The actress was born Marilyn Watts in Santa Monica, California, 17 years before she put her foot on the bottom step of the show biz ladder, dancing in the back row of the chorus in “Earl Carroll’s Revue” at the famed showman’s theater-restaurant in Hollywood. Modeling for photographers led to wider exposure and ultimately to TV roles and bit parts in low-budget movies. As a Universal-International contract player, she was in most every type of B picture that the studio made. She gave up acting in the early ’60s to concentrate on marriage and motherhood during 17 tumultuous years as the wife of actorRichard Long. Since his 1974 death, she’s played supporting parts in her friend Clint Eastwood‘s movies, just as he played a supporting role in one of hers (Tarantula (1955)).
Interview with Mike Fitzgerald in “Western Clippings:
Exotic and sexy describes Mara Corday! A talented actress from the ‘50s, she’s known for her numerous appearances in westerns as well as her many battles with Tarantulas, Black Scorpions and Giant Claws in sci-fi classics.
Mara was contracted by Universal-International in the early ‘50s. “Mamie Van Doren and I received the most fan mail at the time. It was because of our frequent pin-up sessions, I’m sure. Actually, Julie Adams had a great figure but it was often hidden in period costumes and ankle-length ‘50s dresses!”
In Mara’s first western, “Drums Across The River”, the leading man was Audie Murphy. “Audie was psychotic—insane! After killing all those people during the war, you’d have to be a little nuts! We were shooting on the backlot—it got to be suppertime and Audie asked me out for a little dinner. We got in his car, anxious to get that prime rib! It was turning dark and we were at a stoplight. There were kids in back of us and when the light changed, they honked because Audie didn’t start right away. The teenagers gave him the finger—and took off up the street. And right behind were Audie and me. He reached in his glove compartment—while rolling down his window. He got a gun and said, ‘I’m gonna get them!’ We followed along Ventura Boulevard—I said, ‘My God, I just signed a contract. I can’t die now!’ Audie said to me, ‘Oh, I scared you, didn’t I?’ I told Tony Curtis, ‘I’m terrified of him.’ Tony told me a story about Audie shooting up one of his sets one day! Audie was very quiet, soft-spoken and boyish—yet a flirt with the girls. But he had a short fuse, so you walked around on eggshells whenever he was near.”
Mara especially adored “Drums” co-star, Walter Brennan. “A sweet, professional man. One time, Lyle Bettger asked, ‘What is my motivation?’ Walter said, ‘Just say the damn line!’ Hugh O’Brian was very intense—didn’t kid around. He was about as serious as Jeff Morrow!”
“In ‘Man Without A Star,’ my option had just been picked up. Kirk Douglas has mellowed extremely since then. Early on in the film I played a whore—there were two scenes at a dancehall. All the guys were leaning on the bar. All of us girls took a poll as to which butt was best. We picked Richard Boone’s. We told him, ‘We pick you’ and Kirk heard. It made him so angry at me! Publicity wanted a photo of Kirk grabbing me by the necklace—he grabbed it and almost choked me! When I said something he stated, ‘I’m not acting! You should take this business more seriously. I don’t like your attitude and your kidding around.’ I said, ‘Go screw yourself, I just got renewed!’ How dare he tell me I can’t kid around! Kirk also treated little King Vidor, the director, badly. Whatever King said, he had to defer to Kirk. In the ‘70s—13 or 14 years later, I met Kirk and now he’s the sweetest man in the world!”
“Steve McQueen pulled the same antics on ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’ He was an egomaniac at the time—the most unprofessional actor I’ve ever worked with. He’d go off and ride his motorcycle. We’d all sit around waiting. Director George Blair was a recovering alcoholic. We were getting way behind schedule because of McQueen’s delays. Steve proclaimed, ‘Hey, I’m enjoying my bike better than a little TV show.’ I noticed George’s breath had alcohol—and at the last of the show, Steve McQueen was directing it! I had a line—‘Are you bounty hunters?’ I naturally spoke to Wright King because it was plural. McQueen didn’t want Wright King acknowledged. ‘You keep looking at me!’ I told him, ‘Then you must change the line—to bounty hunter.’ That muffled him up. Another scene, he wanted me to go crazy. I said I shouldn’t go that high. I asked George Blair, ‘Do you think I’m doing alright?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ but McQueen said, ‘I don’t!’ He had a huge ego!!”
“In ‘Raw Edge’ I enjoyed working with Yvonne DeCarlo, but she worried about our coloring. She made me wear a dark fall—over my real hair, which had to be dyed black. I knew I’d have dark makeup as well. But Yvonne and I became very close friends. She confided in me she was going to marry Bob Morgan, the stuntman. She asked if she was doing the right thing. I said, ‘Do you love this man? Then you are doing the right thing.’ Yvonne is adorable, very professional. Bob’s accident—losing a leg while filming ‘How the West Was Won,’ was a big tragedy. It affected both of them—it was just a matter of time before they split up.”
“A Day of Fury” was a Technicolor CinemaScope western. “I didn’t like it. The director, Harmon Jones, a nice man, had been an editor. He told you line readings—in otherwords, how to say the lines. He’d put emphasis on certain worlds that I wouldn’t have. It made everyone stilted. Jock Mahoney was like a wooden stick. I was horridly rigid. Dale Robertson overacted. However, Jan Merlin, a good actor, did a very fine job in the show! He was the villain who shoots the preacher! Dale Robertson is my old buddy. I’d known him since my Earl Carroll showgirl days, ‘47-‘49. Dale dated a cute blonde girl in the show. I did skits with Pinky Lee.”
“Naked Gun” was made during Mara Corday’s freelance days. “I shot it in five days. It started off as ‘Sarazin Curse.’ Two days later, they changed it to ‘The Hanging Judge’—and decided to have the story revolve around him. Then the next day it was called ‘Naked Gun’—all this while we are shooting it! It was the first thing I did after Universal. I knew I was in trouble when they asked what I wanted to play—the heavy or the ingenue.” One of the “Naked Gun” co-stars was Veda Ann Borg. “Veda was sad—she was getting a divorce around this time.” And Jody McCrea—the son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee? “Jody had a big crush on me—but he was a little nuts. He’d turn into a werewolf; I later heard he caused a lot of trouble on one of those A. C. Lyles Paramount westerns.”
In “The Quiet Gun” Mara played an Indian, “Probably because of my sharp features, but actually I’m Welsh.”
The above “Western Clippings” interview can also be accessed online here.