Mary Murphy, best remembered as motorcycle gang leader Marlon Brando’s small-town love interest in The Wild One, died of heart disease May 4 at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 80.
Directed by Laslo Benedek, The Wild One was a notch above B fare merely as a result of Brando’s presence, which guaranteed prestige to his vehicles following his success in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. Even so, The Wild One is risible, what with actors who looked (at least) 35 trying to pass for rebellious, youthful bikers while all but holding hostage a small California town.
Murphy doesn’t have much to do in the film except to stand erect – as a model of small-town ethical behavior – and look pretty and wholesome. Perhaps for that very reason, she actually fares better than her fellow cast members who mug their way through one corny situation after another.
According to reports, Murphy (born in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 26, 1931) was a package wrapper at Beverly Hills’ Saks Fifth Avenue when she was discovered by Paramount talent scout Milton Lewis at a nearby coffee shop. Her career at Paramount, however, didn’t go very far. Murphy’s leading-lady roles, whether at the studio or elsewhere (The Wild One, for one, was a Columbia release), were almost invariably in programmers and B movies.
Among her most notable efforts are Main Street to Broadway (1953), which featured several stage stars (Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, etc.) in cameos; a supporting role as Fredric March’s daughter in William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours (1955), which also starred Humphrey Bogart; and John Brahm’s thriller The Mad Magician (1956), with Vincent Price and Eva Gabor.
Murphy’s last big-screen role was in Sam O’Steen’s little-seen I Love You… Good-bye (1947), with Hope Lange and Earl Holliman.
In the 1960s, especially following her 1962 marriage to Hali-Spechts lighting-store-chain president Alan Specht, Murphy devoted herself to television work, guesting in numerous television series. Among those were Dr. Kildare, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits. She and Specht were divorced in 1967.
In 1956, she was briefly married to Fox leading man Dale Robertson.
Her last appearance in front of the camera was a small role in Jeremy Kagan’s controversial 1975 television movie Katherine, about a privileged young woman (Sissy Spacek) who becomes involved with violent political radicals.