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Elizabeth FraserELIZABETH FRASER

Although beautiful, bubbly blonde Elizabeth Fraser was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. January 8, 1920, she laughs, “I was conceived in Haiti! My father was a representative for a Dutch steamship line in Haiti, so I spent the first seven years of my life in Haiti. It was a different country back then—nothing like it is now.”

When asked how she got into pictures, Elizabeth states, “I was doing a play, ‘There Should Be No Night,’ with Lunt and Fontanne. We were doing it out here (in L.A.) and I was spotted by Warner Bros. They gave me a screen test, and Ronald Reagan, who was already a star, did the test with me! He was so very sweet! The studio liked what they saw, I was put under contract and my first movie was ‘One Foot in Heaven’ (‘41) with Fredric March, Martha Scott and Frankie Thomas.”

She made her first western, “Hills of Oklahoma”, for Republic in 1950. “Rex Allen was the star; he was an awfully nice man. There was no riding in it for me, so I didn’t have to learn how to ride. I still don’t know how to ride horses! (Laughs) Westerns are wonderful to do. The people are so very nice—much nicer than the drawing room comedy types! Western stars are real people. I am not fond of watching westerns, it’s much more fun to be in them!”

As for her “Hills of Oklahoma” co-star, character actress Elisabeth Risdon, “She was adorable; darling. She fitted into everything so perfectly! She was so dear to me.”

Title card for "Hills of Oklahoma" starring Rex Allen and Elizabeth Fraser.

The following year, Fraser appeared in a spoof of western movies and cowboy stars. “I recall ‘Callaway Went Thataway’ fondly because Howard Keel, the star, is a friend of mine. It was a short picture for me—I didn’t do much, but there were a lot of cameos in the film!”

She has many fond memories of “The Way West”(‘67). “I wrote a journal on that, and am trying to get it published. At the time, I thought to myself, ‘Wow. I’m getting into something—a big star cast!’ I’d write down everything that occurred. I have entitled the book THE WAY OUT WEST—HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER LOCATION. It is some 200 pages long! Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas were the top stars. We had funny locations—up in Oregon around Bend and Eugene. (The director) Andrew McLaglen is wonderful! I pretended I had a crush on him—he is so attractive; such a good looking guy! A caring guy. I didn’t really have a crush on him—it was just something to do to get to the set on time. I explain it better in the book! His wife, Sally, came up there as well.”

As for Jack Elam, “He was a charming guy, just great. He was so cute, believe it or not. I don’t mean in the handsome sort of way, of course. (Laughs)”

In 1968, there was “The Ballad of Josie,” another western comedy. “Andrew McLaglen directed that as well. Doris Day was the star. I worked with Doris many times—‘Young at Heart’, ‘Tunnel of Love’, ‘Glass Bottom Boat’…she’s a terrific gal. I don’t know if it was Doris, or Andrew, or what that got me into that picture.”

As for Andy Devine, “He was darling. You get to know these people vaguely. None of them became life-long friends, but actors are so charming, so dear.”

Elizabeth made the transition to television quite early, appearing in many westerns, including three “Wagon Trains”. “One of them (“St. Nicholas Story”) was directed by my friend, Bretsaigne Windust, who had directed me in ‘The Family’ on Broadway. He came to me one day and said, ‘I have the most marvelous scene I wrote for you. When you open the Christmas presents, you are going to sing ‘Silent Night’ in German.’ I said, ‘What?’ (Laughs) There was a German actor around who was playing an Indian. We’d get together and do it; practice it. I finally worked it up and it turned out to be an absolute triumph!”

James McCallion and Elizabeth Fraser in "Wagon Train: The John Gillman Story"{.On another excellent “Wagon Train: The John Gillman Story”, “Bobby Darin played a part. I absolutely fell in love. He was so good. I told him ‘You’re an awfully good actor.’ and he said, ‘Gee, thank you ma’am.’ (Laughs) Bobby Darin was just adorable.”

As for the series star, “Ward Bond was kind of a scary man. A very large man; very authoritative. He knew what he was doing. Bruce Cabot and Ward Bond were two actors who scared the hell out of me!”

Fraser also guested on the highly popular “Rawhide” series. “Clint Eastwood, on the set, never said a word! I remember that so perfectly. He was just there—he never said ‘Hi,’ ‘Goodnight,’ nothing!”

As for “Gunsmoke,” “James Arness was very nice, but I was working so much in those days, going from one set to another, that I don’t recall much about that particular episode.”

Inquiring if she was friends with any other actors, Elizabeth is quick to note, “Bette Davis was a friend of mine. She was a friend of Whit Bissell’s who I was engaged to at one time. It was Whit who introduced me to Bette. This was some years later—over 20 years after I had been in her movie, ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’. I was doing ‘Great Day in the Morning’ on Broadway at the same time Bette was doing ‘Night of the Iguana’. We lived together for six months in her Brownstone home. She was marvelous, exciting. An incredible woman. Then, we had a small argument, and the friendship just frittered out. Bette Davis was the rudest person I have ever known in my life! (Laughs)” Elizabeth was the mother of three children (Patricia, Meg and Liza) from her marriage to actor Ray McDonald. “The kids were the best thing to come out of the marriage. We were married for seven years (‘44-‘51). After the divorce, he immediately married dancer Peggy Ryan, so I immediately married Charles Peck! However, this Charles Peck was not the actor who played Edith Fellows’ brother in the ‘Five Little Peppers’ series, but, he was in the industry.”

At 85, Elizabeth Fraser died May 5, 2005.

Elizabeth’s Western Filmography


Movies: Hills of Oklahoma (‘50 Republic)—Rex Allen; Callaway Went Thataway (‘51 MGM)—Howard Keel; Way West (‘67 U.A)—Kirk Douglas/Robert Mitchum; Ballad of Josie (‘68 Universal)—Doris Day. TV: Wagon Train: St. Nicholas Story (‘59); Wagon Train: Eli Bancroft Story (‘63); Wagon Train: John Gillman Story (‘64); Rawhide: Clash at Broken Bluff (‘65): Gunsmoke: Which Dr. (‘66).

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