Paget in 1958
August 19, 1933
Debra Paget (born Debralee Griffin; August 19, 1933) is an American actress and entertainer. She is perhaps best known for her performances in Cecil B. DeMille's epic The Ten Commandments (1956) and in Love Me Tender (1956) (the film debut of Elvis Presley), and for the risque (for the time) snake dance scene in The Indian Tomb (1959).
Paget was born in Denver, Colorado, one of five children born to Margaret Allen (née Gibson), a former actress (one source says, "ex-burlesque queen"), and Frank Henry Griffin, a painter. The family moved from Denver to Los Angeles, California, in the 1930s to be close to the developing film industry. Paget was enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School when she was 11. Margaret was determined that Debra and her siblings would also make their careers in show business. Three of Paget's siblings, Marcia (Teala Loring), Leslie (Lisa Gaye), and Frank (Ruell Shayne), entered show business.
Her first vehicle for Fox was the successful Broken Arrow with James Stewart. At the age of 16, Paget played a Native American maiden, Sonseeahray ("morningstar"), who falls in love with Stewart's character. Stewart was 42 at the time.
From 1950 to 1956, she took part in six original radio plays for Family Theater. During those same years, she read parts in four episodes of Lux Radio Theater, sharing the microphone with such actors as Burt Lancaster, Tyrone Power, Cesar Romero, Ronald Colman, and Robert Stack. The latter set included dramatizations of two of her feature films.
Paget was Robert Wagner's love interest in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) and Prince Valiant (1954). In 1953, wearing a blonde wig, she auditioned along with Anita Ekberg and Irish McCalla, among others, for the starring role in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which went to McCalla.
Fox finally gave Paget top billing with the swashbuckler Princess of the Nile (1954), co-starring Jeffrey Hunter. The film was not a notable success at the box office. However, during the year after Princess of the Nile was released, the fan mail Paget received at 20th Century-Fox was topped only by that for Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.
Paget had a good supporting role in Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), a big hit. She was Dale Robertson's love interest in The Gambler from Natchez (1954) and played another Native American in White Feather (1955), playing the sister of Jeffrey Hunter and lover of Robert Wagner.
Fox loaned Paget and Hunter to Allied Artists to appear in Seven Angry Men (1955). At MGM, when Anne Bancroft was injured during filming The Last Hunt (1956), the studio borrowed Paget to play her role, another native American.
Paramount Pictures borrowed her from 20th Century Fox for the part of Lilia, the water girl, in Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956), her most successful film. She had to wear brown contact lenses to hide her blue eyes; she said that "If it hadn't been for the lenses I wouldn't have gotten the part". However, she also said that the lenses were "awful to work in because the klieg lights heat(ed) them up".
The film was a huge success, as was Paget's Fox western, Love Me Tender (1956) alongside Elvis Presley; Paget and Richard Egan were billed above Presley, but it was the singer's popularity and charisma that made the film so successful.
The River's Edge (1957) was the last film she made for Fox.
After that, Paget's career began to decline. She went to Paramount to play Cornel Wilde's love interest in Omar Khayyam (1957). She was the juvenile lead in From the Earth to the Moon (1958). A talented dancer and singer, Paget also had a successful nightclub act at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.
In 1958, she traveled to Germany to headline the cast of Fritz Lang's two-film adventure saga, The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959), a role that recalled her role as Shalimar/Taura of Princess of the Nile. Like the Egyptian epic, the film is remembered chiefly for her energetic dance scenes.
In 1959, Paget appeared as Lela Russell in the episode "The Unwilling" of the NBC Western television series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin. In the story line, Dan Simpson, played by Eddie Albert, attempts to open a general store despite a raid from pirates who stole $20,000 in merchandise. Russell Johnson appears in this episode as Darius.
In 1960, she appeared as Laura Ashley in the episode "Incident of the Garden of Eden" on CBS's Western series, Rawhide. That same year, she had played an author, Agnes St. John, the only surviving witness to a brutal stagecoach robbery in another CBS Western, Johnny Ringo, starring Don Durant in the title role. In 1962, she returned to Rawhide to play the part of Azuela in the episode "Hostage Child" along with James Coburn.
She did television work throughout her career. Her last performance in this medium came in a December 1965 episode of ABC's Burke's Law, starring Gene Barry. She retired from entertainment in 1965, after marrying a wealthy oil executive, by whom she had one son, her only child.
Paget became a born-again Christian. She hosted her own show, An Interlude with Debra Paget, on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a Christian network, in the early 1990s, and also was involved in Praise the Lord. She occasionally appears on TBN as a guest.
In 1987, the Motion Picture and Television Fund presented Paget with its Golden Boot Award, which is awarded to those actors, writers, directors, and stunt crew who "have contributed so much to the development and preservation of the western tradition in film and television."
During production of Love Me Tender (1956), Elvis Presley became smitten with Paget, who in 1997 claimed the singer even proposed marriage. At the time, however, the media reported that she was romantically linked with Howard Hughes and nothing came of this. A 1956 article quoted Paget's comments about Hughes:
I was in love with Howard for two years, and I don't care who knows it... I was never alone with him in the whole two years. Mother was always with us... I haven't seen Howard for a long time now, because I'm a one-man woman, and I've got to have a one-woman man... But I'll always remember Howard with fondness.
Paget married actor and singer David Street on January 14, 1958, but she obtained a divorce on April 11, 1958. On March 27, 1960, she married Budd Boetticher, a prominent director, in Tijuana, Mexico. They separated after just 22 days, and their divorce became official in 1961.
Paget left the entertainment industry in 1964 after marrying Ling C. Kung on April 19, 1962. Kung was a Chinese-American oil industry executive, son of Confucius descendant H. H. Kung and Soong Ai-ling and nephew of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. This third marriage produced a son, but ended in divorce in 1980.
|1948||Cry of the City||Teena Riconti|
|1949||Mother Is a Freshman||Linda|
|1949||It Happens Every Spring||Alice|
|1949||House of Strangers||Maria Domenico|
|1951||Bird of Paradise||Kalua|
|1951||Anne of the Indies||Molly LaRochelle|
|1952||Belles on Their Toes||Martha Gilbreth|
|1952||Stars and Stripes Forever||Lily Becker|
|1954||Princess of the Nile||Princess Shalimar/Taura|
|1954||Demetrius and the Gladiators||Lucia|
|1954||The Gambler from Natchez||Melanie Barbee|
|1955||White Feather||Appearing Day|
|1955||Seven Angry Men||Elizabeth Clark|
|1956||The Last Hunt||Indian girl|
|1956||The Ten Commandments||Lilia|
|1956||Love Me Tender||Cathy Reno|
|1957||The River's Edge||Margaret Cameron|
|1958||From the Earth to the Moon||Virginia Nicholl|
|1959||The Tiger of Eschnapur||Seetha|
|1959||The Indian Tomb||Seetha|
|1960||Why Must I Die?||Dottie Manson|
|1961||Most Dangerous Man Alive (shot in 1958)||Linda Marlow|
|1962||Tales of Terror (segment: "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar")||Helene Valdemar|
|1963||The Haunted Palace||Ann Ward|