Paget.

Debra appeared on one episode of TV’s “Cimarron City” starring George Montgomery.  “It was fun working with George—I had a good part, and it was one of the first things George Hamilton did.”

Buffalo hunter Robert Taylor's sadistic nature comes through in his treatment of Indian girl Debra Paget in "The Last Hunt" ('56 MGM).When asked about her most influential director, it had to be Delmer Daves. “He directed me at 16, 18 and 21 in ‘Broken Arrow,’ ‘Bird of Paradise’ and ‘Demetrius and the Gladiators.’ Of course, Cecil B. DeMille was a great director—I worked with him for a whole year on my personal favorite film, ‘The Ten Commandments’. That picture took two years to complete. Unfortunately, all my scenes were shot in Hollywood—only Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner had to go to Egypt. But it was an ordeal, just the same. I was wearing the same costume for 3 or 4 months! They wouldn’t clean it, because it was supposed to look dirty! I like animals, but goats, camels, cows and dogs in the dust—blah! The goats would be chewing on my costume. DeMille personally chose me for the part. He told me he felt the hand of God was always on my career! I did ‘Omar Khayyam’ later—but it was nothing like this.”

Eastern girl Debra Paget is confrontational with Don Durant on TV's "Johnny Ringo: East to East" ('60).Reminiscing of other wonderful times making movies, Debra recalls, “I went to Hawaii for ‘Bird of Paradise.’ I went to Acapulco, Mexico; all these places I saw in their virgin states—no hotels and people. I learned to swim in Delmer Daves’ swimming pool. I always had a dream I would drown. When we did ‘Broken Arrow,’ we went to Oak Creek Canyon creek, which was bottomless. My mother and I went with another cast lady, Argentina Brunetti. Some Indian boys pushed the raft away, and I went under three times! Argentina Brunetti tried to help; finally a young man pulled me out, and got me breathing. Delmer Daves said, ‘Stay away from water—until we finish the picture.’ Six months later, when we did ‘Bird of Paradise,’ he asked me, ‘Do you swim?’ He apparently forgot I almost drowned on the last picture. I had to swim 3 hours a day for a month, before we started that movie. The first couple of days, the chaperone tried to teach me. I was afraid of even touching the water. They made me a vest and tied it to a bamboo pole—I swam like a fish eventually, and I never had that dream again!”

On “Bird of Paradise,” there were 50 island girls hired to jump off a boat. “They were not well endowed—so the studio wanted to put pads or falsies in the sarongs. But the girls balked. They wouldn’t let them be put in. Finally they put them in themselves—and when the director called ‘Action,’ they jumped off the boat and the falsies came off! From island to island, the story preceded us! They later called it Falsie Bay.”

Clint Eastwood and Debra on "Rawhide: Hostage Child" 9'62).A most common question asked western ladies is “Can you ride?” Many fib that they can, but Debra Paget could tell them the truth. “I love to ride—when my brother was 16, he wanted a car. My parents thought that too dangerous, so they got him a horse! I was 12, so we went to Griffith Park where they boarded the horses. I loved riding—loved being on a horse. I only stopped riding when I moved to Houston—it was too humid! I would pass out from the heat, but now I am adjusted to it.”

Today, Debra maintains a hectic schedule with her religious activities. She strongly feels the morals today in films need to return to better values.

Debra’s Western Filmography


Movies: Broken Arrow (‘50 20th Century Fox)—James Stewart; Gambler From Natchez (‘54 20th Century Fox)—Dale Robertson; Seven Angry Men (‘55 Allied Artists)—Raymond Massey; White Feather (‘55 20th Century Fox)—Robert Wagner; Last Hunt (‘56 MGM)—Robert Taylor; Love Me Tender (‘56 20th Century Fox)—Elvis Presley. TV: 20th Century Fox Hour: Gun In His Hand (‘56); Wagon Train: Marie Dupree Story (‘58); Wagon Train: Stagecoach Story (‘59); Cimarron City: Beauty and the Sorrow (‘59); Riverboat: The Unwilling (‘59); Johnny Ringo: East Is East (‘60); Rawhide: Incident in the Garden of Eden (‘60); Tales of Wells Fargo: Man of Another Breed (‘61); Rawhide: Hostage Child (‘62).

 

 

 

 

 

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