LISA GAYE

A relatively unknown actor occasionally treats moviegoers to a performance so powerful that no matter who headlines the film, it’s the wild card that gets a major chunk of the buzz. Such was the case for Lisa Gaye in her career-defining role in the musical hit of 1956, Columbia’s “Rock Around the Clock”. The film, and its attendant media blitz, catapulted her into a household name around the world, earning her the sobriquet of “Rock ‘N Roll Queen”. It also showcased her widely acclaimed choreographic talent.

 

Lisa wasn’t a complete unknown when she joined Universal International in January 1953, as a contract player. She had an exceedingly famous older sister, the 20th Century Fox star, Debra Paget, who graced the pages of most movie magazines between 1950-57, which was her peak period. During this time, Lisa featured in quite a few of the Paget layouts, where she was often billed as Leslie, which, incidentally, was her real name. She had lived in her sister’s shadow far too long, and although basking in borrowed glory was nice, her own place in the sun was what she longed for.

 

Her entire family was christened, each with a different moniker. Her mother, stage and burlesque performer, Margaret Gibson, handpicked the fancy names: Names that would look appealing on a theatre marquee. Rounding off the other sibling members were sister, Teala Loring and brother Frank, known briefly as Ruell Shayne. Both Teala and Frank managed to secure several parts in films, but nothing of great consequence, that would bring them center stage. Frank, an exceedingly handsome guy in his heyday, had featured parts in Debra’s films: Love Me Tender and Omar Khayyam. Kid sister, Meg (Marcia Eloise) never followed in her family’s acting footsteps, though initially she did show signs of being bitten by the acting bug.

 

Leslie Gaye Griffin was born March 6, 1935, in Denver, Colorado. The family decided to move to Los Angeles, California, when Leslie and Debra were tots, after sister Teala won a Paramount contract. Since mother was a stage performer, every member in the family was put through the grind of training for a career in theatrics. All their waking moments were spent in a world of dance rehearsal, song rehearsal, memorizing scripts and the tricks of ad-libbing and double takes. The girls trained in soft shoe, tap, ballet and interpretative dancing, under the famous Berkhoff sisters. This was, perhaps, the reason why they both possessed figures to die for. The modern gowns, period pieces, swimsuits, and other figure-flattering outfits that they sported, showcased their hourglass figures to perfection. Their brand of preened perfection became the standard of beauty for a nation.

 

Leslie received her education at the Hollywood Professional School. She appeared in several plays like Joan D’Arc at the Coronet Theatre in a drama-student group, directed by Queenie Smith. But her only professional work before coming to the screen was at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre as one of the dancers in The Merry Wives of Windsor starring Charles Coburn.

 

Since sister, Debra was rapidly climbing the ladder of success at 20th Century Fox, getting Leslie tested at the same studio was a cakewalk. But their mother, Maggie was adamant that Leslie shouldn’t be under contract at the same studio as Debra. “Their resemblance to each other is so strong, having Leslie at the same studio would be a hindrance rather than a blessing to her career”, she exclaimed in an interview. When Leslie visited 20th Century with her mother, people, at the commissary, would come over and chat with her, mistaking her for Debra and requesting for an autograph. Even famed columnist, Sydney Skolsky once remarked in his column: “I thought I was seeing and hearing double yesterday when I spotted Debra Paget lunching with her younger sister Leslie Gaye. But don’t be thrown away by the difference in names, everyone in Debra’s house has a different moniker”. Being totally smitten by Leslie, I could never see that strong a resemblance. Still you could tell they were sisters.

 

According to press reports and magazine articles of the 50s, Leslie’s career in films was launched through Debra’s recommendation. Universal International, in the latter half of 1952, wanted to borrow Debra for the lead in the musical “Walking My Baby Back Home” with Donald O’Connor. When Debra’s home studio, 20th Century Fox, decided against loaning her to UI an hour before the interview, Debra suggested to UI casting officials to use the services of her kid sister instead, since Leslie too was a fabulous dancer and yearned to excel in musicals. This resulted in a test for Leslie. UI casting official, Bob Palmer, took one look at this strikingly beautiful girl and was impressed with what he saw. He then signed Leslie to a contract in January 1953. The lead role in Walking My Baby, however, went to the more established Janet Leigh. Losing the role did not dismay Leslie. She was more excited about getting a head start with a major studio. Under the UI contract, the studio also decided to change her name from Leslie to Lisa, though they did toy with the idea of naming her Lorna Gaye, which name she used for a few weeks. Officially, she became known as Lisa Gaye in 1954.

 

In 1954, when Lisa, Debra and Frank attended the premiere of ‘The Robe’ shutterbugs went into a frenzy. Lisa was resplendent in an off-the-shoulder white organza dress with red cummerbund and fox-fur stole. Debra was draped in a figure-hugging strapless classic gown of brocaded white lace over satin with fish tails and ermine fur coat. This was accentuated by a rhinestone choker and matching earrings. Every newspaper and movie magazine carried different shots of them, citing this outing as the premiere highlight that drew gasps of appreciation, with hordes of fans seeking autographs from Lisa and Debra. Lisa also graced the cover of the Chicago Tribune magazine in the same outfit. The inspiration stakes were at an all time high. The studio’s extensive campaigning also yielded several European covers for Lisa that included: Hafta [Turkish], De Lach [Danish], Lectuur Voor De Vrouw [Swedish], among others. In the USA and England, she was splashed on the covers of Picture Show, Fun, Real Romances, Soldier and Wurlitzer Spinette, piano sheet music.

 

Lisa trained constantly at the studio with dance lessons under the famous Kenny Williams, besides singing, fencing and horseback riding rounded off the protocol in preparation for her film debut. Part of the learning process included critiquing movies/plays, when performers would break down sequences and give their own take or interpretation of a role. Contract players were also put through language learning and tests in French and Spanish. UI spent $27,000/- on each aspiring actor for various tests. On three Technicolor tests alone, the studio shelled out $ 4000 to see how Lisa would photograph in that medium. Her initial UI test comprised sporting a glamorous gown with fur coat previously worn by star, Loretta Young and enacting a romantic scene with budding actor, Palmer Lee. This was followed by a comedy sequence from The Moon is Blue, playing a native girl in a scene from ‘Pearl of Paradise’, singing Too Young, and, of course, dancing. Although she had never dated a boy in her life, at 17, doing a romantic scene with the aspiring Palmer Lee seemed most natural before the camera. Movie Life magazine did a photo spread of the young couple in 1954 along with Piper Laurie and Richard Long titled “Luncheon at Laurie’s”

 

Subsequently, she appeared in several two-reelers that included: Hawaiian Nights [17 minutes] with Pinky Lee and Mamie Van Doren. Lisa in a sarong with all the curves in the right places was ideal eye-candy. In another two reeler, she danced with Earl Barton to the music of David Rose & His Orchestra. Other short-tests with John Saxon, Clint Eastwood, Richard Harrison, and a host of other young hopefuls, who were all signed to UI contracts, followed. UI two-reelers were usually shown in cinemas as preambles to feature films. These shorts served as introductory vehicles for future stars. Some of the biggest names to emerge from UI were Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, and Clint Eastwood who became film icons and, to a lesser degree, John Saxon, who made his debut in “Unguarded Moment” with Esther Williams. Saxon remembers Lisa fondly because she was the heroine with whom he shot his first screen test. True Romances in 1954 carried a picture of them in a torrid clinch with the backdrop of a barn of hay. Lisa in a peasant blouse and shoulder length hair looked almost a dead ringer of Debra Paget in ‘The Gambler from Natchez’.

 

Lisa made her film debut in 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story”, playing a bobby soxer seeking Miller’s [James Stewart] autograph in a crowd scene. Gorgeous as ever, she stood out from the rest of the screaming teens with her auburn hair and green eyes, thereby proving that even as wannabe, she was in a class apart. In her next technicolour outing, she was part of the harem sequences, playing a lady-in-waiting to Rhonda Fleming in ‘Yankee Pasha’, which starred Fleming and Jeff Chandler. With Lisa’s outstanding beauty, other starlets who featured with her like Mamie Van Doren, Mara Corday and Myrna Hansen paled into insignificance. Lisa had a certain radar: when she appeared on screen, even in a group sequence, she stole your attention.

 

With her stunning good looks, UI casting officials saw in her a young Yvonne DeCarlo and had plans to use her in remakes of DeCarlo hits, but as Lisa later remarked, “I just couldn’t see it coming”. Audience taste had changed and those swashbuckling movies that worked in the 40’s were on the wane by the mid-50s. Two other bit parts followed in Magnificent Obsession as a switchboard operator, and as a hoofer in Aint Misbehavin. Being a professional dancer, why didn’t UI wake up to this fact and cast her in the lead role opposite Rory Calhoun in this musical that featured non-dancers like Piper Laurie, Mamie Van Doren and Dani Crayne. Musical numbers provided Ms. Gaye ample opportunity to display her dancing prowess. She had just one line of dialogue in the dressing room sequence: When Piper Laurie asks her whether she wants an old man with a lot of money or a young man with no money. Her answer: “I want a young man with a lot of old money”.

 

Her first and only starring part at UI was in the Western genre “Drums across the River” with Audie Murphy. Her role was not lengthy in terms of footage, but it did pack enough punch to make an impression. As Jennie Marlowe, fiancée of Murphy, she exuded a shy reserve, which was very appealing, and did not restrict her from conveying the role’s full potential. With her anxious inwardness for the safety of her beloved, she displayed a subtle vulnerability, and fans wished she had more screen time. It was later learnt that an important sequence from the film was snipped when UI casting officials realized the scene would go against her image as a timid heroine. The scene showed Lisa beating the daylights out of the gangster’s moll, Mara Corday, who, with her machinations, was instrumental for Murphy’s incarceration and possible hanging. In 1954, the Society of American Florists in honour of National Flower Week voted Lisa “Carnation Queen”.

 

After 2-1/2 years at UI, the studio decided against renewing her contract. This left her with no other option but to freelance in mid 1955. Part of the studio’s decision to let her go was because she was involved in a freak accident when she tore a tendon in her back. This required her to be strapped in a cast for several months in bed, which put her career in mothballs. Any plans that the studio may have had for her during this time also had to be shelved. She made use of this free time learning several plays including The Rose Tatoo, which came handy when she starred in the same play at UI’s 1954 inside-talent show. Dressed in a translucent pleated dress, she looked a dream, and won rave reviews that helped garner her a promised lead with Donald O’Connor in ‘Francis Joins the Wacs’. Attending the talent show was sister, Debra with Lisa’s parents in tow, all of who were pretty impressed with young Lisa’s dramatic abilities. Despite newspaper reports that she was signed and that the film would begin rolling in February 1954, for unknown reasons the part fell through. Julia Adams won the role and one wonders why. This was the second time starring opposite O’Connor got jinxed. Mamie Van Doren played second fiddle to Adams. Perhaps the ‘casting couch’ had something to do with Lisa being dropped, if at all it did exist at Universal International during the 50s.

 

Leaving UI may have seemed traumatic at the time, but it paved the way for a blossoming television career that incremented with each passing year. Her prolific career in TV spanned the period 1955-70. Fifteen years of solid work in every genre that TV had to offer. In that medium, she moved on to more substantial roles that required her backlog of self-taught emoting experience to come into active play. It is estimated that she has starred in over 150 TV episodes in all the top-rated shows of the 50’s and 60’s.

 

Lisa adopted different accents and aesthetics, and inner lives as disparate from each other as they were from her own. Versatility was the cornerstone of this star’s career. She was never more herself than when she played someone else, vanishing so credibly into so many guises. She prided herself as an actress who could move with ease from contemporary roles [Perry Mason] to period pieces [Jim Bowie] and even futuristic turns [Science Fiction & Men Into Space].

 

Her doll-like features, dancer’s gait and excellent sartorial sense often proved a hindrance with skeptics trying to dismiss her off as a “glamour star”. Casting directors’ attitude towards beautiful actresses, in general, were often tinged with a certain ambivalence. But Lisa transcended every role with her individuality, bringing rich shades that lifted the characters [she played] from the realm of the stereotype. She honed her skills to a level where she could always be relied upon to deliver the goods.

 

Some of the highlights of her TV career included: A French art student in This Is Your Life [1956]; A nun in ‘Frontier’, a French model in The Bob Cummings Show; a cardsharp/a gypsy/Indian squaw in Death Valley Days; a trapeze artiste in Whirly Birds; a water nymph in The Millionaire, a scuba diver in Sea Hunt; an explosive nightclub entertainer in Markham, a sleuth in Surfside Six, a Middle-Eastern princess in Hawaiian Eye, an Armenian wine dancer in ‘Have Gun Will Travel’, a hill-billy in I Dream of Jeannie, a Latin-American dancer in Bold Venture The list is interminable. Some of her choicest roles came via the series “77 Sunset Strip” in episodes: The Lovely American, Desert Spa Caper, Paper Chase, A Bargain of Tombs and Old Card Sharps Never Die and, of course, the Warner Bros. series: Hawaiian Eye in episodes: Talk & You’re Dead, Year of Grace, Boar Hunt, Assignment Manila and Doctor’s Lady.

 

1955 proved to be the turning point in her life, not only professionally but personally as well. It was in this year that she was spotted by Bob Cummings to appear in his show as the French model, Colette DuBois. When Bob interviewed her, she was blonde for an earlier part. Since he needed a brunette, she told him it was no problem because she was a brunette anyway. The show aired from 1955-59 and Lisa appeared frequently. Tidbits magazine carried a picture of her in gold lame jump suit with the caption “Lisa Gaye is one of the main reasons why the Bob Cummings Show is so popular with viewers.”

 

Love that Bob also set the template to her image as a glamorous star, at times a femme fatale, who brought destruction to men [U.S. Marshall, Mike Hammer, Bold Venture]. A movie buff who recently sold a videotape of the Bob Cummings show on Ebay did make special mention of Lisa with “You just have to see lovely Lisa Gaye in a swimsuit. She’s awesome!!!”

 

She also met Bentley C Ware at an auction for cars, a sort of Pioneer Day, and married him in August 1955, after a brief courtship. Her family playfully referred to him as B-Ware. He was big and burly, reminiscent of Esther Williams’ husband, Ben Gage. Depending on which years article you read on Lisa Gaye, Ware was either a sportswear manufacturer, a dietician for low-calorie candy or ran a secretarial agency. It is not known whether he was her ‘svengali’, because the Barskin Agency did, at one time, handle her career. But Ware did offer his comments now and then in interviews, especially when he felt she was underpaid for the very successful “Rock Around the Clock.”

 

A fan magazine did hint that unlike sister Debra, Lisa was no longer serious in her film career, and linked her being dropped by UI due to her impending marriage to Ware. Fact is, she didn’t marry Ware until after she left UI. Ware did comment: “When I married Lisa, she was only 20 and a girl that age needs a creative outlet. She is a talent to be displayed on a very high level of good taste, and I don’t want her getting mixed up in a lot of phony pictures/publicity. If she cannot make it on talent alone, then it’s not worth making it at all”

 

Unlike her sister Debra Paget, who thrived on publicity, Lisa was reticent to cultivate it. She never let creativity usurp her “real” existence. While the highs and lows of her craft meant the world to her, she was still comfortable with the drone of the ordinary. “I loved the work, receiving a bound script, getting under the skin to play the character inside out and then going home to my family once the shoot was over. I just disliked the publicity,” she stated in an interview.

 

Debra Paget, on the other hand, had a transparent, overarching ambition to be famous. On the road to success, every detail of Debra’s life was pressed into service to round out her film persona. In one interview, she [Paget] stated that she would do “anything” to further her career. Today, the word anything would take on an ambiguous connotation. But don’t get me wrong, Paget wanted fame and wealth so that she could give her family the best life had to offer. She was an exemplary daughter to her parents and a more-than-generous sister to her siblings. Her favourite in the family was, without doubt, kid sister, Lisa. In interviews, her conversation seemed always to tilt towards Lisa. “I love Lisa. She’s got the devil in her eyes and is always laughing. I wish I could be like her,” she told columnist, Mike Connolly. “I came to interview Debra and all she wanted to do was talk about Lisa,” he retorted. To Lisa, Debra was her champion rooter.

 

When Lisa married Ben Ware, it was Debra who took care of all the wedding arrangements, despite a hectic shooting schedule of ‘The Ten Commandments’. There was a plush wedding reception with an over 100-guest list. Lisa’s apartment was totally decorated by Debra with furniture, wall-to-wall carpeting, artifacts, and the fridge stocked with food for a week. While walking down the aisle, it was if Lisa was in a trance, while Debra and the rest of the family members were near exhaustion.

 

Fan magazines carried a spate of articles on the two girls that highlighted their proximity: Sisters Should Help Each Other, The Queen & I, Sweet on Sweaters, If You Knew Debra Like I Know Debra, She’d Like to Change Her Face, Twice As Sexy, The Private life of Debra and Lisa, We Whistle While They Work, Everybody Wants To Get In the Act, were some of the titles.

 

Lisa’s co-star, Richard Boone in “Have Gun Will Travel [1957], suggested that she move to New York for a while to study acting under Lee Strasburg. Being a generous man and seeing great potential for improvement in her acting scope, he offered to fund the stage course. But, Lisa, reluctant to leave her family, had to politely decline the offer. This is just one instance that illustrates how greatly liked she was by co-stars.

 

Earl Barton choreographed the dancing in the world-hit “Rock Around the Clock”, when Lisa became a craze. Lisa had a people-oriented approach, and once she made a friend, it was for life. Barton was a friend who trained with her at UI. An exceptional dancer, he was instrumental in choosing her as his dance partner in the Columbia film that netted millions at the box-office. The long box-office queues and fights to get in were part of the marketing hype, which helped propel the movie’s fortunes forward. Few movies are such pleasurably perfect time capsules, but then, perfection was a 50’s ideal. The film truly represents a slice of Rock ‘N Roll history. Lisa’s terpsichorean abilities were in full force in the film and you couldn’t take your eyes off her. Her figure that the dance costumes displayed commanded your attention. Her Rock-A-Beatin Boogie number with Barton was the showstopper and displayed what two of Hollywood’s greatest dancers were capable of delivering. Dance highlights also included numbers: Razzle Dazzle, R-O-C-K, Happy Baby and the pulsating finale ‘Rock Around the Clock, all rendered by Bill Haley & His Comets. Neither music nor dance would ever be the same again.

 

As a dancer, Ms. Gaye was more than generous in her refinement.. It must be recalled that she was a trained ballet dancer that demanded gestures of the eyes and hands, expressions of the face and voluptuous poses of the body. Her Rock ‘N Roll dancing was seamless, yet arresting, spot on and flawless. Though they didn’t bargain for it, both Ms. Gaye and Barton became pioneers in the Rock ‘N Roll genre of musicals. It was not just the fluidity of her movements and her pleasing features that appealed, but her ability to hold the audience’s attention. Rock ‘N’ Roll and ballet, which are two ends of the dance spectrum, are both diverse and challenging in their own way. Though Lisa mastered various forms of dance, she still managed to retain the classical repertoire, which could be noted in her movements.

 

Her style of working was so well tailored to relevant television needs that she had little time to worry about not bagging films. With such a hectic TV schedule, she still managed to grace a few which were a faint echo of her Rock Around the Clock glory. In ‘Shake Rattle & Rock’ [1956] she was the love interest of disc jockey, Mike Connors, and looked as lovely as ever. Rock ‘N Roll fans, however, were disappointed that her dancing abilities were not put to use.

 

In ‘Ten Thousand Bedrooms’ [1957], which was Dean Martin’s first solo starring film, she was disappointingly underused in this big-budget, Joe Pasternak, MGM production, with a scant look in that included singing ‘No One But You’. Dressed in lavender silk organza with an over plaid of amethyst embroidery with mauve earrings and matching bracelet designed by Helen Rose, she looked an absolute dream in Metro colour. She also had a brief scene, doing a Roman Rock ‘N’ Roll to an Italian version of Rock Around the Clock. Perhaps it was the paid trip to Rome, serving as a holiday, which lured her services. The lovely quadruple wedding sequence was filmed at the famous eight century Santa Maria d’Aracoeli.

 

Subsequent films The Sign of Zorro and Frontier Rangers [1958-59], both offshoots of the TV series Zorro starring Guy Williams and Northwest Passage starring Keith Larsen, Don Burnett and Buddy Ebsen, were melded-together amalgams of several TV episodes. It was touted that she would be a regular on Northwest Passage with splashes in the press, but eventually starred in just a few of the earliest episodes [Surprise Attack, Gun Smith & Dead Reckoning] as Natula, the Red Indian princess. Her green eyes were a give away, and later it was learnt that she was a white woman who was captured as a child and raised by the Red Indians. The camera never lost a chance to focus on those lovely legs that were in full evidence, thanks to the short tasseled outfit she sported. MGM went all out in the still department photo section showing Lisa’s shapely legs in various poses.

 

After a successful first season run of the TV series “How to Marry a Millionaire” that starred Barbara Eden, Merry Anders and Lori Nelson [1958-59], Lisa replaced Nelson, who felt her part as one of the trio, chasing after a rich husband, wasn’t being fleshed out in the way she had anticipated. This was compounded by the fact that Eden [out of the 3] won instant audience approval and became a hot favourite. The 2nd season which starred Lisa in the part of Gwen Kirby, lasted for just 13 shows. Publicity wise, it was beneficial for Lisa as the show garnered her more TV shows in other top-rated television series. 20th Century Fox, which handled the series, listed Lisa as one of the studio’s “Most Promising Newcomers for 1960”. But, after the show folded, it was Barbara Eden who bagged several movies at Fox with contract players like Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Fabian. Eden also went on to star in the highly successful “I Dream of Jeanne” series and the rest as they say is television history. Incidentally, Ms. Gaye and Eden remained close friends over the years.

 

A major-missed opportunity was playing one of the leads in the film adaptation of the Broadway hit, West Side Story. Lisa auditioned for the part of Anita that was eventually played by Rita Moreno. She was called back several times to audition, but the role fell through. My guess is that the plain looking, Natalie Wood felt threatened by Lisa’s gorgeous looks and body. Moreno went on to win a Best Supporting Oscar for her turn, as a Latino dancer opposite George Chakaris. Though her acting was appreciated, she looked old and haggard enough to be Chakaris’s mother. Judging by what Ms. Gaye looked like in The Lovely American on 77 Sunset Strip in 1961 where she played a Latino character, her chemistry with Chakaris would have been spot on. Besides a short, non-dancer like Moreno could never hold a candle to Lisa’s statuesque figure and dancing abilities. If Lisa had bagged the Oscar, her career in the 60’s might have charted a different course. But that’s too much of a hypothetical situation to delve into now.

 

In 1961’s ‘Night of Evil’, she had a meaty part as a raped student, who is raised in foster homes, and then goes on to win a beauty pageant, Ms. Colorado. She gets embroiled with a con artist and her life ends on skid row. The story incorporates the element of chance, the fickleness of life and the twists and turns of fate, which turn losers into winners and vice versa. The film had tremendous arc of character development: starting off as a timid, innocent young girl, she goes through betrayal, abandonment, sexual awakening and eventually a life of crime. The classical beauty of Lisa was never more in evidence.

 

The success of her numerous television appearances made her a known face, registering especially in Europe and England. She began to transcend geographical boundaries. In 1962, she made La Cara Del Terror with Fernando Rey in Spain. The film was given a general release in the USA only in 1964, with the title Face of Terror. It was one of the meatiest roles of her career. The horribly masked sequences were few and far between. For most of the film, she was her beautiful self, gowned and coiffured with the expertise of European haute and delivering her dialogue with a Spanish inflection. She was brilliant in the dramatic sequences, doing the tightrope walk between sanity and insanity with a nervous intensity that made her stand out in startling shades. A critique once remarked: Of all the films that Ms. Gaye starred in, this was inarguably her best. In 1964, she again starred with Rey in the sci-fi thriller “Man In Outer Space”, an obscure film. She also found time to star in a stage production of “Darling I’m Yours” with Gene Nelson that garnered rave reviews in 1961.

 

She made a B-grader “Castle of Evil” in 1966 with old pals Scott Brady and Virginia Mayo and stole most of the film’s close ups. This was followed by the low budget “The Violent Ones” starring Fernando Lamas, Tommy Sands in which she played a nurse. Her last film outing was a cameo in Valley of Mystery with a line up of veterans like Richard Egan, Louise Nettleton, Leonard Nimoy, among others. Valley was actually a pilot of the intended TV series Stranded that never sold. Her home studio Universal International, ironically, released it.

 

Lisa had a squeaky-clean image and always conducted herself with dignity and poise. She possessed an unassailable likableness. She was never linked romantically with any of her co-stars, even though she had starred with some of the handsomest men in the TV industry. Her husband once remarked to Mike Connors “You seem to spend more time with my wife than I do.” Connors was the star of the Tightrope TV series [1959-60] in which Lisa guest-starred. There was also Clint Walker [Cheyenne], Van Williams [Bourbon St. Beat], Robert Conrad [Hawaiian Eye, Wild, Wild West, Sea Hunt]; Troy Donahue [Surfside Six], Scott Brady [Shotgun Slade], Ty Hardin [Bronco Lane], Maverick [James Garner and Jack Kelly], Ed Byres [77 Sunset Strip] and on and on. Though Lisa did once remark that Will Hutchins [Sugarfoot] was one of the best looking men she worked with, I beg to differ. While Hutchins possessed the look of a comedienne, it was Van Williams, Ty Hardin and Bob Conrad who topped the body and looks sweepstakes.

 

She once had an obsession of collecting cat figurines. She loved cats but was painfully allergic to the live kind. They made her sneeze. Instead she started a collection of cats in ceramic, metal, glass, wood and jade, which, back in the 50’s was highly valuable. “People tell me I have cat eyes, and I think of all my cats as girls. But I don’t believe women are as catty as men,” she remarked in an interview.

 

Lisa’s daughter Janell was born in the mid-sixties, which put a hold on her career for a while. She could no longer tackle her career with the previous vengeance since “family” came first. Still she managed choice parts in TV series: Wild, Wild West, Time Tunnel, I Dream of Jeannie, Perry Mason, Mod Squad, The Secret Life of Henry Phyfe, et al. She also shot a TV pilot with Pat Hingle called ‘Who Goes There’, based on a ghost yarn. If the pilot had sold, Lisa’s may have reached new heights because television, in the 60’s, was at an all time phenomenal high, when fans clamoured more for TV stars [Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, Diane McBain, Lucy Ball] than movie stars. Here again, Lady Luck decided to play the elusive butterfly.

 

Lisa Gaye wasn’t just an actress; she was also an excellent pianist, painter, sculptress, swimmer, linguist and did nobly with archery too. Her swimming expertise was notable in several TV segments of Sea Hunt: Water Ski Show, The Stunt, Sea Serpent, Hermes (aka Jupiter Rex) and Nerve Gas, which also afforded her ample opportunity to become an expert scuba diver. She discovered a new world underwater and got hooked literally.

 

She expressed herself imaginatively through the canvas as a painter and, later, excelled in sculpting. She visualized abstract thoughts like lines from a poem and gave them form through the medium of metal and clay. Simplicity was an underlying thought influencing the structure and design of her sculptures. The figures she created seemed pensive and at peace with the surroundings, a reflection of Lisa’s state of mind. Lisa was a regular at Every Woman’s Village in Van Nuys, California, in the late 60’s- early 70’s.

 

She also found time for other pursuits: Poetry was her muse during her teenage years. Being philosophically inclined, Lisa penned several poems bordering on self-introspection. Some of her poems were even read on the radio and in television in the early 50’s. Whenever something dramatic happened in the family, she would pen a poem.

 

She was a great transformational actress, given that she was a wizard with foreign languages. She had a way with dialects and disclosed: “I have just to listen to someone with an authentic accent, and I’ve got it.” Fluent in French, her stock dialects also included Armenian, Russian and Spanish. Her own accent, however, did have the unmistakable inflections of her hometown, Denver.

 

In the early 70’s, she had to grapple with changes dictated by life and destiny. She changed agents and the momentum of her career was totally derailed. Her once illustrious career was prematurely snuffed out. Thirty-five was much too young an age to retire from films, especially when she had a body of work that could have been taken to greater heights with the maturity and shades she could have brought to roles. It is clear that the cosmic pattern that worked in her favour for several years just vanished into thin air. A long stretch of her life remains undocumented between the periods 1971-78, though it is learnt that she assisted sister, Debra, in her business. She lost her husband in 1979 when he succumbed to a heart attack. Lisa was totally devastated and moved to Houston, Texas, thereafter, where Debra took up residence. As time went by, she philosophically accepted the inevitability of things. She was a caretaker for Debra’s palatial home for a few months before she joined Channel 14, a local religious TV station, where she worked as a receptionist for 19 years.

 

She was greatly admired by co-stars, producers and directors. Possessing a people-oriented approach, she was always confident and adept at rubbing people the right way, especially when it came to those directors who were whimsical, egotistical or uncooperative. If there was a problem, she figured out what the solution was. It was a triumph of will and perseverance over many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This innate trait was partly the cornerstone of her success, coupled by the challenges she undertook to prove her mettle, not only as a dramatic actor, but also in daredevil stunts that many of her TV Western genre episodes called for:

 

Dangerous stunts found her hanging from a 70 feet high helicopter as a trapeze artist [The Whirly Birds: Aerial Cirus], getting her hair almost burnt [Tombstone Territory], narrowly missing her eyes being scratched out by a falcon [Wild, Wild West], being dragged by two horses face down in the mud [Death Valley Days] when the stunt double missed his cue, were just a few of the instances when she threw caution to the winds, but all in the line of duty. Death Valley was shot in unbearable heat of 126 degrees, usually in Utah and Apache junction, Arizona, but Lisa never cribbed because shooting those true-life dramas [nearly a dozen] was with a cast with whom she was familiar and comfortable, and it often seemed like a family reunion. She was a willing victim for almost any director eager to get a great shot! Though she shudders at the things she did during her heyday, today she reminisces fondly when she says: “God was always watching over me during production because I always escaped unscathed”. One could always sense the spirit of a woman who added a touch of grace to whatever she undertook in her career.

 

Today she lives in retirement and is active in her church choir. Lisa conjured up an over-whelming sense of intelligence, good breeding and class. She exuded poise and grace. In 2002, a Western Annual named her ‘Reigning TV Queen of the Western’. She was at her anecdotal best in this interview, recalling the camaraderie she shared with each of her TV co-stars, and also highlighting her early years at Universal International. To movie buffs all over the world, Lisa Gaye will always be loved and remembered as the One & Only Rock ‘N Roll Queen as Rock Around the Clock is a monument in American Film History. The reason behind her enduring popularity lies in her ability to turn on successive generations – thanks to the 100s of DVDs being sold of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ on Ebay, ioffer and other auction sites.

 

Writer, Jack Holland, in his article titled ‘WOW’ summed her up best when he wrote: “Lisa is the kind of career girl all career girls should be – but, unfortunately, so few are like this. She’s no walking, self-centered grease paint ad or a phony glamour doll. She is first and foremost a wife and a truly feminine woman. You couldn’t want much more provocative femininity than she has!”

 

What was it that attracted me to Lisa Gaye? In my estimation, she was the most perfect woman I have ever come across with her classic Hollywood-in-its-heyday looks. From the top of her head to the tip of her toes, I loved her body language, the way she carried herself and those darting green eyes that spoke volumes. Her beautifully arched eyebrows served to enhance those gorgeous green eyes. A segment of Tales of Wells Fargo [Kelly’s Clover Girls], Bourbon St. Beat [False Identity] and Get Smart [The Mummy] ably illustrates my point. Here was the prototype, the flawless construct, and a woman so perfectly formed that she should be standing in the middle of the ocean in the style of Botticelli’s Venus. She was able to convince the audience that they could actually see what she was thinking. It was that whole unspoken narrative that she was able to convey [through her eyes] that was so powerful. Few actresses were able to display every emotion with their eyes. Lisa was one of those rare few alongside other beauties like Ava Gardner, Jean Simmons and Diane McBain. Even after close to 50 years, I find her truly timeless. She’s like vintage wine, velvet in any decade. An excellent dancer, swimmer, pianist, horseback rider, linguist, archeress, Lisa never ceased to amaze me with her versatility.

 

In an interview in 1954 she stated, “I’d like to take my career on a slow and steady pace, and when I do make the grade, I’d like to stay a while.” She did stay in the entertainment business for 17 long years and captured a million hearts with her undeniable star quality. Though the characters she played were representative of types, Lisa was too much of a professional to make them faceless. Besides, the fine quality of her work was a thread of commonalty in more than 200 television episodes. Luis Aquino keeps the memory of Lisa Gaye alive with his beautiful site www.geocities.com on the Internet, constantly updating it with information and photographs. This archive of memories is a fitting tribute to the beauty and talent of Lisa Gaye, in addition to being a pioneering effort to conserve and digitize movie memorabilia. Mr. Aquino’s extensive effort and visual vocabulary of Ms. Gaye and several other actresses gives their long-forgotten careers a sense of permanence. It is certainly a journey through time. When Hurricane Rita recently bypassed Houston, Texas, Lisa must have recalled that “God is still watching over her”.

 

BY IAN EDWARDS

 

LISA GAYE’S TV EPISODES:

Sl.No.

Name of TV Series & year of telecast

Title of TV Episode

1.

Passport to Danger [1955] with Cesar Romero

 

2.

Annie Oakley [1955]

Annie & the Lacemaker

3.

Mr. Lucky, Season 1, Epi.16, 1959.

Brain Picker

4.

The Whirly Birds [1957]

Aerial Circus

5.

War Birds

 

6.

Adventures in Paradise [1961]

Wild Mangoes

7.

Hawaiian Eye [1962]

Year of Grace

   

Talk and you’re dead

   

Boar Hunt

   

Doctor’s Lady

   

Assignment Manila.

8.

Surfside Six [1960-61]

Green Bay Riddle

   

Circumstantial Evidence

9.

77 Sunset Strip [1959-63]

The Lovely American

   

Old Cardsharps Never Die

   

Desert Spa Caper

   

The Paper Chase

   

A Bargain In Tombs

10.

The Millionaire [1960]

Jerry Mitchell

11.

Frontier [1955]

The Long Road to Tucson.

12.

Cheyenne [1960-61]

Outcast of Cripple Creek

   

The Counterfeit Gun.

13.

Sugarfoot [1961]

Trial of the Canary Kid

14.

Laramie [1960-61]

The Perfect Gift.

15.

It’s a Great Life [1956] Season 2, Epi.58

The Lady & the Painting

16.

My Living Doll [1964] Season 1, Epi.5

Rhoda & the VIP/Rhoda’s Debut

17.

Have Gun Will Travel [1957-58]

Gun Shy

   

Helen of Abajinian

18.

Northwest Passage [1958-59]

Surprise Attack

   

Gun Smith

   

Dead Reckoning

19.

Cavalcade of America

 

20.

Matinee

 

21

   

22.

Science Fiction Theatre [1957]

Gravity Zero

23.

Bronco Lane [1962]

One Evening in Abilene

24.

Bourbon Street Blues [1959-60]

The 10 % Blues

   

False Identity.

 

 

Sl.No.

Name of TV Series, Year of Telecast

Title of Episode: The Case of the:

25.

Perry Mason [1961-66]

Wednesday Woman 1963, Sea.7

   

Nautical Knot, 1964, Seas. 8

   

Vanishing Victim, 1966, Seas. 9

   

Guilty Clients, 1961, Seas. 4

   

Travelling Treasure, 1961, Seas.5

   

Two-faced Turnabout, 1962, S.6

     

26.

Sea Hunt [1959-60]

Sea Serpent

 

 

The Stunt

   

Nerve Gas

   

Hermes [aka Jupiter Rex]

   

Water Ski Show

   

Ancient Greek Treasures.

27.

Markham [1960] with Ray Milland

The Country Mouse

28.

Jim Bowie [1956]

Trapline

   

Spanish Intrigue

29.

Bold Venture [1959]

Shannon’s Place

30.

Tales of Wells Fargo [1960-61]

Kelly’s Clover Girls

   

The Dowry. [Season 5, Epi.39]

31.

Wild, Wild West [1965-66]

Night of the Skulls

   

Night of the Falcon

32.

Going My Way [1962]

A Saint for Mama [Seas-1 Epi.13]

33.

The Great Gildersleeve

 

34.

Tombstone Territory [1958]

Tin Gunman

   

Grave Near Tombstone

35.

The Lineup [1958]

The Hotshot Robbery Case

36.

Amos Burke: Secret Agent [1965]

Deadlier Than The Male

37.

Love That Bob [1955-59] recurring role

Bob Gets Harvey A Raise *

   

Bob Saves Harvey *

   

Bob Saves Dr. Chuck

   

Bob Clashes with Ken [1959]

   

Bob the Bodybuilder [1957]

   

Bob Clashes with his landlady.

   

Grandpa’s Old Buddy *

   

Bob in Orbit *

   

Schultzy Says No. [1956]

   

Bob vs. Linkletter [1959]

   

The Models’ Revolt [1957]

   

Bob frees Schultzy for romance

   

Bob tangles with Ruthie

 

 

 

 

Sl.No.

Name of TV Series, Year of Telecast

Title of Episode

38.

Death Valley Days [1960-69]

Eagle in the Rocks

   

The Million Dollar Pants

   

The Other White Man

   

The Gypsy

   

The Rider

   

Green is the colour of Gold.

   

Lottie’s Legacy

   

General without a cause

   

The Captain Dick Mine

   

The Other Side of the Mountain

   

Tracy’s Triumph

39.

The Double Life of Henry Phyfe [1966]

Spend a Million Phyfe.

40.

The Flying Nun [1969]

Cousins by the Dozens

   

A Ticket for Bertrille [Season 3]

41.

Mike Hammer [1959]

Dead Men Don’t Dream.

42.

Checkmate [1960]

Moment of Truth

43.

Thin Man [1957]

Ring Around Rosie

44.

Wagon Train [1961]

Tiburcio Mendez Story [Seas. 4]

45.

Rawhide [1960]

Incident of the Slave Master

46.

Men Into Space [1960]

Dateline Moon

47.

Bachelor Father

Rush Week [Seas.5, Epi. 3]

48.

Walter Winchell File – Exclusive

Story File 31

49.

Mod Squad [1970]

A Town called Sincere.

50.

The Grand Jury

Baby for Sale

51.

George Burns & Gracie Allen Show [Burns & Allen Show]

Appearances Are Deceiving [Season 6, Episode: 14]

52.

Hudson’s Bay [1959]

Black Barrier

53.

Get Smart [1965-66]

The Mummy [Season 2]

54.

Flight

Parachute Jump

56.

Who Goes There? [1965]

TV Pilot

57.

Wanted Dead or Alive [1960]

Journey for Josh, Seas-3, Epi-3

59.

Time Tunnel [1969]

The Walls of Jericho

60.

Colt.45 [1959]

Law West of the Pecos

61.

Shotgun Slade [1961]

Friends No More, Seas.2, Epi.28

62.

Bat Masterson [1959-61]

Sharpshooter

   

The Fatal Garment

   

Buffalo Kill

63.

Mister Roberts [1965]

Lover Come Forward.

64.

Ripcord [1962]

Sentence of Death

65.

I Dream of Jeannie [1968]

U.F. Oh Jeannie, Season 4, Epi

66.

U.S. Marshall [1960]

Backfire

 

 

Sl.No.

Name of TV series, Year of Telecast

Title of Episode

57.

Amos Burke: Secret Agent [1965]

Who killed the rest?

58.

Zorro [1958]

Fall of Monasterio

59.

Californians [1958]

The Man who owned San Francisco

60.

Black Saddle [1959]

Client: McQueen

61.

Pony Express [1959]

Peace Offering

62.

Maverick [1961]

State of Seige [Season 4]

63.

The Smothers Brothers [1965]

Immaterial Witness, Seas.-1

64.

Hank [1966]

The Trouble with Tina.

65.

The Beachcomber [1962] aka Mystery Adventure.

Ransom

66.

December Bride

Stan Loses His Nerve [1959]

67.

The John Forsythe Show [1965]

Super Girl, Season 1, Epi. 8 [1965]

68.

Mona McCluskey [1965]

How to put out an old flame. [1965]

69.

The Bob Cummings Show 1961

Vive La Credit Card [1961]

70.

Mr. Garlund [1960 January]

The X-27

71.

Colonel Humphrey Flack, 1959

Pearls of Wisdom, Season 2

72.

Flight [1958]

Skyfighters, Season 1 aka Parachute Jump.

73.

How to Marry a Millionaire May 1959

Cherchez La Roomate

   

Gwen’s Secret

   

What’s Cooking with Loco

   

Hit & Run

   

Guest with a gun

   

The 3 stacked Shareholders

   

Loco, the Teenager

   

The Method

   

The Golf Tournament

   

The Seal who came to dinner

   

Love on approval

   

The Comic

   

A Husband for Julia, August 1959.