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 evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home