November 8, 1946
Bremerton, Washington, U.S.
|Died||August 7, 1982
North Hollywood, California, U.S.
Jill Banner (November 8, 1946 – August 7, 1982) was an American film actress, possibly best recalled for her role as Virginia, the "spider baby" in the 1964 cult horror-comedy film Spider Baby. She also had roles as James Coburn's flower child friend in The President's Analyst (1967), and a couple of hippie girls in Jack Webb's television series, Dragnet.
Life and career
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Banner was born Mary Molumby in Bremerton, Washington. After her father's death in 1949, Molumby and her mother lived in South Dakota and Iowa, near relatives, finally ending up in Glendale, California. She studied at the Hollywood Professional School, a K-12 school for working professional children run by Maurice and Bertha Mann, where classes typically ran from 8:45 AM to 12:45 PM, allowing the students the afternoon off to pursue various jobs or performing careers. The school assemblies, called "Aud. Calls", were early showcases for the talents of students aspiring to be dancers, singers, and actors. She graduated in 1964.
She made her film debut in Spider Baby with Sid Haig and Lon Chaney, Jr. Directed by Jack Hill (Coffy, Switchblade Sisters), the film was tied up in litigation from 1964 until 1968. Released under various titles, including Attack Of The Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy, Or The Maddest Story Ever Told, the four-year-old black and white feature quickly faded from view in the tie-dyed electric-Koolaid-acid Sixties. Spider Baby became known largely through the efforts of Los Angeles cult film resurrectionist Johnny Legend. The film tells the story of the Merrye family, a clan of cannibals. While Spider Baby remained in legal limbo in the mid-1960s, Banner was featured in Deadlier Than The Male (1966), a British mystery about two female assassins. She played Wendy, a wholesome teenager, in C’mon, Let’s Live a Little (1967), one of the last of the "beach party" films.
In the psychedelically paranoid spy spoof The President's Analyst (1967), Banner was a flower child named "Snow White", who temporarily rescues James Coburn (Our Man Flint, In Like Flint) from a combined conspiracy of the American CIA, the Russian KGB, and The Phone Company (referred to cryptically as "TPC"). She was featured in several episodes of Jack Webb's police-procedural shows, Dragnet 1967 and Adam-12, usually playing clueless teenagers and spaced-out daytrippers. In the Dragnet story "Forgery", she played a pot-smoking woman who is duped into a life of check fraud by two hippie dope dealers. In another episode, "The Hammer", Banner played a hardened but stupid juvenile whose sociopath boyfriend has murdered an elderly man for money and a ring. When captured, Banner's character shows no remorse, prompting Detective Sgt. Joe Friday to say: "I'll bet your mother had a loud bark."
Banner performed in several movies and TV shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Shadow Over Elveron (1968) with Don Ameche and Adam-12 co-star Kent McCord. In The Stranger Returns (1968), a comic spaghetti western (aka Shoot First Laugh Last and Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola), Banner played the pretty daughter of a corrupt postal official who falls into the hands of banditos, only to be rescued by The Stranger. She was also featured in Hunters Are For Killing (1970), an early Burt Reynolds movie. In an interview, Reynolds once joked that such films were typically shown in prisons and airplanes because no one in the audience could leave. She appeared in episodes of the television shows The Bold Ones and Cade's County. She had an uncredited bit part in Christian Marquand's film Candy (1968), but her scene was deleted from the final print.
Banner eventually abandoned Hollywood for a real estate job in New Mexico in 1976. Marlon Brando's 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, discusses the couple's relationship. Banner returned to Southern California and in the early 1980s, reportedly to develop scripts.
In 1982, her Toyota was hit by a truck on Ventura Freeway. Thrown from the vehicle, she died at 03:00 am, August 7, 1982 at North Hollywood's Riverside Hospital. She was 35 years old. She is interred at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.
- Higham, Charles (1988). Brando: The Unauthorized Biography. New York: New American Library. ISBN 0-451-15394-4.
- Lipton, Peggy (2005). Breathing Out. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312324131.