Deborah Walley

James Darren, Deborah Walley, James Callan
James Darren, Deborah Walley, James Callan

“Telegraph” obituary from May 2001:

DEBORAH WALLEY, the actress, who has died in Arizona aged 57, became the envy of millions of women when she appeared in Spinout (1966) with Elvis Presley and subsequently became romantically involved with him.

In the 1960s Deborah Walley was established as a Hollywood starlet when she appeared in a number of beach party films – which generally featured bikini-clad girls dancing half-heartedly to bland pop tunes. With her charming elfin looks she became a popular box office attraction and she was an obvious choice as the love interest in one of Presley’s films.

Her character in Spinout was a rather androgynous girl drummer in Elvis’s band who, as was traditional in such pictures, harboured a secret crush on the singer. Off screen there was some romance between the two, although Deborah Walley always stressed the innocence of their relationship. “Elvis would take me out on the back of his motorbike,” she recalled, “and we kissed a lot early on, but that made way for serious conversation. We became lifelong friends.”

Deborah Walley was born on Aug 12 1943 at Bridgeport, Connecticut, the daughter of Nathan and Edith Walley, who were champion ice skaters and choreographers. Her childhood was spent on the road with her parents, and she made her first public appearance aged three on the ice to a packed house at Madison Square Gardens. However, by the time she was a teenager, Deborah had decided to opt for a career on the stage. “I simply hated the ice and cold,” she later recalled, “thankfully, my folks were understanding.”

After studying at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she made her stage debut at 15 and appeared in many early television commercials. But it was while she was playing Irina in Chekov’s The Three Sisters that she was discovered by Columbia Pictures and taken to Hollywood.

In her first film, Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Walley was an overnight sensation. Over the next four years she appeared in a number of films before being cast in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) starring Frankie Avalon. It was the most successful and critically acclaimed of the beach party films and established her as a beach movie regular. She went on to star in Dr Goldfoot in the Bikini Machine (1965), Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and It’s a Bikini World (1967).

Television producers also recognised her appeal and she made appearances in a number of popular television shows of the time including Route 66, Naked City, Playhouse 90 and Wagon Train. In the last she played the part of Sally, a mischievous teenager who gets a spanking from John McIntyre.

Starring opposite Elvis Presley established her cult following and by the time Spinout was released she was receiving 5,000 fan letters a month. However, after she appeared in The Bubble – a film about a young couple who find themselves trapped inside in a seemingly deserted town enclosed in a giant bubble – film offers dried up.

“Directors thought I only acted on a beach,” she later commented, “they had no idea that I could really act!” Her only big screen role in the 1970s was in Benji (1974), the popular family film about a lovable dog and his owners. She continued to work on television, however, appearing in The Hardy Boys and, ironically, in an episode of Baywatch.

She was an active campaigner for environmental issues and a co-founder of the Swiftwind Theatre Company, which helps to train North American Indians to act, write and direct for the screen.

Although, towards the end of her life, illness prevented her from working, Walley remained cheerful. “I’ve known some wonderful people,” she said this year, “and I’ve dated Elvis. What a marvellous life.”

She married John Ashley in 1961 (dissolved 1966). They had three sons.

Rhe above “Telegraph” obituary can also be accessed online here.

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