Mary Murphy: Actress best known for playing opposite Marlon Brando in 'The Wild One'

The high point of actress Mary Murphy's screen career was The Wild One (1953), in which she played a sheriff's daughter who captivates the leader of a motorcycle gang that is terrorising a small town. The leather-clad star was Marlon Brando, and the controversial film was banned in the UK for 14 years for fear that it would incite teenagers to riot, though it is now a cult favourite and considered a forerunner of Rebel Without a Cause.

Born in Washington in 1931, Murphy, the youngest of four children, was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, until 1940 when her father, a businessman, died. Her mother took the family to California, and Mary was working as a package-wrapper in the Beverly Hills branch of Saks Fifth Avenue when she was spotted having coffee in a nearby drugstore by Paramount's chief talent scout, Milton Lewis. After a screen test she was given a seven-year contract, and for the next three years appeared in small roles in such films as The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), When Worlds Collide (1951), Carrie (1952) and Houdini (1953). "On Carrie, I met my idol, Laurence Olivier. He paid absolutely no attention to me at all. I was 18 years old and playing his daughter, who was 15 years old, and at one point I was able to look Olivier right into those beautiful eyes of his, and he looked back as if I totally was not there."

Murphy's name was becoming known primarily for her frequent appearance in fan magazines attending night clubs with famous companions, with captions labelling her "starlet" or "aspiring actress". She had a brief relationship with the president of Paramount, Adolph Zukor, and romances with Nicky Hilton and Bing Crosby. In 1953 a dancer friend, Tom Morton, was given the leading role of an aspiring playwright in Main Street to Broadway, and on his recommendation Murphy was given her first starring role, but the film was a trite affair.

Producer Stanley Kramer was still impressed enough to offer Murphy the role of the sheriff's daughter in The Wild One, which was inspired by a 1947 incident when 4,000 motorcyclists took over a small Californian town, Hollister, for the 4 July weekend, and destroyed it. "I was told the pairing of Brando and myself would not work unless Marlon felt attracted to me, so I had to meet him in Kramer's office and we had a casual conversation, but all the while he was sizing me up."

In Classic Images magazine Murphy recalled an attack of stage fright on her first day of shooting. "Marlon picked it up immediately and saw that I was tense and a bit scared. He sat with me for a while and clasped my hand in his and was wonderful. He was a gentleman and there was no flirting. He knew I was scared and he wanted to build my confidence." In one of Murphy's most affecting scenes, Brando helps her escape the violence by taking her into the local park, where she asks him what he is rebelling against, to which he replies, "What've ya got?" The film did not do well on its initial release – one criticism was that it failed to explain the causes of rebellion, just showing the results – but it was successful in most of Europe.

Though it gave some impetus to Murphy's career, many of her subsequent films were negligible, with the exception of William Wyler's The Desperate Hours (1955), in which she was the daughter in Fredric March's household, which is taken over by killer Humphrey Bogart and his gang. Beachhead (1954) was a taut war adventure, with Murphy providing romance for Tony Curtis, but The Mad Magician (1954) starring Vincent Price and filmed in 3-D, was inept, and Sitting Bull (1954) was a routine Western, though Murphy began an affair with her co-star Dale Robinson which led to a marriage in 1956 that lasted four months

Murphy travelled to the UK to make two films, Joseph Losey's intriguing mystery The Intimate Stranger (1956) and Escapement (1957). She also played a prostitute in Crime and Punishment USA (1959) – Dostoyevsky transposed to Santa Monica. Her final film was Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner (1972) starring Steve McQueen as an ageing rodeo star. In 1962 she married a dealer in lighting fixtures, and they had a daughter, but the union ended in divorce. Recently Murphy was engaged in environmental causes, and worked for a time in a Los Angeles art gallery.

Tom Vallance

Mary Murphy, actress: born Washington DC 26 January 1931; married 1956 Dale Robertson (divorced 1956), married secondly (marriage dissolved; one daughter); died Beverly Hills 4 May 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world