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Lisa Gaye.LISA GAYE

The gorgeous 34-23½-36" star of innumerable movies and TV shows of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Lisa Gaye, was born in Denver, CO, March 6, 1935. The youngest of three actress-sisters (Teala Loring and Debra Paget being her older siblings; kid sister Meg was a non-professional), the future star came to California with her family, when sister Teala received a Paramount contract and the name Judith Gibson. There were so many TV shows Lisa appeared on, it’s a wonder she was able to watch them all. “But I did—at least on the first run; in fact, on a local channel here in Houston, they still run ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ and ‘Wild, Wild West’.”

One of her television co-stars was Steve McQueen, with whom she appeared in “Wanted Dead or Alive”. “I loved working with him; he was generous and professional. He gave so much. Of course he was high strung and pressed to the edge a little. We were shooting on the back lot and he asked me if I’d like a ride back to the soundstage, on his motorcycle. So I certainly said ‘Sure.’ I made a big mistake by getting on his motorcycle. We went all over that lot, and not at a slow pace! He didn’t slow down—he was always on the cutting edge. We zoomed right up to the soundstage where the doors were closed. He had it arranged that someone inside would open them at the last minute; but I thought we were goners for sure. After that ride, I said, ‘Thank you,’ and never rode with him again. (Laughs)”

As to a preference in working with other actors, Lisa is quick to explain, “Each is different. I am a people person and got along great with everyone—except a couple of the directors, who were harsh. You spend so much time together, everyone pulls together like a team; there was no time for temperament on TV shows. I worked quite often with Michael Connors, when he was known as ‘Touch’. One day he told my husband, ‘Ben, I spend as much time with your wife as you do!’”

In between all those Westerns, there was “Rock Around the Clock” (‘56), in which Lisa danced fabulously. “Dancing was my first love; I planned to go on and do ballet. But, I was seen in a play—this resulted in a screen test and I was placed under contract to Universal-International when I was only 17! My first part was as one of the screaming crowd who surround James Stewart and June Allyson as they get out of their car in ‘The Glenn Miller Story.’ My screen test was elaborate—they put all kinds of money into it. They had a new color film they wanted to try out, so I did singing and dancing as well as acting. Earl Barton, who danced with me in ‘Rock Around the Clock’, danced with me in the test! Universal-International was the only studio, at that time, where you were given lessons in drama, singing, dancing, fencing, horseback riding. It was awesome…and you got paid to learn! At the time I was there, they had 65 contract players—Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Julie Adams, David Janssen, Richard Long, the list is endless. I was contracted to be a back up for Yvonne De Carlo; Race Gentry was supposedly Rock Hudson’s backup, but I could never see it. (Laughs) I played a harem girl (like Yvonne often did) in ‘Yankee Pasha’.”

Lisa with Richard Boone.Lisa also performed a very seductive Greek dance in the “Have Gun Will Travel” episode “Helen of Abajinian” (for which Gene Roddenberry won a Writer’s Guild award).

Asked about acting and any technique she may have, Lisa states, “I just did it. It wasn’t hard to memorize lines; it all was just a lot of fun. I was always happy to be working—but I didn’t like to do the publicity. Give me a script and I’m happy.”

The star was also able to play a wide range of parts. “I developed a lot of accents; I was in a lot of plays when I was a child; that helped a lot. Also, the idea to give each sister a different screen name was my mother’s—she wanted names that were good for the marquee.”

 About any favorite directors, the answer comes as a surprise: “Robert Cummings! I played Colette DuBois on ‘The Bob Cummings Show’, or ‘Love That Bob’ as it later became. Bob not only starred and played a couple of parts (photographer Bob Collins and Grandpa Collins), but he often directed as well. He was great! He was also a friend. He had terrific timing for comedy; he understood comedy. He knew what he wanted and sometimes there would be take after take until he got it. He taught me a lot! I replaced Lori Nelson in the last 13 episodes of ‘How to Marry A Millionaire’, at Fox. You paid your dues on TV; often there was no makeup nor hairdresser—you did it yourself! But it was great training. The first show I did after Universal was ‘Annie Oakley’, with Gail Davis.”

Being in so many Westerns, riding was a must. Asked if she knew how to ride before Universal, the answer was, “Yes. Thanks to my mother. My brother Frank (Griffin) wanted a car, but my mother didn’t want him to have one at his young age. So, she compromised and bought a horse. We are a big family, and I learned to ride on Frank’s horse! It was that simple. We rode up in the Hollywood Hills.”

Concerning her lone big-screen Western co-star, Audie Murphy, who gave so many co-stars trouble, Lisa states, “He was a gentleman—always! Friendly. Of course, I was still a teenager when we worked together, but he was very nice, very protective of me. Audie was like a big brother to me. He took care of me. Watched out for me. I was the only girl there besides the script girl. I received some lusty looks from some of the men, but I always handled myself where they knew not to put the make on me. It’s how you handle it yourself. I had an attitude and I knew to ‘always be aware of what goes on around you’. They knew I was a lady—they may have looked, but they didn’t touch or say anything. If they had, Audie would have come to my rescue. Another cast member in ‘Drums Across the River’ was Walter Brennan…he was a sweetheart, like a Daddy to me.”

Lisa visits a jailed Audie Murphy in Universal's "Drums Across the River" ('54).

When queried about any accidents that may have occurred, especially in regards to her frequent on-screen bouts with men who slapped her around, Lisa recalls,“Only one time did I get hurt, and it was my fault! I missed my mark on one of those ‘Death Valley Days’ (“A General Without Cause”). I couldn’t bring myself to stop and we made contact. I was a half a step too close and was backhanded in the mouth by Jack Elam, who was very upset about it, especially since my lip bled! Jack had tears in his eyes! He kept apologizing and I kept saying it was alright—it was my fault, not his—I overstepped my mark. We had rehearsed and rehearsed. I was to run up to him—and he was to backhand me. I usually line myself up with a bush or something to find a mark—I was half a step past and when he went to swing his arm back—well, there was a great reaction in that shot! (Laughs) My lip only bled a little bit—but Jack was such a sweet man about it.”

A traitorous Lisa Gaye holds Robert Conrad as James West and Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon captive in "Wild Wild West: Night of the Falcon" ('67).Regarding any other accidents, Lisa recalls a “Wild, Wild West” with a falcon (“The Night of the Falcon”). “In preproduction they told me they wanted me to ride and be on horseback with the falcon simultaneous-ly. I told them I’ll either ride the horse or be with the falcon, but not both. So, my stunt double had to work with the bird. Well, the falcon was a problem. It screeched, the horse reared up—and the stunt girl fell off the horse near the cliff! That falcon also attacked his trainer—chewed his face, but I didn’t know about it until later. I just had a gut feeling about it. I love birds—but if I had done the riding shot with the falcon, I’d probably have gone over the cliff! (Laughs) I later did the closeup with the bird; they sat me on a high ladder so it would look like I was up on a horse. I noticed its trainer—he looked like raw meat. His face was solid stitches—I thought he’d gone through the windshield of a car! After I did the scene, they told me the falcon had attacked him and chewed him up! God watched over me during that time! On ‘Wild, Wild West’, you had to play it tongue-in-cheek. It couldn’t be any other way! Yet, Robert Duvall tried to look serious. He was a really nice man; I always thought he was wonderful. It’s nice when someone like that makes it big. Lots of the Universal guys did—Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson—they are icons!”

Lisa with Clint Walker.We asked Lisa who she felt best portrayed a cowboy. “Clint Walker! I did two ‘Cheyenne’s with him, and I did his screen test when he was signed at Universal. He was Chet back then, but he didn’t stay long. He is big, slow speaking and easy going—he settled into the saddle better than anybody else. Clint was always after me to quit smoking (Laughs), but he failed. I have since quit myself. Incidentally, Clint Eastwood was another Universal alumni. I did his reading at Universal as well. His hair stood up like five fingers—a cowlick. He is a sweet guy to work with. I did do ‘Zorro’ with Guy Williams, but he was going out as I was going in (to Universal); I never knew him too well. Jack Kelly and I did a ‘Maverick’. We were both at Universal where, at one time, he had his leg in a cast and had to walk with a cane and I had a back brace. On Tuesday or Wednesday, the studio would show us classic movies and we’d have to break them down; critique them. Jack and I showed up with our casts! (Laughs) Jack broke his leg on a movie set. As for me, I was going to show Teala’s daughter what fun it is to do a backwards slide, down a slide! (Laughs) I went ‘Whoopee’ and slid onto the cement of a badminton court! I hit and cracked the lumbar of my back. The doctor said I could either be in a body cast for six months, or a brace for one year. I took the brace, even though it required daily heat and other treatments, because I would still be mobile. This was right after I signed with Universal. I was going to class, so it didn’t matter as much. Right after I got out of the brace, I did the picture with Audie—and still had muscle spasms because I had been in that brace for so long. The brace went from the back of the neck to the tailbone; it was rigid, but I could walk.”

Guy Williams as Don Diego, Lisa Gaye and John Dehner seem to enjoy Henry Calvin's (Sgt. Carcia) laughter in "The Fall of Monastario" episode of Walt Disney's "Zorro" ('58).

"What size are those boots, Pat?"--Lisa and Pat Conway in "Tombstone Territory".Regarding some of her other TV Western leading men: “Richard Boone was one of my favorites—he wanted me to go to New York to study with a drama coach—he was very generous; I never desired to be a star—I just loved to work. Marriage was my first priority—so I didn’t go.”

Lisa guest starred on “Tombstone Territory”. “Pat Conway—poor Pat! I was terrible, kidding him about the size of his boots. He was a good sport; a good guy. ‘What size are those boots, Pat?’ (Laughs) Pat was a big, tall guy, and it was a running gag. We had fun; lots of laughter.”

Keith Larsen: “Doing a show in color like ‘Northwest Passage’ was big in those days. Keith is a sweet guy; Buddy Ebsen was also in that. We’d be cutting up—Buddy Ebsen, a wonderful entertainer—we’d start tap dancing in those period clothes!”

Keith Larsen as Major Rogers holds a knife to Indian girl Lisa Gaye on "Northwest Passage: Surprise Attack" ('58).

Peter Breck of “Black Saddle”: “Peter knew what he wanted even in those days—he was very professional, always thinking and concentrating on what he was doing.”

Wayde Preston “Colt .45”—“My goodness, he was very, very nice.”

Will Hutchins—“I loved him as an actor—he is a very handsome guy; ‘Sugarfoot’ was a great show. I adored it.”

Gene Barry—“I later danced in a ‘Burke’s Law’  set in a little Mexican town. But mostly, guest shots on that show were bits, so I only agreed to do one. On ‘Bat Masterson: Sharpshooter’, I was working with a mark shot sharpshooter, holding plates. I was rigged with wires so the rounds would explode around me. Gunpowder on the plate exploded. Well, the gun powder burned a hole in my leg—I didn’t say ‘Ouch’ because I didn’t want to spoil the shot—and have to do it again!”

The name Scott Brady results in a good anecdote. “They say a lot of things against Scott, but he looked out for me! A still-working character actor said something disparaging about me. He said it at the commissary—loudly, on purpose, so I could hear. When I went back to the set, the man who had said something came looking for me. ‘I need to apologize to you; I was set straight that you are a lady.’ Scott Brady, who had such nice blue orbs (eyes), had set him straight all right!”

In the late ‘60s, Lisa’s booming career seemed to have come to a halt. “There were shows I never did—‘Bonanza’, ‘Star Trek’, yet when I’d watch them on TV, I would say to myself ‘I could have done that!’ I did a ‘Paladin’ with Dan Blocker, but never a ‘Bonanza’; I did a pilot with long-time friend Leonard Nimoy—he and his wife always came to my New Year’s Eve party, yet never did his show. I couldn’t walk through the door at Paramount—so I changed agents. Then, it was like I never worked again! Incidentally, I did a pilot with Leonard (“Stranded” w/Richard Eagan, Julie Adams, Peter Graves, Karen Sharpe) that was done at the same time as the pilot for ‘Star Trek’. Had our show sold, he never would have had to put on those funny ears each week (Laughs) and become the superstar he did!”

Lisa plays an Indian girl on "Death Valley Days" in '65.Lisa appeared in “Death Valley Days” a total of nine times, more than any other actress. “I loved doing that show! I especially liked the fact the stories were all true! On one show, there was a plowing field—a Morgan horse had reins half way around my shoulders—rigged to the plow. They buried air-hoses under the soil. The horse spooked and kept going. When the man hit the air hose, the horse ran away. The rein didn’t break at first—when it should have—the horse kept dragging me, and my face got full of mud! My stunt double, a man, watched it all on the bus. (Laughs) There was a wrangler who was supposed to catch the horse when it was spooked—but that horse ran over the wrangler—and the wrangler’s horse!”

At one time, Dale Robertson was the host of “Death Valley Days.” “Dale is a friend of the family. He is like a big brother to me. Dale worked with Debbie in ‘Gambler From Natchez’. Dale and I did a couple of his ‘Tales of Wells Fargo’ shows. He also did a ‘Death Valley Days’ with me. Most of the ‘Death Valley Days’ were filmed in Kanab, Utah, but one, ‘The Captain Dick Mine’, was done in Gallup, N.M. We stayed at the El Rancho, a very famous hotel whose rooms were named after various celebrities who had stayed there. In the episode, they shimmied me up the mountainside. As for myself, I fear nothing, but this big old rock had a crack on it! When I saw the show, it could have been anybody on that rock. It was like looking at two sticks the camera was so far away! The things I did—I really was kind of dumb! In that particular show, I played an Indian girl who tries to find a gold mine while avenging my husband’s death! When I was in the Indian outfit and makeup, I needed to go to town to see the woman who made the costumes. The driver pulled up, and there were some real Indians hanging around. They said,‘Ya-Ta-Hay. Ya-Ta-Hay.’ (Laughs) The words mean whatever you want them to mean. The driver was hysterical—they were making a pass! They wanted to know who this squaw woman was!”

Asked about her life today, Lisa reveals, “I married Ben Ware in 1955. He passed away in ‘79. I have one daughter and six grandchildren. I first came to Houston to help house sit for Debbie, who travels frequently. I later became a receptionist at Channel 14, the local religious TV station. I was there 19 years, but am now retired. I’m very much involved with the Church of Evangelistic Temple; I sing in the choir and occasionally sing in a trio—but never solo. I like living in Houston, it’s quite different from L.A. Here, most people seem to drive a truck, and they don’t always wait for an off-ramp. They make their own ramps and veer off the freeway (Laughs).  I do miss the ocean; the gulf is just not the same. But I enjoy it here in Houston, it’s a nice place to live.”

Lisa’s Western Filmography


Movies: Drums Across the River (‘54 Universal-Int’l.)—Audie Murphy. TV: Annie Oakley: Annie and the Lacemaker (‘56); Jim Bowie: Trapline (‘56); Jim Bowie: Spanish Intrigue (‘57); Have Gun Will Travel: Helen of Abajinian (‘57); Have Gun Will Travel: Gun Shy (‘58); Zorro: Fall of Monasterio (‘58); Tombstone Territory: Tin Gunman (‘58); Northwest Passage: Gunsmith (‘58); Northwest Passage: Surprise Attack (‘58); Californians: Man Who Owned San Francisco (‘58); Tombstone Territory: Grave Near Tombstone (‘59); Black Saddle: Client: McQueen (‘59); Bat Masterson: Sharpshooter (‘59); Bat Masterson: Buffalo Kill (‘59); Colt .45: Law West of the Pecos (‘59); Sugarfoot: Trial of the Canary Kid (‘59); Pony Express: Peace Offering (‘59); Cheyenne: Outcasts of Cripple Creek (‘60); Cheyenne: Counterfeit Gun (‘60); Death Valley Days: Million Dollar Pants (‘60); U.S. Marshal: Backfire (‘60); Wanted Dead or Alive: Journey For Josh (‘60); Rawhide: Incident of the Slavemaster (‘60); Bat Masterson: Fatal Garment (‘61); Death Valley Days: A General Without Cause (‘61); Maverick: State of Siege (‘61); Shotgun Slade: Friends No More (‘61); Wagon Train: Tiburcio Mendez Story (‘61); Tales of Wells Fargo: Dowry (‘61); Tales of Wells Fargo: Kelly’s Clover Girls (‘61); Laramie: Perfect Gift (‘62); Bronco: One Evening in Abilene (‘62); Death Valley Days: Other White Man (‘64); Death Valley Days: Captain Dick Mine (‘65); Death Valley Days: The Rider (‘65); Wild Wild West: Night of the Skulls (‘66); Death Valley Days: Gypsy (‘67); Wild Wild West: Night of the Falcon (‘67); Death Valley Days: Other Side of the Mountain (‘68); Death Valley Days: Lottie’s Legacy (‘68); Death Valley Days: Tracy’s Triumph (‘69).

 

 

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