Lorna Gray: From Ben Yost to the Bs

She has the same perfectly round head as Helen Bonham Carter

When actress Lorna Gray passed away in 2017 just three months shy of 100, there was much more to tell about her life which contemporary people might recognize than there would be for your average, run-of-the-mill B movie star. She might have enjoyed still greater fame had she restricted herself to a single screen name instead of spreading her credits out among three. During her initial Paramount phase she went by her birth name of Virginia Pound. For most her career she was Lorna Gray. And then during the last few years she went by Adrian Booth.

Classic comedy fans know her from the Three Stooges shorts Oily to Bed, Oily to Rise (1939), Three Sappy People (1939), You Nazty Spy (1940) and Rockin’ Through the Rockies (1940), as well as Pest from the West (1940) with Buster Keaton. She also had roles of various sizes in feature length comedies like Beware Spooks! (1939) with Joe E. Brown; Up in the Air (1940) with Frankie Darro; Father Steps Out (1941) with Frank Albertson and Jed Prouty; Tuxedo Junction (1941) with The Weaver Brothers and Elviry; and Adventures of Kitty O’Day (1945) with Jean Parker.

She was the female lead in Republic’s original 1945 Captain America serial, two B movie horror classics, The Man They Could Not Hang (1939) with Boris Karloff, and Valley of the Zombies (1946) with Robert Livingston. Other serials included Flying G-Men (1939) and the jungle-themed Perils of Nyoka (1942) in which she portrayed one “Vultura”.

The largest category among Gray’s 69 screen credits is westerns. She had the lead role in the serial Daughter of Don Q (1946) and the female lead in Deadwood Dick (1940). She had the title role in O My Darling Clementine (1943) with Roy Acuff (not to be confused with the John Ford film). She starred or co-starred in dozens of other westerns and mysteries.

Gray also played smaller roles in musicals, and sometimes played the saloon entertainer in westerns as in Dakota (1946) with John Wayne. Her singing and dancing skills had been honed in the post-vaudeville era when she toured presentation houses to perform in movie prologues with groups like Ben Yost’s Varsity Coeds. The Ben Yost Singers had appeared in the 1936 short Playing for Fun. It’s unknown whether she would appeared with the group at the juncture, but the next year she was signed at Paramount, where she mostly had walk-ons and chorus parts in films like Thrill of a Lifetime (1937), The Big Broadcast of 1938, and Cecil B. De Mille’s The Buccaneers (1938). Most of her career was spent at Columbia and Republic.

In 1949, Gray married actor David Brian, whose screen career was just beginning. She retired two years later at the incredibly young age of 32. Her last movie was Republic’s The Sea Hornet (1951), starring Rod Cameron.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.