The beautiful star of such ‘50s Science Fiction classics as “This Island Earth” and “It Came From Beneath The Sea”, Faith Domergue, counts as her favorite films two westerns—the 1955 Republic Trucolor “Santa Fe Passage” and a “Bonanza” episode, “The Lonely House” (‘61).
Born in New Orleans, Faith’s family moved to California when she was barely two years of age. “My father taught me to ride horses when I was very young. I always loved the westerns because I got to be outside and, of course, ride which I could do side-saddle as well.”
Signed to a studio contract at Warner Brothers when only 15, Faith soon switched to Howard Hughes (thus RKO) who bought her Warners contract. Debuting in a small role in ‘46’s “Young Widow”, it was “Vendetta” (eventually released in ‘50) that brought her public notice.
Marrying, and baring two children, she was left to sit out her RKO contract until finally allowed to do a loan-out picture at Universal, “Duel at Silver Creek”, with Audie Murphy. “There were no far-away locations on that one—nothing except Vasquez Rocks! There was one scene, where the posse is chasing us... my horse slipped—almost went down—but luckily it got back up, or else I would have been run over by all those people following us! As a result, the studio said I could no longer do my own stunts! They complained about all the costs, time, trouble there would be if they had to reshoot—they didn’t seem to care about me at all!”
Although many people state Audie Murphy wasn’t that warm a person, Domergue has to disagree. “He was terrific. One day he asked my advice about a kitchen appliance he was going to purchase for his new wife. Although I am not domestic, I gave him my opinion, and he was very pleased. Susan Cabot was his girlfriend in the picture, but when we were making it, she was on the ‘outside’, as Audie and I became great chums.”
Finally obtaining her release from RKO, Faith almost immediately signed a two-picture-per-year pact with Universal-International. “My first film was ‘The Great Sioux Uprising’ (‘53) with Jeff Chandler. We were on location in Pendelton, OR, where they had the Yumatilla Indians, not the Sioux tribe. These people were into harvesting winter wheat, and they knew nothing of horses, like the Sioux did. In fact (laughs), they kept falling off! There was an ambulance standing by because these poor Indians who wanted to be in the movie, simply couldn’t ride a horse!”
Queried about “Santa Fe Passage”, “Oh yes, that was lots of fun to do. John Payne was a great big guy, so handsome. His wife Sandy and I had known each other since the late ‘40s when my husband and I were in Buenos Aires. The location work was done at St. George, UT. Sandy came up and we had a great time. We were there so long, in fact, that we turned golden red from all the dust! I saw the film again recently, and I still consider it my favorite feature.”
“There was a little hassle when we returned to do the interiors—I owed Universal some pictures, and they put me into ‘Cult of the Cobra’; which was already in production. I went over to Universal on my lunch hours to prepare for ‘Cobra’, while completing ‘Santa Fe’ at Republic the rest of the time. The inter-racial theme—I was a half breed who falls in love with Indian-hating John Payne—couldn’t be used today, but it worked very well then, and there were no problems with the public, due to its theme.”
Her next-to-final western feature, “Escort West”, starred Victor Mature. “He is a big, clumsy man with the most enormous hands I ever saw. We shot it mostly at a studio—even the campfire scenes were done inside, but there was an occasional location somewhere in the upper part of Malibu. You know, many of my leading men were tall—because I’m tall. Rod Cameron (also in ‘Santa Fe Passage’) and Jocko Mahoney (‘California’, ‘63) were probably the tallest. However, there are exceptions like Kenneth Tobey. I wore flats when Kenneth and I worked together (“It Came From Beneath The Sea”) and I don’t think he was very pleased about it, but I am fairly tall!”
Although not satisfied with her career as a whole— “I took what came along—I had two children, no support from my ex-husband, and there were bills to pay.”
“I did about every western TV series that WB produced. When I did a ‘Bronco’, directed by Reginald Le Borg, I found him crabby—and he was still a grouch 15 years later when we did ‘Psycho Sisters’. But the worst experience of all was on a ‘Sugarfoot’ with Will Hutchins (‘The Vultures’). There was this mean Polish director—I cannot recall his name. (Josef Leytes - ed.) He was so dramatic—he got us way behind schedule... always fussing at me. I wonder if Will remembers the incident? I don’t think that director ever worked again—at least not in America. The pleasant part of it was I got to ride Will’s copper-colored horse, Penny. I rode her on every TV western after that! The wranglers were so nice, they’d say, ‘Give her anything—she can ride!’ I would always pick Penny, if she wasn’t shooting.”
In regard to an episode of “Tall Man: Rovin’ Gambler”, in which Faith played Kate Elder, Faith smiled, “Robert Lansing, who played Doc Holliday, was very charming and helpful. A good actor. He was quiet but excellent. Amazingly, I was not injured during the filming of this one. Originally, I had a wonderful song to sing, ‘Down a Lonely Road’. It was the only time I was ever allowed to sing on film. I wore a beautiful dress that had been designed for me almost ten years earlier, when I did ‘Duel at Silver Creek’ at Universal. Apparently, the big budget clothes are recycled for the small budget TV programs.”
Faith was required to act drunk in several scenes, “The role was exceedingly difficult. I never drink anything but wine, so hard liquor and its effects are foreign to me. Director Bill Witney and I worked out the scene where I got on my knees—begging Robert Lansing to take me with him and not shoot it out with Barry Sullivan. This was difficult, hard for me, contrary to my own personality. I didn’t like the performance overall, but Barry Sullivan came up after the scene and said ‘That’s pretty good.’ Then, in a lower voice, he proclaimed ‘If you like that kind of acting.’ He had a wicked, mean Irish humor.”
Two “Bonanza” episodes are especially memorable to Faith. “The second one I did (‘The Campaneros’, broadcast 4/19/64) was filming when President Kennedy was assassinated. Naturally, the whole set was hovered with sadness. We laid off several days until after the funeral. But my most favorite show of all time was that other ‘Bonanza’, ‘The Lonely House’ (10/15/61) with poor Little Joe (Michael Landon) who’s now gone. It was directed by William Witney, who directed ‘Santa Fe Passage’, and I consider it the best acting I’ve ever done.”
Faith’s Western Filmography
Movies: Duel at Silver Creek (‘52 Universal-International)—Audie Murphy; Great Sioux Uprising (‘53 Universal-International)—Jeff Chandler; Santa Fe Passage (‘55 Republic)—John Payne; Escort West (‘59 United Artists)—Victor Mature; California (‘63 American International)—Jock Mahoney. TV: Rifleman: The Marshal (‘58); Sugarfoot: The Vultures (‘59); Cheyenne: Rebellion (‘59;) State Trooper: Pistols For Two (‘59); State Trooper: So Early In the Morning (‘59); Colt .45: Breakthrough (‘60); Bronco: La Rubia (‘60); Rifleman: Death Trap (‘61); Tall Man: Rovin’ Gambler (‘61); Tales of Wells Fargo: Jealous Man (‘61); Bonanza: Lonely House (‘61); Have Gun Will Travel: Beau Beste(‘62); Have Gun Will Travel: Black Bull (‘63); Bonanza: Campaneros (‘64).