“I’m Sorry I Ever Made B-Movies”
Posted July 11, 2014on:
“I’d like to see a big star shoot a movie with no retakes.” — Margia Dean
Margia (pron. Mar-Juh) Dean was born Marguerite Louise Skliris to Greek parents in Chicago on April 7, 1922.
Her hair is now white, but her charm, sophistication and sense of humor haven’t changed since the heyday of her film career.
By age seven she was earning money as a stage actress, playing Little Eva in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Becky Thatcher in “Tom Sawyer,” Mytle in “The Blue Bird,” and winning scholarships in two dramatic schools. In 1937, she won the Women’s National Shakespeare Contest for her role as Juliet in the production of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Margia became a model, and was named “Miss San Francisco,” “Miss California,” and a runner-up in the 1939 “Miss America Pageant” where she won first prize in the talent category for a dramatic reading (still has the trophy!) She appeared in several films in small roles and, played Police Officer Mary Faelb in the 1950 ABC TV series, “Dick Tracy,” had a featured role in the Columbia serial, “The Desert Hawk” (1944), and was Andy Clyde’s foil in “Love’s A-Poppin” (Columbia/1953).
In 1945, Margia scored the second lead in the stage version of Victor Herbert musical “The Only Girl,” which played at the then prestigious Biltmore Theater in Los Angeles. She received terrific reviews. Alfred Hitchcock came backstage and offered her a featured role in “Notorious” (Vanguard-RKO/1946), but she couldn’t accept due to a run of the play contract which necessitated her going on the road for several months.
In 1947, Margia’s controversial agent, Frank Orsatti, secured her a bit role in the Gene Kelly M-G-M musical, “Living in a Big Way” (1947). Orsatti convinced studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, to sign Margia to a contract. Unfortunately, Orsatti dropped dead of a heart attack the day of the appointment!
Margia was introduced to exhibitor and B-movie producer, Robert L. Lippert, in 1948 by a mutual producer-friend. Lippert gave her the female lead in “Shep Comes Home” (Screen Guild/1948.)
Subsequently, she appeared in a series of low-budget Lippert (I’m being redundant) productions, and mastered the “one take” 50 – 75 set-ups a day that were de rigueur for the Lippert organization.
Lippert became obsessed with Margia, and kept her working in his pictures where she became known as “Queen of Lippert.”
By the early 1950s Lippert and Margia began an on-again-off-again affair that lasted ten years. In an effort to keep her from straying from his studio and him, Lippert deliberately thwarted opportunities that would have allowed her to appear in major studio films.
Margia told me that she regrets being involved with a married man. However, he was already known as a womanizer. He didn’t get a divorce because he didn’t want to give up millions. She said that Lippert’s first love was money, and he would never have put her in a picture if it jeopardized ticket sales, and if he didn’t hire her he would have to find someone else to work for the same pay. Indeed, she generated respectable reviews from those critics who bothered to review B-movies. Margia was a competent actor and audiences liked her.
Producer, Hal Wallis, was interested in signing Margia and asked Lippert to send over footage of her for him to screen. Lippert provided outtakes, which ended the interest from the veteran producer. Margia didn’t know until later.
Fellow Greek, Spyros Skouras, recommended her to director Michael Curtiz, as “Nefir” in “The Egyptian” (Fox/1954), but Bella Darvi had just been cast. Skouras, was erroneously attributed as Margia’s lover in at least one blog, probably because she dated Plato Skouras, Spyros’ son.
Margia is best known as Judith Carroon in the Hammer Film Production, “The Quatermass Xperiment” (US title: “The Creeping Unknown”) (UA/1955), and her credits are readily available on IMDb.
She also made guest appearances on TV’s “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” “Conrad Nagel’s Celebrity Time,” “Public Prosecutor,” and others, plus various commercials including for Betty Crocker, Cadillac, and Phillips Milk of Magnesia.
Margia told me she appeared in one of the first coast-to-coast live dramas in the early 1950s, but can only recall that one of the “Bowery Boys” was in it. [Anyone know what it might have been?]
In 1958 she co-starred with Scott Brady in the RegalScope production, “Ambush and Cimarron Pass,” released through Fox, and received billing over a young Clint Eastwood, a subject she and Eastwood laughed about 40 years later at a Hollywood function.
Later in 1958, Lippert’s output was elevated to “A-“ CinemaScope pictures for Fox. Margia produced one of them, “The Long Rope” (1961), with Hugh Marlowe. According to Margia, the film’s director, William Witney, objected to having a female producer, but mellowed his stance when she brought it in on time and budget.
Margia co-starred in both “Villa!!” (Fox/1958), with Brian Keith, where she also sang two songs (and wrote additional lyrics), and “Secret of the Purple Reef” (Fox/1960), with Peter Falk.
In 1964, after associate-producing “The Horror of it All” (Fox/1964), directed by Terence Fisher, and starring Pat Boone, Margia met a Spanish architect who had been living in Brazil, Felipe Alvarez.
At the time, Felipe, who is fluent in four other languages, had limited English skills (Margia spoke Spanish) They met at a night club on the Sunset Strip where he sang. Subsequently, Margia invited him to perform at a party for Mexican celebrities. The couple fell in love and married later that year. They are happily married to this day, and he still occasionally sings professionally.
Lippert tried to get Margia to break off with Felipe, and offered her money and gifts, including a ruby brooch (all of which she returned), uncharacteristic of the penurious Lippert. He used to tell people he purchased a house for Margia, which is untrue. She sold her home and built a luxurious home above the Sunset Strip, which she completely paid for.
Although Walter Winchell praised her in his column, Lippert, who knew all of the producers and exhibitors, successfully blackballed her from making films.
Lippert used his considerable influence to concoct a scheme to deport Felipe, but was ultimately unsuccessful. However, he did succeed in getting Felipe fired from an architectural firm. Then he began a series of attempts to ruin the newlyweds financially. Margia lost a restaurant she owned in Beverly Hills, a dress shop in Brentwood, and he went so far as to have a “contract” put out on Felipe’s life! Through a very good friend (producer Jack Leewood) Margia discovered his nefarious plan, and called the police so fortunately it went no further.
Years later he told Margia, “I had no idea, my attorney must have done it!,” and “I have you in my will for $200,000,” both of which were lies.
By the mid-60s, Fox decided there was no need for the type of product Lippert produced, and didn’t renew his contract. His phone stopped ringing. Having lost both his producer position, and Margia, he headed back to the Bay Area and returned to his first love, his theatre circuit.
Upon his passing, Lippert’s secretary called Margia and said, “Mr. Lippert wanted you to be the first to know”.
Margia told me she was sorry to have made B-movies because it kept her from being assigned “A” roles. I disagree. Lots of A-list actors appeared in B-movies; it was a string of bad luck; the loss of the “Notorious” and “The Egyptian” roles, and especially Frank Orsatti’s death, the Hal Wallis sabotage and, of course, Lippert’s blackballing. The B-movie part of the equation was not the problem per se, it was the ones she was in were produced by Robert L. Lippert.
Fortunately, Margia went on to have successful careers, most notably in real estate, where she became vice-president of a major Los Angeles firm.
Margia Dean starring, or featuring Margia Dean in the cast and owned by Kit Parker Films.
(*) Available on DVD.
SHEP COMES HOME (1946)
I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949) *
RIMFIRE (1949) *
GRAND CANYON (1949)
RINGSIDE (1949) *
TREASURE OF MONTE CRISTO (1949) *
TOUGHT ASSIGNMENT (1949) *
RED DESERT (1949)
THE BARON OF ARIZONA (1950) *
WESTERN PACIFIC AGENT (1950) *
MOTOR PATROL (1950) *
HI-JACKED (1950) *
THE RETURN OF JESSE JAMES (1950) *
THE BANDIT QUEEN (1950) *
FINGERPRINTS DON’T LIE (1951) *
MASK OF THE DRAGON (1951) *
TALES OF ROBIN HOOD (1951) *
PIER 23 (1951) *
KENTUCKY JUBILEE (1951) *
SAVAGE DRUMS (1951) *
LEAVE IT TO THE MARINES (1951) *
SKY HIGH (1951) *
F.B.I. GIRL (1951) *
LOAN SHARK (1952) *
FANGS OF THE WILD (1954) *
THE LONESOME TRAIL (1955) *
© 2014 Kit Parker