Pamela Duncan

B-movie actress who battled giant talking crabs

Wednesday 23 November 2005 01:00 GMT
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Pamela Duncan, actress: born New York 28 December 1932; died Englewood, New Jersey 11 November 2005.

The 1957 B-movie Attack of the Crab Monsters was promoted with the tagline "From the depths of the sea . . . a tidal wave of terror!" Directed and produced by Roger Corman, it grossed over $1m at the US box-office even though it had only cost $70,000 to make. Corman attributed its success and subsequent cult status to "the wildness of the title and the construction of the storyline".

Under the effects of radiation, crabs on a remote Pacific island mutate into 25ft monsters relishing the taste of human brains and mimicking their victims' voices to lure the surviving scientists towards their claws. Pamela Duncan was the female lead, Martha Hunter, fighting the giant talking crustaceans, alongside the Corman regulars Richard Garland and Mel Welles.

She also starred in Corman's horror movie The Undead (1957), again alongside Garland and Welles, this time as Diana Love, a call girl who is submitted to hypnosis and relives her past life as Helene, a medieval witch. The cast almost suffocated during filming in Los Angeles when Corman filled the small soundstage located in an abandoned supermarket on Sunset Boulevard with creosote fog. Retrogression proved a popular theme at the box office and the pneumatic charms of the bosomy witches and wenches portrayed by Duncan, Allison Hayes and Dorothy Neumann lured in enough viewers to enable Corman to recoup his $70,000 outlay within weeks of the movie's release.

These lead parts came halfway through a busy 12 years for Duncan, who appeared in over 50 episodes of television series such as Dragnet, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Maverick and Perry Mason between 1951 and 1962. When the acting work dried up, she left California and moved back to the East Coast and, in 2000, was one of several entertainers interviewed at the Lillian Booth Actors' Fund of America Home in Englewood, New Jersey, for the Chuck Braverman documentary Curtain Call, which was nominated for an Oscar.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932, Pamela Duncan had such grace and poise as a teenager that she won several beauty pageants in the New York area. In 1951, she moved to Hollywood and landed the part of a saloon barmaid in a B-western, Whistling Hills, subsequently appearing in Lawless Cowboys (1951) and The Saracen Blade (1954).

Her dark looks meant she was often cast as a señorita (in 1956, in Budd Boetticher's Seven Men From Now or in 1957, in Gun Battle at Monterey) or as a private detective's secretary (My Gun Is Quick, 1957). Still, she also appeared in Julie (1956), the Andrew L. Stone film starring Doris Day as a air hostess on the run from her murderous husband Louis Jourdan, and in episodes of Rawhide, Laramie, Colt 45 and Dr Kildare.

When her last three film appearances, in Don't Give Up the Ship (1959) starring Jerry Lewis, as Pearl in Summer and Smoke (1961) and as the cigarette girl in the Elvis Presley vehicle Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) went uncredited, Duncan knew that she would not make the leap from starlet to bona fide actress. She drifted back into obscurity and only re-emerged to reminisce about the good old days for fan magazines and for the Curtain Call documentary in 2000.

Pierre Perrone

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