Movie Collector’s World
20 Million Miles of Memories by Paula Parla
An interview with Joan Taylor (10/17/97)
Once said to be among the most promising actresses of the 1950s, the lovely 5'4" dark-haired beauty Joan Taylor has left a lasting impression in the memories of many B-Western and science-fiction movie buffs. Her olive complexioned Hungarian-Austro-Italo features reveals sensual brown eyes, reddish brown hair and a slender figure. Her mother, Amelia Berky, was an Austrian-Hungarian vaudeville dancing headliner during the 1920s. Her Sicilian father, Joseph Emma provided Joan with her elegant Latin looks.
Rosemary, was born in Geneva, Illinois and raised in Lake Forest. The talented and ambitious youngster began to display the uncanny ability of planning her future in the entertainment industry at age 2. Little Rose began training with her mother and studied everything except acrobatic dancing. She progressed admirably with ballet style until she was 16 years old. A bout with scarlet fever set her back but she bounced back stronger and more determined to follow her dream and become an actress. Graduating from the Chicago National Association of Dancing Masters, Joan once remarked, "my mother never forced me, but I was so interested in dancing I practiced many hours a day faithfully."
Studying singing, violin, dancing and piano while in grammar school, Joan's main focus at this point in her life was her dancing career. This kept her off the polished floorboards over schools drama stage with the exception of one small role during her senior year at Lake Forest. This was in an undergraduate production of "The Mikado". She acquired valuable experience during her high school years when she appeared at the Great Lakes Naval Station dancing and singing with the US troops.
Knew what she wanted
Her childhood screen idol, Shirley Temple, strongly influenced Joan's ambitions and early style of dance and later as a teenager she imagined herself swirling and gliding with the great Fred Astaire. These passionate aspirations culminated in a decision to head west in 1946 to California where she furthered her dancing talent and nurtured her dramatic skills by enrolling at the famed Pasadena Playhouse.
Her years at the Pasadena Playhouse were important learning years as she began to branch out into professional, appearing in various Greek dramas, comedies in the tradition of Shakespeare, Shaw and Ibson. She also wrote her own one-act play called "She Knew What She Wanted". Next was the role of Regina in "Another Part of the Forest", a part taken by Ann Blyth in the 1948 movie version.
Prior to my leaving for California, everyone was saying to me things like, you can't do it... It's impossible... You'll never get in and that's all I heard until that point... Can't, can't, can't, so much negativity! However, I did what I wholeheartedly wanted to do and I was also quite fortunate to become associated with Gilmore Brown, who was head of the Pasadena Playhouse at that time. He put me into many, many place and I did everything--all forms of drama and from this I was given a wonderful background. When this was accomplished many people would ask me, how do you become. . . and I'd say that you need to study, study, study as though you wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer and learn your trade.
Some of Joan's dramatic stage performances at Pasadena included, "Five Men On A Horse" as the feminine lead, Zoe Aken's "Castle on Sand" and "Marble Heart" building herself a nice roster of stage credits during her three years at Pasadena. Having taken directions numerous times from Victor Jory, a frequent guest artist at the famous Playhouse, Jory became convinced that Joan had exceptional talent. This interest led to her first motion picture performance as the feminine lead opposite Randolph Scott in "Fighting Man of the Plains in 1949. Interviewed by producer Nat Holt, Holt was so impressed with what he saw at the promptly signed her for the part. It seemed that the little rose from Lake Forest, Illinois had blossomed successfully into motion pictures and all those long-ago notions of negativity she endured as a teenager, were out the window for good
Miss Taylor recalled, one day I was sitting in the patio at the Pasadena Playhouse and Victor Jory came up to me and said, 'come on, were going someplace'. I had no idea where he was taking me. I had no makeup on and I was wearing a little sundress, no stockings--Not dressed for an interview, of course. He took me into Hollywood to an interview where I read for a part. I went home, got an appendicitis attack and went to the hospital only to give flowers later on from Nat Holt saying congratulations, I got the part. At this time I had been doing the lead in "John Loves Mary" for the Playhouse, traveling around California in an all student production.
Soon, a major Hollywood studio would take notice of the budding beauty from Lake Forest. It was Paramount who first got the chance to see Joan's dramatic stage appeal while portraying a 60-year-old woman in "The Master Builder" at the Pasadena Playhouse. Impressed with her, but still hesitant on signing her to a contract, it was 1951 when Columbia asked her to do a screen test for " Earth Versus the Flying Saucers" and to Sirocco" She did not get the part for Sirocco but was indeed signed on when Paramount executives saw the Sirocco test. Shortly after signing with Paramount she landed the important role of Luta, a beautiful Sioux Indian maiden, costarring with Charlton Heston and Susan Morrow in "The Savage"(1952).
Once saying that she had always wanted to become an actress and that was the one thing that she studied and worked hardest at, Joan had reached her goal and prospered before the cameras. She appeared in a number of notable westerns, costumers and adventures such as "Off Limits" (1953) with Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney and Marilyn Maxwell, "War Paint' (1963) with Robert Stack and Peter Graves, "Rosemary" (1954) with Ann Blyth and Howard Keel, the Roger Corman directed "Apache Woman" (1955) with Lloyd Bridges, "Fort Yuma" (1955) again with Peter Graves, "Girls in Prison" (1957) with Richard Denning, "Omar Khayyam" (1957), and "War Drums" (1957) with Lex Barker. With over 50 stage performances to her credit, the late 1950s saw Joan enter into various television performances appearing mainly in TV westerns like "Colt 45," "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide" along with other popular shows of this period like "The Millionaire," "The Detectives" and "Perry Mason". Producer Jules Levy hired her for "The Rifleman"--a show which Joan called home for nearly 2 1/2 years until ending her acting career when spending than needed time raising her children became her utmost concern in 1963.
Although films like, "The Savage", "Fighting Man of the Plains", "Rosemarie", and "Apache Woman" have their own admirers, the genre of science fiction is where Joan's real popularity and fanship lie. After all, it was Joan Taylor who had the monumental task of assisting Hugh Marlowe save the earth when she was assigned to do battle in "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers" in 1956. In 1957 she excelled to the role of scientist teaming up with William Hopper to destroy a gigantic gracious monster "Ymir from Venus" in Colombia's" 20 Million Miles to Earth". Both "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers" and "20 Million Miles to Earth" are not only major sci-fi classics today, but they featured fascinating special effects by the master of stop-motion monster animation, Ray Harryhausen.
Starting off our interview, Joan remembered her earlier years by saying, "my parents were the main influence for me in getting started in the entertainment business because my mother worked in vaudeville and my father worked in California as a prop man during the days of Rudolph Valentino. My father also managed a theater in Lake Forest Illinois which he operated until he died. (The Deer Path Theatre which Joseph Emma opened the night John was born.) I went to lots of movies and worked as a cashier and saw many Shirley Temple movies. I danced and did USO shows but what I wanted was motion pictures. Most of all I wanted to be an actress and later on I achieve this. The greatest compliment I've ever received came from producer Jules Levy he said to me "You know Joan, the one thing I admire most about you is that you don't behave like an actress." To me, that was the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. I've always prided myself on behaving and performing like a professional. I was never one to socialize with the Hollywood jet set of the day. When I left my work at the studio for the day, it was indeed left behind because my family and my life at home was Paramount."
Meeting Joan Taylor a number of times over the years has always been memorable azide often sure a small collection of photos I had which featured her. I was surprised to hear that she is well had a well-stocked, neatly filed collection of her own. Having taken pride in her hard work through the years she Person in the years and family memories beautifully displayed in large album books.
I especially enjoyed hearing that after viewing some of my photos, she would say things like "I have those but these I don't have" as though a collector herself seeking to keep her memories alive through the years for herself and her family. Especially when others either ignore their film career photos over time or simply toss it all in the trash waiting to forget the past.
Spending the afternoon at her home conducting this interview was especially enjoyable because it has always been quite special to me to get to know the actor/actress as they truly are--the real person. Sitting with Joan over any length of time would instantly reveal to anyone and open, frank and humble gal who manages to make her company feel not only more than comfortable but pleasantly impressed with her amiable style of sincerity. There are no poised, self-centered poses when speaking with her. No air of Hollywood whatsoever other than the unpretentious recollections of her career yet always looking and conducting herself professionally
Once nominated by Paramount for star-statues as one of Paramount's "Golden Circle" girls, Joan seems to have possessed the unique ability not often seen in the business of keeping herself elegant and polished as an actress for the cameras, but always and genuinely Rose Emma of Lake Forest, Illinois, who once filming ended for the day, would much rather tend to her families needs then attend glitzy celebrity functions.
In a 1962 TV Guide interview article called "She Stays behind the Counter," Joan's straight-forwardly said, "I'm not much of a social mixer with people. I prefer "People-People". When I go home at night the set gets left behind. Becoming a star was never really important to me. I believe every woman should have an occupation, something she can do, even make money at if necessary. I think it is such a tragedy when a woman's children grow up and there she sits, playing bridge, going to club meetings and spending her husband's money. I never had any desire to walk up and down Sunset strip wearing dark sunglasses and a columnist wouldn't know me if he tripped over me... Which is fine with me because that's the way I like it." It was this Joan Taylor who shone through the day of this interview--no plastic, just a real person.
Continuing on about her career, Miss Taylor said with a comedic smirk, "My gosh, you have managed to resurrect Joan Taylor because as far as I was concerned, Joan Taylor passed on years ago. Well lets see, my first picture was "Fighting Man of the Plains" in 1949 with Randolph Scott, Victor Jory was also in this with me and Vic and I went back to the days out at Pasadena Playhouse along with Robert Preston and Morris Ankrum among others. On this film there was a scene where there was a fire in the house and I was supposed to be hysterical standing on the steps. The director (Edwin Merin) said "roll it" and then Victor Jory turned to me and called my name and when I turned to him, he smacks me right across the face--a solid dead-on slap. Of course by now I'm really crying and Marin yells "cut". Something did not take technically with the fire so we had to do it again! We started this scene again and smack, right across the face again. We wound up having to do this three times. Not only did Vic tell me years later how bad he felt about having to get this realism into the scene, but it was the worst experience I encountered.
"I became Joan Taylor on this picture and I can assure you that Jory's slap was real. Randolph Scott was exactly what one would expect him to be.. As he appeared onscreen... An elegant gentleman. There were no mishaps on this picture other than having to ride a horse 10 days after an appendectomy! Victor always to very good care of me and was there as my guide of sorts".
In 1952, John made a striking appearance as Luta, a lovely Sioux Indian girl in Paramount's "Warbonnet" that was later released as " The Savage" and starred Charlton Heston. Directed by George Marshall, it told the story of a white woman raised by the Indians and Joan is not easily forgotten as the beautiful young Dakota Indian girl.
Joan remembered, "we went out to the Dakotas. For this picture. Can't remember if it was North or South Dakota, but I do remember that we were rained out for the first two weeks on location. The real joy of doing this picture for me was the unity of everyone on it. It was on film that I learned Quartet singing, because we would all gather underneath the picnic tables and Milburn Stone taught us to sing 'Heart of My Heart' in quartet style fashion. It's these things that make my memories of picture so special.
"The director, George Marshall, was from the old school and he would tell us stories about the old days when there were really no scripts to work with and what it was like making pictures back then. He was a wonderful man. After "The Savage" I did a bit part in off-limits (1953) appearing in a fight scene wearing a silver fox jacket and a turban and not much else. At this time, I was under contract to Paramount, (1951 to 1954 ). In a room that we called 'The Fishbowl', I must have interviewed over 150 times or more and some time later, put under contract. Around that time I started doing more westerns, and I really begin to appreciate stunt people. The stunt people took good care of me so I couldn't get hurt.
"I guess I realized how wonderful they were on The Savage and later on. War Paint, War Drums, and Fort Yuma, as I started doing different scenes which called for working with some people. I believe it was on War Paint that we were shooting out in Death Valley. I think I was the only gal on that show and working with Charlie McGraw was great. The great Robert Wilke told me to always work with stunt people. When doing the fight scenes, and he was very protective of me during a fight scene I did with him."
"Now, on "Rosemarie" I also played an Indian girl and danced with a male Indian partner. I had a large part in this film, and the sets were magnificent. This was my first experience with Busby Berkeley, everything that had been rehearsed for 13 weeks for the dance number was totally changed! He went up high on the boom, and we didn't have, at that point, any music to work with, but it turned out fine. The director, Mervyn Leroy was a gentleman, until I spilled hot coffee on my beautiful Made in France Indian outfit. It was gorgeous and made of the kind of kid skin used for making gloves. I was walking very carefully with a cup of coffee and the coffee cup was leaking, the narrative voice that was very angry. There was that awful moment. I have always done my best to perform professionally on an off-camera. And I was blessed to have worked with nothing but professionals. You come to work and study your lines and perform them professionally. This was an unfortunate accident and time is money."
Joan Taylor's professionalism is indeed a parent with her performances as she remains among the few of her. Who refuse to cast the impression that she was acting. She was indeed a natural habit. By 1955, Special Effects stop-motion model animator Ray Harryhausen had impacted the SPFX scene with a multitude of talent and imagination for the science fiction genre of cinema offering some breathtaking monster effects which were showcased in such classic science fiction films as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), 7th Voyage of Sindbad (1958), The Animal World (1956), and Mysterious Island (1961). It was in between Fort Yuma and More Drums. When she made the first of her two most popular films, both released by Columbia--Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956), and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). With the success of It Came From Beneath the Sea, Harryhausen's effects were not only in demand, but had become profitable at the box office, so Joan was chosen to appear with Hugh Marlowe as a husband and wife signed this team who play prominent roles in saving planet Earth from invading flying saucers and ray shooting robots. Although only appearing in a few scenes with the alien robots, Joan never got to glimpse a prop saucer as these were animated miniature models put into the film after Joan's scenes with Hugh Marlowe were shot. In 20,000 to Earth, Joan's role was not as lengthy and once again does not get to interact with a man in a monster costume but instead one of Harryhausen's superbly animated creations called Ymir/Ymir was a reptilian-humanoid-like Venusian creature of gigantic proportion who terrorizes Italy.
Joan recalls, "I wanted so much to go to Italy for that shoot, they sent my clothes instead! Yes, my scenes were all done here in Los Angeles and they sent my clothes to Italy for another woman to wear, who was supposed to be me and the long shots at the end of the picture. I was very disappointed."
On Earth Vs the Flying Saucers, we shot some scenes out at UCLA and out by Zuma Beach. We flew to Washington DC to do the exterior scenes at the end of the picture. And I remember we were delayed a few days of shooting because of a fierce hurricane that struck when we were shooting the Pentagon sequences. Because of the delay, I missed my daughter's first birthday party and this hurt. After that, there was no more long distance locations for me.
"I wore all my clothes from my own wardrobe and both Earth Vs 20 Million Miles and Flying Saucers. We also filmed sequences at the Hyperion Plant down near El Segundo and for the scenes when the saucers attack the military base and Hugh Marlowe and I are running through some corridors and up the steel steps. I did a lot of running in Earth Vs. There was no fooling around and we worked to cram it all in.
"The robots were sort of corny seeing them work on film, but in person they were quite ugly. Hugh Marlowe was very involved with the unions and on that picture, Earth vs the Flying Saucers, I got quite an education from Hugh on this subject. We got along wonderfully, but once in a while he would get stern with me when I'd go another five or so minutes on a scene. Hugh would step in and say 'oh no you won't!' This led up to me learning about what you do and don't do regarding unions. He had a theatrical background and was such a professional, and we both took our jobs quite seriously. This was a great experience for me in learning my trade, because there was little time to do these pictures and only professional people were able to get the job done on time and in order, especially in only or 12 days.
"Now, as far as my other recollections go on both of my science fiction films, most of my other scenes were done as though I was reacting to the monster or the saucers, which I of course was not actually seeing. I did get to meet Ray Harryhausen on one of the pictures and that the time had no idea how great his talent was. He would visit the, and it was only much later on that. I realized how extremely talented. He was. I still have respect for him and his work. It's a name I'll never forget."
"Working with Bill Hopper, Hedda's son, was fun, and again these were very professional people. And my relationship. When I came on the was totally professional as well. Other than doing our scenes and maybe having some coffee. I rarely became involved in other matters. On Rosemarie between all the jokes from Bert Lahr, Fernando, Howard Keel and Ann Blyth, we would be laughing a lot, but there wasn't much time for pleasure, just work. The only big premiere a remember going to was for Fighting Man of the Plains. I went with Randall Scott and Dale Robertson to Topeka, Kansas for that one. Then we took it back to my hometown in Lake Forest, Illinois where we premiered it at my father's theater and there was my name--up on the marquee and it was great. Sort of a hometown girl makes good event."
By the late 1950s, Joan left motion pictures for television and like many other performers, wound up on numerous TV western shows. Although she never got along to well around horses, she found a cozy spot on The Rifleman as Millie Scott for a couple of years and didn't have to ride a horse off into the sunset. Her role as the owner of a general store, kept her on the set and in one spot--just the way she liked it.
Joan continued reminiscing, "Working with Lloyd Bridges on Apache Woman was wonderful. He is another pro. This was a quick shoot and again, if memory serves, Roger Corman's first film, or one of his earliest. Roger is a smart man, he depended a lot on his cameraman to have it done in a special way. Lloyd and I worked together often to get the scenes just the way we and Roger wanted them. Roger had learned of my background and knew of my other films, and I remember he had been asking around for suggestions and recommendations. Then I got a call to do the picture. I wasn't aware that this may have been Roger's first picture at the time.
On Fort Yuma we went off to Utah, and director Leslie Selender--the Great Weight Cloud. We would call him--would go off and find the biggest mountain to shoot on and we would have to follow him up! The only real memory I have of Girls In Prison that wasn't so pleasant was when my back went out and I was in a lot of pain. I was on codeine for a few days but got through it.
On Omar Khayyam something happened to me that had never happened before. My boss at Paramount was Y. Frank Freeman and his son was the producer of The Loves of Omar Khayyam with Bill Dieterle directed it (with his white gloves). His lovely wife would bring homemade doughnuts to the set. I had to do one scene, 21 times and this was not fun at all. In the film, my character falls off of a cliff. And when my daughter saw it, she was still quite young and had terrible memories of it not realizing it was just a dummy going off the cliff. Having to do this scene so many times was embarrassing to me because I was used to doing scenes in one or two takes. I had trouble giving them what they wanted in a short period of time.
On War Drums there was a scene where I had to lead a group of horses down a hill at a fast pace and I did not work too well around horses. Reginald Le Borg, the director, insisted that I had to do it and I refused. Ben Johnson would always take care of me when I was around the horses and guide me. He was another wonderful man.
I was to do this scene bareback, of course, and Le Borg was pushing me to do this scene, and I still refused, so they got a stunt woman as she wound up falling off of her horse, as the horses from behind trampled over her. They finally dressed a stuntman in my clothes and he did. I was not happy working with Le Borg . As I was with the directors I had on other films, and that's where I'll leave it. I was however very happy with my makeup man, Del Armstrong. He was one of the best in the business--Lana Turner's makeup man. He made me look so good. Ben Johnson, and I locked stirrups once because the horse they gave me was a bit frisky.
The way I was hired for The Rifleman was unique to say the least. I told Jules Levy, that I wouldn't sign a contract, I wouldn't ride a horse and I wouldn't go out of town. (Laughing) I won't do this and I won't do that and I got the job! This way, if I wasn't any good, they could get rid of me. So I said, "they went thatta way" for 2 1/2 years and enjoyed. The Rifleman at that time in my life, was perfect for me. My husband was working more, my children were growing, and I was able to work and still be home with my family more than before. This was my phasing down. Because my husband was doing quite well and I didn't have to work anymore and I wanted to be with my girls more. My husband wanted me to keep working, but I said no and the last thing I did was in December of 1963. It was for television with Jeff Hayden directing, but I can't remember what it was. That was the end of it and no regrets at all.
By 1963, Joan had fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming an actress, having appeared with a number of Hollywood's screen legends and getting to work with some equally legendary Hollywood figures like Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley. Given a synopsis of it all, Jones summed it up by saying: "I've often asked myself if I did it for myself or did I do it for my parents because they wanted me to pursue it having spent so much time and money on my training. What pleasure did I really take from it. I'm glad I was able to meet so many interesting people and travel and see the world. What I did miss for the first year or so. When I left was the attention and I wasn't meeting so many fascinating people anymore. These were my withdrawals (laughing). I was able to move forward with my life and was extremely grateful to have achieved my dream. As far as Earth Vs Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth being the two films that I will be remembered most, I am amazed and flattered that I am still alive out there as an actress. The name Joan Taylor died back in 1963, as far as I'm concerned, but it seems that I will live on after all.
Sadly Joan Taylor (Rose Marie Emma) passed away on March 4, 2012 (age 82) in Santa Monica, California.
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