The gorgeous wife of Danny Thomas on “Make Room for Daddy”, Marjorie Lord, was born July 26 (the year she prefers kept secret, reportedly 1918), in San Francisco, CA. “I always wanted to act, and was very well prepared when I was given a role, on Broadway, in ‘The Old Maid’. I went on tour with the show, thus we fibbed about my age, adding two years. This was so no teacher would be required. My mother accompanied me, and it all worked out fine. I replaced a girl who was 10 years older than me.”
It wasn’t long before the future TV superstar was signed to a contract at RKO-Radio. “I did several pictures there. ‘Border Cafe’ was my first; we filmed it on location part of the time. The locations for most of these pictures were out in the valley, near Ventura County. In fact, we sometimes used land Joel McCrea owned.” Regarding top billed Harry Carey, “A lovely man, I later met his wife, Olive, they were well liked. He was a terrific man to work with.” As for co-star John Beal, “It’s funny but I never saw him on Broadway—but in Hollywood, he lived near my house. He and his wife were a devoted couple. He was a slightly built, gentle, sweet guy but we weren’t close friends.” Watching the film recently, Marjorie was shocked, “It wasn’t well photographed; but Harry Carey was a wonderful actor.” One man she really likes is J. Carrol Naish, who was in “Border Cafe”. “I looked to him. I was young and he protected me from an aggressive director, Richard Rosson (‘Hideaway’) who was after me. Naish was fatherly—treated me like I was his daughter. Rosson took me in his fancy car; he drove 100 miles an hour and scared me to death.”
At RKO, Marjorie worked in more than one picture with character player Bob McKenzie, father of actress Fay McKenzie. “A very nice man. During the war, I became quite close to his daughter, Fay. We met at the Hollywood Canteen, both of us were dancing with soldiers there. We discovered we went to the same church and lived close to one another. Her family had a big piece of land in the valley. The city bought it and now part of it is a freeway. (Laughs) We still speak on the phone a couple of times a week, and see each other whenever we can.”
About Fay’s biggest “mistake”, husband Steve Cochran, Marjorie remarks, “Steve never went to church, but one time he came and tried to get me to go to lunch with him. My mother and dad were there. He didn’t succeed. He did keep getting Fay to come back to him, until she finally went to a relative’s house in the midwest and got a divorce.
Marjorie’s early marriage to actor John Archer occurred between two studio contracts. “I was doing a play, ‘Springtime for Henry’; Henry Koster saw it and signed me to a contract at Universal, where he planned to star me in a big picture, ‘Love and Kisses, Caroline’, which was released as ‘Between Us Girls’. But Diana Barrymore had just come to Universal and the Barrymore name got her the part instead. I did several pictures and a serial (‘Smilin’ Jack’) in the short year or so I was under contract.”
A good film, a musical comedy with Allan Jones and Jane Frazee, was “Moonlight in Havana” (‘42). “Don Terry was in it. We also did ‘Escape From Hong Kong’ together. Don Terry was a typical actor. Ego! He didn’t appeal to me too much. I was tested for an Abbott and Costello picture, ‘Who Done It’ (‘42), but they gave it to Louise Allbritton. I thought they didn’t like me in ‘Moonlight in Havana’, but now I see it was only the fact I was too young at the time. I wasn’t the pushy mature type that Louise played so well in the film.”
“Timber” was made in ‘42 with “…Andy Devine—I adored him! I ran into him many times after ‘Escape From Hong Kong’ and ‘Timber’; but Leo Carrillo was a big flirt—very flirty! I was afraid of Leo. He never gave me trouble, he knew I was young, but he was Mr. California—he flirted with everybody! I saw Andy through the years—he would follow me in dinner theaters, or I would follow him. My second husband, Randy Hale, and Andy were both members of the Bohemian Club. Andy was cute with me, joking with me, teasing me. Dan Dailey was still using the name Dan Dailey Jr. when ‘Timber’ was shot. He was kind of distracted at the time—he was going in the Army.”
Marjorie left Universal in ‘43. “They refused to give me the big salary increase I was due, so I went to Republic and did a second film with my husband, John Archer, ‘Shantytown’. The first one we did was ‘Sherlock Holmes in Washington’.” Regarding that marriage to John Archer, Marjorie found him a “womanizer and an alcoholic” and states he didn’t support her or the children, forcing her to work to support them. “John used to use cigarette holders—someone told him it would reduce the nicotine, but he was a pretty good drunk. John had to have a drink—his second wife said he had the demon all his life. He did drink wine at the end—but he never accepted the fact he was an alcoholic, even though it almost killed him several times.”
In 1949 Marjorie co-starred in Tim Holt’s “Masked Raiders”. “(Director) Les Selander interviewed me—to see if I could look like a boy from behind. (Laughs) Also that I could ride a horse. I rode in school—but western saddle is a little different from Eastern saddle. My trouble was trying to get my foot on the stirrup before the horse left! (Laughs) Selander was a dignified looking, nice guy. I watched it twice this week, and thought it a very good film. It was shot fast in the spring, late April to early May, 1949, up at the Garner Ranch near Idyllwild. Because of the fast schedule, I didn’t get to know Tim Holt that well, but he was a fine actor who seemed to easily go between big ‘A’ pictures to these well-done westerns. The main thing I remember is the sequence when Tim and I fight and roll down a little hill. Well, a herd of cattle had just gone by, before that sequence was shot—so my most vivid memory is that of rolling around in cow manure with Tim Holt! (Laughs) Gary Gray played my little brother. Again, I didn’t get to know Gary that well personally, he was in school half the day, just as Rusty Hamer and Angela Cartwright were, later on, when I did the ‘Make Room for Daddy’ TV series. So, it was off to class for Gary. But, I already knew who Gary was before we did the film—he was the little boy in ‘Rachel and the Stranger’ and he had done other good things. I thought Gary was a fine little actor. I am allergic to hay, and on ‘Masked Raiders’ I sneezed the first day, then I was fine the rest of the time. I was determined not to sneeze during that film.”
Clayton Moore had a small role in ‘Masked Raiders’; a year later I guested on his ‘Lone Ranger’ TV series. When he went on strike for more money, he reverted to small roles—and had a part in ‘Down Laredo Way’. The photography in some (TV series) wasn’t very good. ‘The Lone Ranger’ had better photography than the others. But I loved being in them.” As for Clayton Moore, “He was an oddball—and we worked together often, but I didn’t get friendly with him. He’d go off on his own, and do whatever. There were always new people coming in all the time—you don’t spend time with them, unless you knew them before. You just didn’t get close, there was no time to play games. Those you knew, like those on the Danny Thomas Show, were like family. On one ‘Lone Ranger’ episode, Craig Stevens was the guest, and he was a nice guy you adored to meet.”
I liked ‘Masked Raiders’, but some of the others I would like to bury! (Laughs) I did them to make money. They were not bad, and I was the heavy in one—Rex Allen’s ‘Down Laredo Way’. Dona Drake was great. I was yuck! (Laughs) I did scenes with Rex Allen—period. It was Dona Drake who pursued our friendship. I was separated from John Archer, and Dona kept trying to fix me up with somebody, (laughs) one of the guys who was an alcoholic. I had been through that with John, so it was only two dates with that guy. Dona was friendly. She came over to my house around Christmas time with a check. ‘You must buy your children some Christmas presents.’ It was at the roughest of times for me. But I told her, ‘You keep it,’ but she insisted I keep it. By golly, I got a TV show that paid the expenses so I sent her the check back. Dona was married to the fashion designer, Travilla, and she was an epileptic. So, I became her chauffeur, I drove her everywhere—she couldn’t drive because of her condition. We were close friends, but then I went back east to do another play.”
Wild Bill Elliott was the star of “Rebel City”. “He was nice. I remember better the ones who weren’t nice! But Bill seemed to be a nice guy. If I was not in a scene, I wasn’t called to the set. I thought, when I watched it recently, ‘When am I coming back into this?’ (Laughs) I took these pictures and TV shows because my children were not being supported—I had to earn money. Plus, I love acting—I always have.” The mother of two, with herself and children to support, Marjorie was ‘forced’ to accept television assignments. “The studios were in trouble, and they didn’t want you to act on the ‘enemy’, television, but I had a living to earn.
Marjorie guested on an episode of “Hopalong Cassidy”. “I was nasty in that one. I knew William Boyd only to say hello. I later ran into him and his wife, Grace Bradley, in Paris—he was a nice looking man and they were a nice couple.”
On “Kit Carson”, the star was Bill Williams. “He was married to Barbara Hale, and I used to see her a lot. In that one John Cason hits me—and hard. It was uncalled for. He was quite tough on me—he hit me unnecessarily.”
As for “Zane Grey Theatre”, “John Forsythe was a nice person, a decent person, there was never any scandal involving him. He and his wife were married many, many years.”
Marjorie’s last western was “Wagon Train: The Willy Moran Story”. “Ernest Borgnine, who had just won the Oscar for ‘Marty’, played Willy. This was the very first show and it was something special, but it caused an uproar because of me. I had done four or five of the ‘Make Room for Daddy’ shows, and ‘Wagon Train’ didn’t have a sponsor. They were afraid whoever did sponsor the show might be a competitor to one of Danny’s sponsors. This didn’t happen, but it was touch and go for awhile. There’s a scene that is not in the show…it was scary. I was a widow with two kids, and they put us in a ditch-like place—it was very dirty. Horses ran by at full speed—it looked like we were being trampled by those horses. Then we learned the ditch was too dark—they didn’t light it too well. They didn’t make us shoot it over, thank goodness! (Laughs). Remember my hay allergies? We were working in a hay field and I sneezed my way through most of it. (Laughs) Asked about Ward Bond, and Beverly Washburn’s recollections regarding his profanity with a welfare worker threatening to shut down the set…“That was probably true. I didn’t witness it—I was probably having my nose powdered. Ward was a tough guy, but very sweet.”
The non-western “Ramar of the Jungle” is another series on which Marjorie appeared. “There was a scene in it that was shot much more differently than it would be today. I am to take a shower behind a curtain, and you could kind of see through. They gave me a body suit—beige—for the shower scene. Well, the word got around—I looked nude but wasn’t—and everybody on the Goldwyn lot was on the set the day it was shot. I was horrified! (Laughs) Today, they’d have shown everything, but not in my day. Today it would be nude and no curtains! ‘Ramar’ was a tough show for Jon Hall. He was full of action, alright, but not too attractive. There was something about him that I didn’t care for. Some men are great; some other men, forget it. Jon Hall also had a reputation, so I avoided him.”
As for egos, “I learned to never compete with egos—you nourished them. I didn’t do a ‘Wyatt Earp’, but I did do a play with Hugh O’Brian. It was ‘Cactus Flower’ and I had 90 pages to learn—fast. Hugh had a reputation, but also he had a stipulation he never broke—he only slept with single women. So, he left me alone. (Laughs)”
Another program Marjorie didn’t do was “Tombstone Territory”. The importance of “Tombstone Territory” is series co-star Richard Eastham. “Richard and his wife became good friends of mine years ago. He has a great singing voice and even did the Enzio Pinza role in ‘South Pacific’ many times. I don’t think many people realize he has that talent. Richard was just like my brother. He was there for me when I lost my husband. (Eastham died at 89 in 2005.) I also did live television programs such as ‘Schlitz Playhouse’ and ‘Climax’. Being a trained stage actress, the producers wanted someone like me for these shows. When I was at Universal I had a small role in ‘Flesh and Fantasy’ (‘43) that starred, among others, Edward G. Robinson. We had no scenes together in that, but then, on December 9, 1954, we were on live in the ‘Climax’ episode ‘Epitaph for a Spy’. It was a murder mystery and, during rehearsals, the actor Melville Cooper went up on his lines. It drove Robinson insane. He wanted Cooper replaced. This was live TV so it was impossible to get a replacement in such a short time. Come broadcast time, Melville Cooper was perfect; it was Edward G. Robinson who blew-up his lines! (Laughs) It was Cooper who got him back on track, but by the time it happened, time had run out—and the show wasn’t finished. The audience never did find out whodunit. (Laughs)”
Another ‘Flesh and Fantasy’ cast member was Thomas Mitchell. “We later did a ‘Ford Theatre: Shadow of Truth’. Thomas Mitchell was always trying to steal scenes. (Laughs)”
About westerns, Marjorie proclaims, “I love them! When I get so sick of all these new movies with sex and violence, I put on a western and watch it. They are moral, with good overcoming bad at the end. There is violence in them, but not like today. When I did ‘Johnny Come Lately’ (‘43), which is more of a period picture than a western, there was a scene where someone was killed. He fell face up. The Hays Office did not approve, and they had to go back and reshoot it—with his face down. I thought people were more real back then—we were trained to speak distinctly and not let our last words be clipped off. On the stage, you had to be able to be heard on the back row of the balcony—loud and clear. Today, everybody mumbles and clips off their words—you have trouble hearing the dialogue. On the stage today they wear microphones—and they clip their words. I like the old movies. They leave you feeling good.”
Marjorie’s Western Filmography
Movies: Border Cafe (‘37 RKO)—Harry Carey; Timber (‘42 Universal)—Dan Dailey; Masked Raiders (‘49 RKO)—Tim Holt; Down Laredo Way (‘53 Republic)—Rex Allen; Rebel City (‘53 Allied Artists)—Bill Elliott. TV: Lone Ranger: Bullets For Ballots (‘50); Adventures of Kit Carson: Return of Trigger Dawson (‘51); Hopalong Cassidy: Tricky Fingers (‘54); Lone Ranger: Law Lady (‘55); Zane Grey Theatre: Decision at Wilson’s Creek (‘57); Wagon Train: Willy Moran Story (‘57). Serial: Adventures of Smilin’ Jack (‘43 Universal)—Tom Brown.