Debra Paget

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Debra Paget
Debra Paget 1958.jpg
Paget in 1958
BornDebralee Griffin
(1933-08-19) August 19, 1933 (age 85)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Years active1948–1965
  • David Street
    (m. 1958; div. 1958)
  • Budd Boetticher
    (m. 1960; div. 1961)
  • Louis C. Kung
    (m. 1964; div. 1980)
ChildrenGregory Kung

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 The Ten Commandments (1956) and in Love Me Tender (1956) (the film debut of Elvis Presley), and for the risque (for the time) snake dance scene in The Indian Tomb (1959).

Early life[edit]

Paget was born in Denver, Colorado, one of five children born to Margaret Allen (née Gibson),[1] a former actress (one source says, "ex-burlesque queen"),[2] and Frank Henry Griffin, a painter.[3] The family moved from Denver to Los Angeles, California, in the 1930s to be close to the developing film industry. Paget was enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School when she was 11.[2] 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.[4]

Paget had her first professional job at age 8,[4] and acquired some stage experience at 13 when she acted in a 1946 production of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor.


20th Century Fox[edit]

Paget in the trailer for Cry of the City (1948)

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 for 20th Century Fox.

Fox liked her and signed her to a long-term contract. She had small roles in Mother Is a Freshman (1949), It Happens Every Spring (1949) and House of Strangers (1949).

Broken Arrow[edit]

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.

Paget had a sizeable role in Fourteen Hours (1951) and was reunited with Broken Arrow director Delmer Daves and star Jeff Chandler in Bird of Paradise (1951), playing a role similar to Broken Arrow.

Paget was the second female lead in Anne of the Indies (1951). She was third billed in Belles on Their Toes (1952) and second billed in Les Misérables (1952), playing Cosette.

Paget was Robert Wagner's love interest in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) and Prince Valiant (1954). In 1953, wearing a blonde wig, she auditioned along with Anita Ekberg and Irish McCalla, among others, for the starring role in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which went to McCalla.

Princess of the Nile[edit]

Fox finally gave Paget top billing with the swashbuckler Princess of the Nile (1954), co-starring Jeffrey Hunter. The film was not a notable success at the box office. However 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.[5]

Paget had a good role in Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), a big hit. She was Dale Robertson's love interest in The Gambler from Natchez (1954) and played another Native American in White Feather (1955), playing the sister of Jeffrey Hunter and lover of Robert Wagner.

Fox loaned Paget and Hunter to Allied Artists to appear in Seven Angry Men (1955). Then when Anne Bancroft was injured during filming The Last Hunt (1956) at MGM, the studio borrowed Paget to play her part, another native American.

The Ten Commandments[edit]

With John Derek in the trailer for The Ten Commandments (1956)

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."[6] However, she also said that the lenses were "awful to work in because the klieg lights heat(ed) them up."[6]

The film was a huge success. So too was a Western Paget made at Fox, Love Me Tender (1956) alongside Elvis Presley; Paget and Richard Egan were billed above Presley but it was the latter's popularity that made the film so successful.

The River's Edge (1957) was the last film she made for Fox.


After that, Paget's career began to decline. She went to Paramount to play Cornel Wilde's love interest in Omar Khayyam (1957). She was the juvenile lead in From the Earth to the Moon (1958).


In 1958, she traveled to Germany to headline the cast of Fritz Lang's two-film adventure saga, The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959), a role that recalled her role as Shalimar/Taura of Princess of the Nile. Like the Egyptian epic, the film 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.[7]

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 Cleopatra's Daughter (1960) shot in Italy, Why Must I Die? (1960) for American International Pictures, Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), and Rome 1585 (1961) again in Italy.


Her final two films were for Roger Corman at American International Pictures: Tales of Terror (1963) and The Haunted Palace (1963).

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.[5]

Later Career[edit]

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.[4]

In 1987, the Motion Picture and 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."

Personal life[edit]

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.[8] 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.[2]

Paget married actor and singer David Street on January 14, 1958,[9] but she obtained a divorce on April 11, 1958.[10] On March 27, 1960, she married Budd Boetticher, a prominent director, in Tijuana, Mexico.[11] 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.[12] 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.

Acting roles[edit]

Feature films[edit]

Year Title Director Role
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 Tourneur 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

Radio plays[edit]

Family Theater[edit]

  • 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[13]
  • 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[14]

Lux Radio Theatre[edit]

  • 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[15]

Stars over Hollywood[edit]

  • 1953-02-21 "The Wonderful Miss Prinn" – Debra Paget[13]


  1. ^ "Quotes From The News: Hollywood". The Times-News. January 14, 1958. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Shearer, Lloyd (July 15, 1956). "More glamor for Hollywood". Albuquerque Journal. pp. 68–69. Retrieved June 10, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ Hopper, Hedda (March 10, 1951). "Lovely Debra Paget Ambitious, Talented". Toledo Blade. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c ""When You Wish Upon a Star, or It's a Star-Spangled Life: Family Cast"". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-26.
  5. ^ a b "The Private Life and Times of Debra Paget". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b Belser, Emily (June 1, 1955). "Now Stars Change Eyes Just Like Pair Of Shoes". The Miami News. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  7. ^ ""The Unwilling", Riverboat, October 11, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  8. ^ Victor, Adam (2008). The Elvis Encyclopedia. Overlook Duckworth. ISBN 9781585675982.
  9. ^ 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 open access publication – free to read
  10. ^ "Debra Paget Leaves Husband of 19 Days". Wisconsin State Journal. April 19, 1960. p. 10. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ "Debra Paget, Director Wed". Redlands Daily Facts. March 28, 1969. p. 1. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  12. ^ Bacon, James (April 21, 1962). "Debra Paget Weds Oilman, Nephew of Madame Chiang". Independent. p. 11. Retrieved June 11, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  13. ^ a b Kirby, Walter (February 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 21, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  14. ^ Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Family Theater
  15. ^ Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Lux Radio Theater Archived 2016-12-05 at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]