On Debra Paget and Her Hollywood Siblings

I was poised to do a post about about Debra Paget when I came across the interesting information that most of her siblings were in the business too so we thought it best to include them all. Griffin was the family surname. The mother, Margaret, or Marguerite Gibson, had a stage background in stock theatre, and had danced in vaudeville, night clubs and possibly burlesque. It was she who pushed her children into show business and conferred upon them their exotic professional names. Four of the five Griffin kids became actors. They were:

Teala Loring, sometimes billed as Judith Gibson (Marcia Griffin, 1922-2007)

The oldest Griffin sibling appeared in 32 movies over a 9 year period (1942-1950). In major films she normally had bit parts, but she get larger roles in B movies. Her walk-ons are in pictures like The Fleet’s In (1942), Holiday Inn (1942), and Double Indemnity (1944). She can be seen in larger roles in things like Return of the Ape Man (1944), Bluebeard (1944), Dark Alibi (1946, a Charlie Chan film), the Bowery Boys comedies Bowery Bombshell (1946) and Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947), Gas House Kids (1946), and Arizona Cowboy (1950), opposite Rex Allen, her last. It is interesting that she dropped out of the business just as her younger sister found success.

Frank Griffin (b. 1929, billed on some occasions as “Ruelle Shayne”)

Frank’s career as an actor was modest by comparison to those of his sisters. He was mostly a bit player, with the occasional bigger role in B movies or television. His fewer than two dozen acting credits are mostly in the period 1950-60, beginning a couple of years after Debra’s and ceasing slightly before hers do. He debuted in the B western Lightning Guns (1950). He has somewhat bigger roles in Columbia’s Teenage Crime Wave (1955) and The Giant Claw (1957). His bit parts in Love Me Tender (1956) and Omar Khayyam (1957) are patently due to the fact that Debra starred in them.

Starting in the late ’60s Frank became a major Hollywood make-up artist, with credits on such films as A Man Called Horse (1970), Scarecrow (1973), Westworld (1973), Cinderella Liberty (1973, in which he also had a small role), The Ghost Busters tv show (1975), Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976), Close Encounters of the Third KInd (1977), Urban Cowboy (1980), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Midnight Run (1988), and nearly every Steve Martin movie from 1981 through Shopgirl (2005). His daughter Roxane Griffin is a major hair stylist form film and television, which credits on such shows as Transparent (2016-17), Camping (2018), and the current Perry Mason reboot.

Debra Paget (b. Debralee Griffin, 1933)

Brief but spectacular was the heyday of the family’s biggest star. She is associated almost entirely with the 1950s, though her film career can be more precisely be described as going from 1948 through 1963. Debra began acting on stage as a child, and attended the Hollywood Professional School. She was only 15 when cast in Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City, cast as the girlfriend of Richard Conte, nearly 20 years her senior. When she was 16, in Broken Arrow (1950), she played an Indian girl who was in love with 42 year old Jimmy Stewart. Paget had an image as a pure maiden type, which counterintuitively made her a sex symbol in those warped and thwarted times. She was very much associated with Biblical and historical epics like Prince Valiant, Princess of the Nile, Demetrius and the Gladiators (all 1954), The Ten Commandments (1956), Omar Khayyam (1957), The Indian Tomb (1959), Cleopatra’s Daughter (1960), and Rome 1585 (1961). Other notable films included the 1952 version of Les Miserables (as Cosette), the John Philip Sousa bio-pic Stars and Stripes Forever (1952), the Elvis vehicle Love Me Tender (1956) and the sci fi classic From Earth to the Moon (1958). In 1960 she married western director Budd Boetticher, but the union lasted less than a month.

Most of Paget’s last films were foreign productions or B movies of the sort we’d be more apt to associate with her siblings. In The Indian Tomb (1959) she did a naughty snake dance that went against her traditional image. For Columbia she appeared in The Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961) about a man with atomic powers, and for AIP she was in Why Must I Die? (1960), Tales of Terror (1962) and The Haunted Palace (1963). In 1964 she married the wealthy oil millionaire Ling C. Kung, a nephew of Chiang Kai-shek, and retired from show business, although she later had her own Christian talk show on cable TV in the 1980s and ’90s.

Lisa Gaye (Leslie Griffin, 1935-2016)

The youngest of the performing Griffin siblings benefitted from a resemblance to her famous sister. Lisa Gaye’s screen career lasted from 1954 through 1970 and she worked mostly in television. Her one decent role in a pretty decent movie was the western Drums Across the River (1954). Her other movies (mostly Bs) included Rock Around the Clock (1956), Shake Rattle and Rock (1956), Night of Evil (1962), Face of Terror (1962), Castle of Evil (1966) and The Violent Ones (1967). And she had bit parts in major things like The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and Magnificent Obession (1954).

On TV, she had a recurring role on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959, with a later appearance in 1961), and a regular one on How to Marry a Millionaire (1959), and made multiple appearances on such shows as 77 Sunset Strip, The Hawaiian Eye, Perry Mason and Death Valley Days. Her later credits include guest shots on such shows as Get Smart, The Wild Wild West, I Dream of Jeannie, The Flying Nun, and The Mod Squad. She was only 35 when she retired.

And that’s something one can’t help noting. All four of these siblings stopped acting at the first reasonable opportunity. It seems pretty clear that they were not driven to do it themselves, but by their stage mom. Miraculously, none of them seem to have gone crazy!

For more on vaudeville and show business please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.