Bubbly, vivacious Olive Sturgess, born October 8, 1933, in Ocean Falls, B.C., Canada, smiles, “I am only 5'2" tall; which reminds me of the ‘Wagon Train’ I did with Mickey Rooney. (“Wagons Ho!”, the fourth season opener.) I had to take my shoes off so I’d look shorter than Mickey in the marriage scene. I had low heels but was still taller than him. As for the kissing scene, it wasn’t much of a kiss—he gave a funny look at the camera which I didn’t know until I later saw the show. Imagine, being able to work with Mickey Rooney, the one and only! He’s such a professional. On the show, he was always doing his own thing—being with the director, that sort of thing. We didn’t socialize—Mickey was a bit distant from me. I wore the wedding gown Elizabeth Taylor had worn in ‘Father of the Bride’! I don’t know how many times the gown, which was beautiful, was recycled, but I got to wear it with very few alterations. It needed shortening only two inches!” The star of “Wagon Train”, Ward Bond, was “…hard to get to know, but good to work with.”
Of all the programs she appeared on, only one involved a bad accident, and it was “Wagon Train”. “I rolled down the hill in the scene where I’m to be picked up and lifted on a sling. They carried me up a hill, shot the scene as high as they could—then I fell off this stretcher or sling. I also got scratched on another show where I was driving horses. I pulled my arms—the stunt girl should have done the driving!”
In the mid-‘50s, Olive landed a contract with Universal-International. “Clint Eastwood was under contract to Universal at the same time I was. He even did my screen test with me. He told me he was going to be a western actor; he planned that, although we were doing different things at the studio while under contract; taking lessons in horseback riding, fencing, learning how to shoot guns, even voice and dancing lessons! All the things you learn as a contract player. So, when I went on to do westerns, I could do all that stuff! Clint wanted to be a western actor—and he really ended up being just that!”
One TV show Olive fondly recalls is “Sugarfoot”. “I had a mad crush on Will Hutchins. He was so handsome, so charming. I wonder why that show went off the air—it was good. Will is kind of like Henry Fonda in his way. It was a real treat to work with him. Myron Healey was also in the episode I did. He always seemed to play such a heavy—he was in lots of stuff I did.”
Another of the Warner Bros. westerns Olive guested on was “Cheyenne”. “People in those days weren’t vegetarians, but Clint Walker was! This 6'4" man would
Olive was one of the busiest actresses in Hollywood in the ‘60s. She recalls Richard Boone of “Have Gun Will Travel” “…was funny, different. He had large potholes in his face—such bad skin. I only had a very small role in the show, but I found ‘Paladin’ to be friendly and pleasant!”
The “Destry” TV series was an offshoot of the famous Max Brand movie western. “John Gavin later went into politics. He was interesting. Such a handsome man! John Abbott and Charlie Ruggles, two terrific character actors, were great with the comedy in this episode.”
“Bonanza” was “…the first of the night-time color westerns. The thing I remember most concerns Hoss—Dan Blocker. He had terrible language, foul language—it just came out! Michael Landon I had worked with before. He was very nice, but at this time, he seemed preoccupied. Of course, by then, he was a ‘star.’ Lorne Greene and I are both Canadians. Lorne was a very famous radio announcer in Canada before he came to the United States. He was very well known, so I knew him when I was a little girl.”
For “Tall Man”, which starred Barry Sullivan as Pat Garrett and Clu Gulager as Billy the Kid, Olive and Judy Nugent played tomboy sisters, May and June McBean, in three separate episodes. Old timer Andy Clyde was their father. There was talk of turning the McBean clan into a series, but the idea never came to fruition.
“My husband-to-be, Dale Anderson, would see me on the screen in this and other shows, like ‘Laramie’, that I did at Universal. This is because he’s a studio musician. When they’d do the ‘Tall Man’ themes, he’d play in the orchestra and there I’d be on the screen that projected the film as it was being scored!” Olive’s husband, musician Dale Anderson, “…played on the score for ‘Titanic’, did ‘The Dinah Shore Show’, ‘The Dean Martin Show’, all the John Williams movies and much more.
Clu Gulager was fun—he worked and planned the accent he used as Billy the Kid on ‘Tall Man’, that manner of speech. As for me, I was told I was a character actress—because I could do a variety of things, whatever they tossed my way.”
Olive dated Nick Adams casually a couple of times. “I did two episodes of his series, ‘The Rebel’. Nick and I had done two or three different shows before this. Nick took me to visit Natalie Wood, who was married at this time. I think Nick was in love with her. I had no idea Natalie would know me, even though I had done a lot of television, but she told me, ‘I think you’re one of the best actresses going right now. I wish I could be half as good as you.’ That was very gracious of her to say that! As for Nick, I thought he was very troubled. It was in the manner he had—that was the way he was in real life, always brooding—it was what was in style at the time and it was the way he was in person! When we went out, it was never on his motorcycle! That’s one trick he couldn’t pull on me. We always went in a car! Incidentally, Nick married Carol Nugent, Judy Nugent’s actress-sister. Another Judy was on one show, Judy Lewis, Loretta Young’s daughter by Clark Gable. People would say, ‘Shhss. Don’t tell anybody. Judy doesn’t even know this.’ But everybody else did.”
“The Rebel” is also special to Olive for another reason. “My nephew, Leonard Sturgess, played my baby on an episode called ‘The Pit’. When they said they needed a baby, I told them I could provide one. He was six months old at the time, so cute—he’d look at the ceiling, things like that. He cried when I showed him the video of it Boyd Magers recently sent me.”
“Maverick” was one of the biggest shows on TV when Olive guested. “Jack Kelly was another old friend from Universal, always busy. Such a good actor.”
“The Texan” is yet another of the many programs which guest starred Olive Sturgess. “Rory Calhoun was so nice—and regardless of what his wife Lita Baron said about him (claiming, during divorce proceedings, he slept with many women), he did not come on to me. Rory couldn’t have been nicer, a gentleman. He was flirtatious, but this was harmless fun. I always seemed to play ingénues, or somebody’s daughter or granddaughter. I often didn’t play the romantic type, so maybe that was it.”
For ABC’s “Lawman”, “Peggie Castle played an Amanda Blake ‘Miss Kitty’ type. As for Amanda, she was smoking all the time! She told me when she landed the ‘Gunsmoke’ series that she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it. Later, she was glad she did. She was a perfect Miss Kitty!”
“The Virginian” was the first 90-minute color western. “I like it because it was one of the first shows where I was 26 and not playing 16. I could finally play older parts!”
One of the last series Olive appeared on was “Wide Country” which starred Earl Holliman as rodeo rider Mitch Guthrie. “Earl Holliman is a special person. I stopped working when my daughter was born. Of course, my husband was still working, and when Earl would see him, he’d ask why I didn’t go back to work. I was up for ‘Flipper’ but I told them I didn’t want to go to Florida and leave my baby. Earl Holliman is such a good actor—a very down to earth person. That’s why he goes on and on!”
Reflecting upon her only western feature, “Requiem For A Gunfighter”, Olive tells us, “Rod Cameron was making sort of a comeback at this time. He was very gracious; very kind. You can see it in him in the scene when we are having dinner—his look. He was a professional. The director, Spencer Bennet, was so experienced in directing westerns. He wanted authenticity. The same can be said for producer Alex Gordon. He liked to use the old stars. He’d get all the wonderful mature actors, like Rod Cameron, together and make a good movie. Wasn’t it marvelous to see Tim McCoy? He had such dignity and poise when he rode. You felt strengthened and confident with people like that! Dick Jones played the gunfighter in ‘Requiem…’. He has the most marvelous laugh—I wish I could laugh like that. My very favorite movie, incidentally, is his ‘Pinocchio.’ I enjoyed knowing Alex Gordon. I was a newlywed and had never done anything but small parts in features—but a lot of TV. It was a grateful highlight when he cast me. The actors he chose were so equally balanced…Rod Cameron, Stephen McNally and the others. Mike Mazurki brought humor to the picture. With his cauliflower ear, his looks and attitude were like ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Mike was an innocent guy but a bad guy at the same time. Remember in the film the snake Mike had which he put in the saddlebag of Rod Cameron’s horse? It was a rubber snake, but he worked over and over until it looked real—putting it in the saddlebag. It was remarkable how he did that.”
In between westerns, Olive was involved in a rodeo. “I was Grand Marshal of the Rodeo in Whittier. I learned to ride on a single footer horse. However, the rodeo people gave me a cow roping horse. I was to lead it around the circle, going fast up into the middle, then stop. He was going so fast, I had to hold onto the horn of the saddle. The horse stopped so fast, he threw me over his neck while I was holding onto his mane! My mother was laughing so hard—my behind was showing! My bottom was in the air! To the whole audience! I managed to get back in the saddle, without ever touching the ground! The audience laughed, whistled, stomped and applauded.”
Reflecting on her illustrious career, Olive muses, “In those days they had good stories. Mary Tyler Moore said it exactly right. ‘Writing for television today is like writing shorthand. There’s no depth to anything.’ We used to have stories that had a beginning, middle and an end; that made you feel good after watching them. Not those terrible shallow shows of today. We had stories that were genuine; stories of the west done with humor or drama and romance. A good show you looked forward to seeing. You really felt good when you saw the TV shows of those days.”
Olive’s Western Filmography
Movies: Requiem For A Gunfighter (‘65 Embassy)—Rod Cameron.