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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts during a news conference in Zurich June 1, 2011
news
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
News
peopleKatie Hopkins criticises River Island's 'seize the day' bags for trying to normalise epilepsy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?