Marie Windsor: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

The biggest bombshell about B movie queen Marie Windsor (Emily Marie Bertelsen, 1919-2000), best known for playing smoldering noir dames and dance hall girls in westerns, was that she was a lifelong, devout Mormon from Utah. In other words she specialized in playing bad girls, but in real life probably exceeded Shirley Jones and Florence Henderson in wholesomeness.

Windsor (then Bertelsen) performed in plays at Brigham Young University, acted in local radio in Salt Lake City, and in 1939 was voted queen of “Covered Wagon Days”. This encouraged her to make the move to Hollywood in 1940. For several years she took classes with Maria Ouspenskaya while working as a fashion model, bit player in movies, and actress in radio and theatre productions. And also — another surprise — a gag writer. She began submitting jokes to Jack Benny using the pen name “M.E. Windsor”. Benny used the jokes and then was flabbergasted when Windsor turned out to be a beautiful dame. He arranged her first contract with Warner Brothers. (She has a walk-on in Benny’s 1942 comedy George Washington Slept Here).

Windsor’s breakthrough role was in Force of Evil (1948) with John Garfield. You can see her in The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, directed by Preston Sturges, and The Fighting Kentuckian, with John Wayne and Oliver Hardy, both 1949. She’s the title character in Dakota Lil (1950). All in all, she’s in a downright amazing assortment of films, including Cat-Women on the Moon (1953), The Eddie Cantor Story (1953), The Bounty Hunter (1954) with Randolph Scott, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956), The Story of Mankind (playing Josephine Bonaparte, 1957), Hugo Haas’s Paradise Alley (1962), The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963), Critic’s Choice (1963) with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, Bedtime Story (1964), Chamber of Horrors (1966), Support Your Local Gunfighter (1969), Cahill U.S. Marshall (1973), Freaky Friday (1976), and Salem’s Lot (1979). Naturally, by the last years, she was down to playing bit parts again. Her last credit was a 1991 episode of Murder, She Wrote. 

Unusual for a Mormon, she was married twice. The first time was to big bandleader Ted Steele in 1946 (it was quickly annulled). The lasting one (1954) was to Jack Hupp, a son of Canadian actor/director/screenwriter Earle Rodney.