End Credits #33: Cinema's 2015 Lost Treasures Coleen Gray
Guest blogger Bob DiMucci has provided another of his informative and entertaining tributes. This time he's honoring Coleen Gray and her cinematic accomplishments. My sincerest thanks. (A.G.)
Coleen Gray's is a name of which I have a vague familiarity, but not one that I associate with any particular films. Let's take a look at her career.
The Films of Coleen Gray
After a few unbilled roles--in 1945's STATE FAIR, 1946's THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE, and 1947's THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM, (in which her scenes were deleted)--Gray was thrust into a co-starring role in the 1947 film noir classic KISS OF DEATH. Henry Hathaway directed the film. It was scored by David Buttolph, arranged by Earle Hagen, and conducted by Lionel Newman.
Gray played "Nettie," a young woman who befriends and then marries "Nick" (Victor Mature), an ex-convict. Ads for the film gave Gray an "Introducing" credit, something denied to fourth-billed Richard Widmark, even though it actually was his first screen appearance. Voice-over narration, spoken by Gray in character as "Nettie," opens the story and is heard intermittently throughout the film. On 12 January 1948, Widmark, Mature, and Gray reprised their screen roles for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast.
Tyrone Power starred in NIGHTMARE ALLEY as "Stan Carlisle," an amoral carnival roustabout. Gray co-starred as "Molly," the naïve young assistant to "Bruno the Strongman" (Mike Mazurki). Darryl F. Zanuck had originally suggested casting June Allyson as "Molly."
Edmund Goulding directed, and the film was scored by Cyril Mockridge and conducted by Lionel Newman. Although Earle Hagen was given the original credit for the orchestrations, the screen credits were revised so that Maurice de Packh would receive sole credit.
In 1948, Gray re-teamed with Victor Mature to co-star in her first western, FURY AT FURNACE CREEK. Gray played "Molly Baxter," the daughter of a man who died in an Indian massacre at Fort Furnace Creek. Bruce Humberstone directed, and David Raksin scored the film.
Gray had a supporting role as "Fen," the girlfriend of "Thomas Dunson" (John Wayne) in the classic Howard Hawks western RED RIVER. In 2002, William Stromberg conducted a re-recording of Dimitri Tiomkin's score for this 1948 film.
Back at Fox, Gray co-starred in a modern-day western, opposite Mark Stevens in SAND. Gray played "Joan Hartley," the owner of a Colorado horse ranch. Louis King directed this 1949 film, which was scored by Daniele Amfitheatrof.
At Columbia, Gray co-starred with William Holden in the comedy-drama FATHER IS A BACHELOR. Set in a small Southern town, the film had Gray playing a local farm owner and daughter of the town judge. Norman Foster directed the 1950 film, which was scored by Jerry Goldsmith's long-time orchestrator Arthur Morton.
On 7 February 1949, the Hollywood Reporter stated that Mona Freeman, a contract player at Paramount, had "the inside track" for the role of "Alice Higgins," in Frank Capra's upcoming film RIDING HIGH. As it turned out, the part (for which Joan Leslie and Geraldine Brooks were also mentioned) was eventually played by Coleen Gray. Gray co-starred opposite Bing Crosby in this semi-musical comedy about a man (Crosby), about to marry into a wealthy family, whose real interest is horse racing. Gray played the younger sister of the woman whom Crosby is set to marry (Frances Gifford). Victor Young was the musical director for the half-dozen or so songs in the 1950 film.
Universal borrowed Richard Conte and Coleen Gray from Twentieth Century-Fox for the 1950 medical-crime film THE SLEEPING CITY. Gray played ward nurse "Ann Sebastian" at New York's Bellevue Hospital. George Sherman directed the film, which was scored by Frank Skinner.
In 1951, Gray was back at Fox for another film noir, co-starring opposite George Raft in LUCKY NICK CAIN. Gray played "Kay Wonderly," an attractive American whom gambler "Nick Cain" (Raft) meets at a casino in San Paolo, Italy. This British-U.S. production was filmed in Italy and England, and directed by Joseph M. Newman. Its score was composed by German composer and conductor Walter Goehr, and played under his baton by Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Gray co-starred opposite Stephen McNally in the 1951 western APACHE DRUMS. Gray played the girl friend of gambler "Sam Leeds" (McNally). Hugo Fregonese directed this final film of producer Val Lewton. Hans J. Salter scored the film, with an assist from Dr. Chris Willowbird, who is credited as the Supervisor of Apache Traditional Music. Willowbird, a noted authority on Indian lore, supervised the recording of the authentic Apache music for the soundtrack. An orchestra of twenty Apache Indians was used for the recording, which was highlighted by an Apache religious chant sung in ceremonial preparation for going into battle. The soundtrack also included Apache drinking songs and several warpath numbers. The Los Angeles Examiner reviewer commented that the "Indian drum work, tribal music and primitive customs are particularly well handled in this film."
Gray co-starred with Howard Duff in 1952's MODELS, INC., the first picture produced by Mutual Pictures. Although it was first announced that the film would be released by United Artists, and then that Allied Artists would be the distributor, Mutual Pictures ended up both producing and distributing the picture. In this crime melodrama, Gray played a blackmailer who finagles her way into being accepted as a student at a modeling school. The film was directed by Reginald LeBorg (THE MUMMY'S GHOST, 1944) and scored by Herschel Burke Gilbert, with orchestrations by Joseph Mullendore and Walter Sheets.
In the 1952 crime drama KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, Coleen Gray played the daughter of retired Kansas City police captain turned armored car robber "Tim Foster" (Preston Foster). John Payne starred as an innocent flower truck driver who gets caught up in the mess. The film was directed by Phil Karlson (WALKING TALL, 1973) and scored by Paul Sawtell.
Gray re-teamed with John Payne for their next film, the 1953 western THE VANQUISHED. In this film, set in the aftermath of the Civil War, Gray plays the daughter of a doctor in Galveston, Texas, and the girlfriend of Confederate veteran "Rockwell Grayson" (Payne). The film opens with the following written statement: Following the War between the States many Southern towns were occupied by Union forces and Civil Administrators were appointed to carry out the terms of peace. In some instances these administrators were just; in others cruel and despotic. This is the story of such an occupied town. The film was directed by Edward Ludwig and scored by Lucien Cailliet.
In 1953, Gray co-starred with Robert Stack in the Korean War drama SABRE JET. Gray played reporter "Jane Carter," who is writing a story about the wives of the Air Force pilots who are fighting in the Korean War. The film was shot on location at Nellis Air Force Base, NV. Direction was by Louis King (SAND) and the film was scored by Herschel Burke Gilbert.
In 1953's THE FAKE, Gray played an American, "Mary Mason, who works in the publications department of London's Tate Art Gallery. She was also the daughter of "Henry Mason" (John Laurie), an eccentric, frustrated painter of considerable talent. Dennis O'Keefe starred in the film as "Paul Mitchell," who is assigned by a New York art collector to guard his painting of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Madonna and Child” as it travels to the London gallery.
This British-American co-production was filmed in London, in part at the actual Tate Gallery. The film was directed by Godfrey Grayson. Music for the picture was based on Pictures of an Exhibition by Modeste Moussorgsky, which was arranged and conducted by Mátyás Seiber. Seiber was a Hungarian-born composer who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1935 onward.
In 1954's ARROW IN THE DUST, Gray played "Christella Burke," one of the wagon owners in a wagon train bound for Oregon. Also in the train is Army deserter "Bart Laish" (Sterling Hayden) who is impersonating a dead calvary Major in order to fulfill a promise to his dead friend. Frequent western director Lesley Selander helmed this film, which was Allied Artists' first domestically produced Technicolor picture. Marlin Skiles scored the film.
In the drama LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN, Gray was "Julia L. Rae," a schoolteacher who travels to Las Vegas to write a book about how it is impossible for the average gambler to win. Dennis O'Keefe, Gray's co-star from THE FAKE, appears as "Joe Barnes," the owner of the El Rancho Vegas casino. Sidney Salkow directed the majority of the film on location in Las Vegas, including a number of scenes shot at the real El Rancho Las Vegas. Edward J. Kay scored the film.
One of RKO's better westerns was 1955's TENNESSEE'S PARTNER starring John Payne (as "Tennessee") and Ronald Reagan (as "Cowpoke"). In this film, directed by Allan Dwan, Coleen Gray played the fiancée of Cowpoke, and one of Tennessee's former lovers. Louis Forbes scored the film, with uncredited assists from Howard Jackson and William Lava.
Mickey Rooney produced and starred in the 1955 western THE TWINKLE IN GOD'S EYE, playing a preacher en route to his first pastorate in the frontier town of Lodestone. Coleen Gray plays "Laura," one of the girls performing in the town's Silver Palace Saloon. The film opened just a month after third-billed Hugh O'Brian began his television series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp." Frequent television director George Blair helmed the film, and Van Alexander provided the score.
1956 was a prolific year for Coleen Gray--she appeared in six films. First up was the western THE WILD DAKOTAS. Gray was on a wagon train again, as "Susan 'Lucky' Ruth," a reformed riverboat gambler seeking to start a new life in the West. The film opens with the following voice-over narration: The end of the War Between the States left the American nation undivided and rich in public land. The great territory of the West lay open to those who would claim it. And they came, from every walk of life...white collar and homespun, law abiding and the lawless, rolling the wheels of their wagons into an unknown wilderness toward the far off homeland of the Plains Tribes--the wild Dakotas, the warlike Sioux and the proud Arapaho. Sam Newfield directed the film, which was scored by Paul Dunlap.
Coleen Gray re-teamed with Sterling Hayden (ARROW IN THE DUST) to co-star in what is arguably the most famous film for both--Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING. The 1956 film concerned a gang, headed by ex-convict "Johnny Clay" (Hayden), planning a race track robbery. Gray is Johnny's girlfriend "Fay." The race sequences were shot on location at Bay Meadows race track, outside of San Francisco. Although THE KILLING performed poorly in general release and was not critically acclaimed at the time, it has since gained a “cult” following with the development of Kubrick's career. Gerald Fried scored the film.
Gray had a supporting role in the 1956 Universal-International western STAR IN THE DUST, with Mamie Van Doren having the lead female role. Gray played "Nellie Mason," the girlfriend of gunslinger "Sam Hall" (Richard Boone). Charles Haas directed the film and Frank Skinner scored.
FRONTIER GAMBLER was another western from prolific director Sam Newfield. Gray played prominent businesswoman "Sylvia 'Princess' Melbourne." The 1956 picture was the final film, as producer, of Sigmund Neufeld, who was Sam Newfield's brother and the founder of "Poverty Row" studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Paul Dunlap provided the score.
1956's DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL was a prestige picture for RKO. The George Sanders-starrer was produced, written and directed by Charles Martin (IF HE HOLLERS, LET HIM GO!, 1968). The film was loosely based on the mysterious death of Serge Rubinstein, a Russian-born financial wizard and stock manipulator who was found murdered in his New York apartment in 1955. The murder remains unsolved. Coleen Gray had a supporting role as "Mrs. Edith Van Renassalear," the wife of a wealthy department store owner. Max Steiner scored the film, which had its soundtrack issued on a two-record 45rpm set.
Gray's final film of 1956 was the western THE BLACK WHIP in which she co-starred with Hugh Marlowe. Gray played saloon girl "Jeannie." The picture opens with the following written prologue: "April 1867--The war ends.. but leaves behind it derelicts, plunderers, looters and crazed killers that hound the frontier... haunting the night in violent vengeance." The film was directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who would go on to create the television series "Rawhide." Raoul Kraushaar scored the film.
Gray co-starred in another flight drama (after SABRE JET) in 1957's DESTINATION 60,000. In this film, she played "Mary Ellen," the secretary to former Air Force Col. "Ed Buckley" (Preston Foster). The film was written and directed by George Waggner (THE WOLF MAN, 1941) and scored by Al Glasser.
Nearly a year before THE HORROR OF DRACULA opened in the U.S., Coleen Gray co-starred in a domestic horror tale called simply THE VAMPIRE. Gray played "Carol," the attractive young nurse of "Dr. Paul Beecher" (John Beal). The doctor has been given some very unusual pills by a dying friend. The film was directed by frequent television director Paul Landres. Gerald Fried's score was released by Film Score Monthly (under the title MARK OF THE VAMPIRE) as part of a Fried box set.
Gray worked under director Charles Marquis Warren again in the 1957 western COPPER SKY. In the film, Gray plays "Nora Hayes," a proper Boston schoolteacher who arrives in the town of Occidental in a wagon driven by "Charlie Martin" (Paul Brinegar), and the two are shocked to find the street littered with dead bodies in the aftermath of an Indian attack. The sole survivor is ex-cavalryman "Hack Williams" (Jeff Morrow). Raoul Kraushaar provided the film's score.
Gray co-starred in her second film with Stephen McNally (APACHE DRUMS) in 1958's HELL'S FIVE HOURS. In this thriller, Gray played the wife of the plant manager (McNally) of Exiter Fuel Corporation, which has just suffered a dynamite theft. Jack L. Copeland, a combat photographer with the U.S. Army during World War II, wrote, produced, and directed the picture, his only feature film. Reportedly, he got the idea for the film while making an industrial documentary. The film’s exteriors were shot at a steam plant in the San Fernando Valley, just outside Los Angeles. Nicholas Carras scored the film.
Gray's third and final film with Stephen McNally was 1958's JOHNNY ROCCO. In the film, a gangster (McNally) and the police look for the gangster's son (Richard Eyer) who witnessed a murder. Gray plays the young boy's teacher. Paul Landres (THE VAMPIRE) directed, with Edward J. Kay providing the score.
After 15 years on the big screen, Coleen Gray finally got her first and only lead role in a feature in 1960's horror cult classic THE LEECH WOMAN. Gray played two roles in the film--"June Talbot," the wife of endocrinologist husband Paul (Phillip Terry), and June's supposed niece, "Terry Hart." Gray and Phillip Terry were reportedly so into their performances as a feuding couple that they didn't even get along off-camera either. Most reviews praised Coleen Gray’s performance. Edward Dein directed. Irving Gertz scored the film, with uncredited assists from Hans J. Salter and Henry Vars.
Coleen Gray's first foray into science fiction fantasy came in 1961's THE PHANTOM PLANET. Gray played "Liara," the daughter of the leader (Francis X. Bushman) of a race of tiny people on a mysterious asteroid. Director William Marshal had been an actor in the first film in which Coleen Gray had appeared, 1945's STATE FAIR. Composer Hayes Pagel was credited as providing "Interplanetary Music."
After three years as a guest star on series television, Gray next appeared on the big screen in one of producer A.C. Lyles low-budget westerns for Paramount. In 1965's TOWN TAMER, she had a brief supporting role as the wife of "Tom Rosser" (Dana Andrews), a Kansas lawman of the 1880's. Lesley Selander (ARROW IN THE DUST) directed, and Jimmie Haskell provided the score.
Gray's next big screen appearance was in the 1968 detective film P.J. starring George Peppard. Gray had a supporting role as the wife of a wealthy businessman (Raymond Burr). Susan Saint James played Gray's daughter, in her feature film debut. John Guillermin (THE BLUE MAX) directed the film, and Neal Hefti scored.
In 1971, Gray co-starred in the drama THE LATE LIZ about an alcoholic socialite "Liz Addams Hatch" (Anne Baxter) who finds religion. Gray played Liz's best friend "Sue Webb." The film was directed by independent filmmaker Dick Ross and distributed by his own company. The score was provided by one of the pioneers of contemporary Christian music, Ralph Carmichael.
Teenage producer/director/writer Brian Minette managed to convince Coleen Gray and silent screen actress Patsy Ruth Miller to star in the family drama MOTHER. In the film, Gray tries to put "senile" mother Miller into a home. Meanwhile Miller intends to go to a town that no longer exists on a train that no longer runs. The film has piano accompaniment throughout (also provided by Pinette) and is composed of mainly static shots with people entering and exiting as though they're in a play. It's unclear as to whether the short film had any theatrical bookings, or even when it was shot (ca 1970). One source says that it had a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It may or may not have had a video release in 1978. In 2009 Minette added a written prologue in which he claims that the film was shot in 5 days in the Plaza Hotel, Montrose, Texas, for $1,500. This version, now available on Video Archive, runs 65 minutes.
1985's CRY FROM THE MOUNTAIN was Coleen Gray's final theatrical feature. The film was shot in Alaska by the Billy Graham Film Ministry. Gray had only a small supporting role in this picture directed by longtime Christian filmmaker James F. Collier (THE HIDING PLACE, 1975). J.A.C. Redford scored the film.
Coleen Gray made one final television appearance in 1986 and then retired from acting. In 1979, she had married widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser; they remained together until his death in March 2012. They were active with the non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson, a convicted felon in the Watergate scandal. Prison Fellowship assists the church in ministering to prisoners and their families and victims. She was also a board member for her alma mater, Hamline University.
Coleen Gray was a great character and B-movie actress. Her unique stage presence shone through many of the low budget and television productions she appeared in throughout a career that lasted four decades.