Paget in 1958
August 19, 1933
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Debra Paget (born Debralee Griffin; August 19, 1933) is an American actress and entertainer. She is perhaps best known for her performances in Cecil B. DeMille's epic movie, The Ten Commandments (1956), as well as Love Me Tender (1956), the film debut of Elvis Presley and also the (for the time) risque "snake dance scene" in The Indian Tomb (1959).
Paget was born in Denver, Colorado, one of five children born to Margaret Allen (née Gibson), a former actress (one source says, "ex-burlesque queen"), and Frank Henry Griffin, a painter. The family moved from Denver to Los Angeles, California, in the 1930s to be close to the developing film industry. Debra was enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School when she was 11. Margaret was determined that Debra and her siblings would also make their careers in show business. Three of Paget's siblings, Marcia (Teala Loring), Leslie (Lisa Gaye), and Frank (Ruell Shayne), entered show business.
Paget's first notable film role was as Teena Riconti, girlfriend of the character played by Richard Conte, in Cry of the City, a 1948 film noir directed by Robert Siodmak. Fresh out of high school in 1949, she acted in three other films before being signed by 20th Century-Fox. Her first vehicle for Fox was the successful Broken Arrow with James Stewart. At the age of 16, Paget played a Native American maiden, Sonseeahray ("morningstar"), who falls in love with Stewart's character. Stewart was 42 at the time.
From 1950 to 1956, she took part in six original radio plays for Family Theater. During those same years, she read parts in four episodes of Lux Radio Theater, sharing the microphone with such actors as Burt Lancaster, Tyrone Power, Cesar Romero, Ronald Colman, and Robert Stack. The latter set included dramatizations of two of her feature films.
In 1955, she broke the exclusivity clause of her contract. She played another Native American girl, Princess Appearing Day, in White Feather (1955) along with Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter and later at MGM replaced Anne Bancroft in The Last Hunt (1956).
The Hollywood studio system dominated American feature film production in the first half of the 20th century. Under it, an actor would sign an exclusive contract to make films for a major studio, such as Fox. The system worked well at first for Paget as her early Fox films did well, so the studio bolstered her film career. During the year after Princess of the Nile was released, the fan mail Paget received at 20th Century-Fox was topped only by that for Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.
During this time, Fox lent her to Paramount for the part of Lilia, the water girl, in Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956), her most successful film. She had to wear brown contact lenses to hide her blue eyes; she said that, "If it hadn't been for the lenses I wouldn't have gotten the part." However, she also said that the lenses were "awful to work in because the klieg lights heat(ed) them up."
The River's Edge (1957) was the last film she made for Fox. After that, Paget's career began to decline. She was typically cast in exotic roles such as South Sea Island maidens or middle-east harem girls. In 1959, she traveled to Germany to join the cast of Fritz Lang's two-film adventure saga (called in America Journey to the Lost City) in a role that recalled her role as Shalimar/Taura of Princess of the Nile. Like the Egyptian epic, Lost City is remembered chiefly for her energetic dance scenes.
In 1959, Paget appeared as Lela Russell in the episode "The Unwilling" of the NBC western television series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. In the story line, Dan Simpson, played by Eddie Albert, attempts to open a general store despite a raid from pirates who stole $20,000 in merchandise. Russell Johnson appears in this episode as Darius.
In 1960, she appeared as Laura Ashley in the episode "Incident of the Garden of Eden" on CBS's western series, Rawhide. That same year she had played an author, Agnes St. John, the only surviving witness to a brutal stagecoach robbery in another CBS western, Johnny Ringo, starring Don Durant in the title role. In 1962, she returned to Rawhide to play the part of Azuela in the episode "Hostage Child" along with James Coburn.
Paget appeared in a pair of films shot in Italy. Her final feature film was The Haunted Palace, a 1963 horror movie directed by Roger Corman for American International Pictures. She did television work throughout her career. Her last performance in this medium came in a December 1965 episode of ABC's Burke's Law, starring Gene Barry. She retired from entertainment in 1965, after marrying a wealthy oil executive, by whom she had one son, her only child.
Paget became a born-again Christian. She hosted her own show, An Interlude with Debra Paget on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a Christian network, in the early 1990s, and also was involved in Praise the Lord. She occasionally appears on TBN as a guest.
In 1987, the Motion Picture & Television Fund presented Paget with its Golden Boot Award, which is awarded to those actors, writers, directors and stunt crew who "have contributed so much to the development and preservation of the western tradition in film and television."
During production of Love Me Tender (1956), Elvis Presley became smitten with Paget, who in 1997 claimed the singer even proposed marriage. At the time, however, the media reported that she was romantically linked with Howard Hughes and nothing came of this. A 1956 article quoted Paget's comments about Hughes:
I was in love with Howard for two years, and I don't care who knows it... I was never alone with him in the whole two years. Mother was always with us... I haven't seen Howard for a long time now, because I'm a one-man woman, and I've got to have a one-woman man... But I'll always remember Howard with fondness.
Paget married actor and singer David Street on January 14, 1958, but she obtained a divorce on April 11, 1958. On March 27, 1960, she married Budd Boetticher, a prominent director, in Tijuana, Mexico. They separated after just 22 days, and their divorce became official in 1961.
Paget left the entertainment industry in 1964 after marrying Ling C. Kung 孔令傑 on April 19, 1962. Kung was a Chinese-American oil industry executive, son of Confucius descendant H. H. Kung and Soong Ai-ling and nephew of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. This third marriage produced a son, Gregory (Kung Teh-chi) (Kong Deji) (孔德基), but ended in divorce in 1980.
|1948||Cry of the City||Robert Siodmak||Teena Riconti|
|1949||Mother Is a Freshman||Lloyd Bacon||Linda|
|1949||It Happens Every Spring||Lloyd Bacon||Alice|
|1949||House of Strangers||Joseph L. Mankiewicz||Maria Domenico|
|1950||Broken Arrow||Delmer Daves||Sonseeahray|
|1950||Fourteen Hours||Henry Hathaway||Ruth|
|1951||Bird of Paradise||Delmer Daves||Kalua|
|1951||Anne of the Indies||Jacques Torneur||Molly LaRochelle|
|1952||Belles on Their Toes||Henry Levin||Martha Gilbreth|
|1952||Les Misérables||Lewis Milestone||Cosette|
|1952||Stars and Stripes Forever||Henry Koster||Lily Becker|
|1954||Prince Valiant||Henry Hathaway||Ilene|
|1954||Princess of the Nile||Harmon Jones||Princess Shalimar/Taura|
|1954||Demetrius and the Gladiators||Delmer Daves||Lucia|
|1954||The Gambler from Natchez||Henry Levin||Melanie Barbee|
|1955||White Feather||Robert D. Webb||Appearing Day|
|1955||Seven Angry Men||Charles Marquis Warren||Elizabeth Clark|
|1956||The Last Hunt||Richard Brooks||Indian girl|
|1956||The Ten Commandments||Cecil B. DeMille||Lilia|
|1956||Love Me Tender||Robert D. Webb||Cathy Reno|
|1957||The River's Edge||Allan Dwan||Margaret Cameron|
|1957||Omar Khayyam||William Dieterle||Sharain|
|1958||From the Earth to the Moon||Byron Haskin||Virginia Nicholl|
|1959||The Tiger of Eschnapur||Fritz Lang||Seetha|
|1959||The Indian Tomb||Fritz Lang||Seetha|
|1960||Cleopatra's Daughter||Fernando Cerchio||Shila|
|1960||Why Must I Die?||Roy Del Ruth||Dottie Manson|
|1961||Most Dangerous Man Alive (shot in 1958)||Allan Dwan||Linda Marlow|
|1961||Rome, 1585||Mario Bonnard||Esmeralda|
|1962||Tales of Terror (segment: "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar")||Roger Corman||Helene Valdemar|
|1963||The Haunted Palace||Roger Corman||Ann Ward|
- 1950-11-29 "The Clown" – Debra Paget, Stephen Dunn
- 1952-01-23 "The Thinking Machine" – Donald O'Connor, Debra Paget
- 1953-02-11 "The Indispensable Man" – Lisa Gaye, Robert Stack, Debra Paget
- 1953-12-09 "The Legend of High Chin Bob" – Debra Paget, Walter Brennan
- 1955-07-27 "Fairy Tale" – Debra Paget, Jack Haley
- 1956-11-07 "Integrity" – Debra Paget, Cesar Romero
- 1951-01-22 "Broken Arrow" – Burt Lancaster, Debra Paget
- 1952-09-22 "I'll Never Forget You" – Tyrone Power, Debra Paget, Michael Pate
- 1952-12-22 "Les Misérables" – Ronald Colman, Debra Paget, Robert Newton
- 1953-04-20 "Deadline USA" – Dan Dailey, Debra Paget, William Conrad
- 1953-02-21 "The Wonderful Miss Prinn" – Debra Paget
- "Quotes From The News: Hollywood". The Times-News. January 14, 1958. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
- Shearer, Lloyd (July 15, 1956). "More glamor for Hollywood". Albuquerque Journal. pp. 68–69. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Hopper, Hedda (March 10, 1951). "Lovely Debra Paget Ambitious, Talented". Toledo Blade. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
- "When You Wish Upon a Star, or It's a Star-Spangled Life: Family Cast" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 26, 2009)
- "The Private Life and Times of Debra Paget". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
- Belser, Emily (June 1, 1955). "Now Stars Change Eyes Just Like Pair Of Shoes". The Miami News. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
- ""The Unwilling", Riverboat, October 11, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
- Victor, Adam (2008). The Elvis Encyclopedia. Overlook Duckworth. ISBN 9781585675982.
- Bacon, James (January 14, 1958). "Debra Paget Wedding Quiet Despite Threat of Ruckus". The San Bernardino County Sun. p. 10. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Debra Paget Leaves Husband of 19 Days". Wisconsin State Journal. April 19, 1960. p. 10. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Debra Paget, Director Wed". Redlands Daily Facts. March 28, 1969. p. 1. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Bacon, James (April 21, 1962). "Debra Paget Weds Oilman, Nephew of Madame Chiang". Independent. p. 11. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Kirby, Walter (February 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Family Theater
- Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Lux Radio Theater
- Kinchlow, Ben (2001). "Praise the Lord". TBN Newsletter. 28 (9).
- Wandworth, James (July 1953). "Ready for love". Motion Picture and Television Magazine. 85 (6): 38–39, 73–74.
- Weaver, Tom (April 1998). "First Maid in the Moon". Starlog (249): 63–67.
- Weaver, Tom (September 2002). "Working in the B's". Classic Images (327): 65–68.
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