There have been many Scream Queens in the history of American film. Fay Wray was the first and maybe the most famous, although her career was far more diverse than that title would suggest. The same can be said for all the so-called Scream Queens from the beginning of the film industry until the 1950s when the queens did more than scream in Horror and Sci-fi. It started on a regular basis in 1951, when Margaret Sheridan’s character of Nikki Nicholson stood side-by-side with her male counterparts to battle The Thing from Another World.
All of the Horror and Sci-fi Queens of the 1950s had eclectic careers, but many of them have become forever linked to the genre. Case in point…Allison Hayes. She appeared in almost every kind of feature film imaginable, playing opposite stars from Jack Palance to Elvis Presley, but she became literally the “Biggest Star in Motion Pictures” when she played the title role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). It is the role she is most famous for, but it was not her only Horror/Sci-fi feature. Au contraire. Before the 50 Foot Woman married scumbag Harry and was scratched by a giant from outer space while his big floppy fingers and nails stole her enormous Star of India diamond neckless which lead to what the doctor called, “Astounding growth!”
Allison Hayes knocked out four horror films the year before in 1957. Those films were The Undead, The Unearthly, The Disembodied, and Zombies of Mora Tau. She returned to the film genre for a final time in 1960 with The Hypnotic Eye and The Crawling Hand. All those films relied upon Allison Hayes’ strength of presence, sometimes her vulnerability, but most of the time it was her evil side that destroyed men and leveled small towns. Allison Hayes could be considered the leading “Femme Fatale” of Horror and Sci-fi.
“Other women roles are usually better drama-wise, but predatory female types run the gamut from hardhearted and avaricious to coy and clinging.”
-Allison Hayes, 1964
If Allison Hayes was the “Femme Fatale” of 50s Horror/Sci-fi, then Gloria Talbott was “Everyone’s Sweetheart” in the genre. Her roles in The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Cyclops (1957), and especially I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) cemented that image as the heartbroken, emotionally distraught love interest. She did break that typecasting in 1960 when she played the young mistress of a much older doctor who is tired of his old alcoholic wife who becomes The Leech Woman in an attempt to look young. In the end, poor sweet Gloria pays the price for her transgressions, but let’s face it…nothing could damper the image of Gloria Talbott in her 1950s bullet bra and sweater when she married that monster from outer space.
“I Married a Monster from Outer Space” is surprisingly well-acted. It even has a thing or two to say about sexual politics and the cold war era.”
-Paul Chambers, film critic, Movie Chambers
So, we had our scream queen femme fatale and sweetheart of 50s Horror/Sci-fi, but we also a queen who embodied both those qualities plus a tough as nails attitude that set her apart. Beverly Garland was that kind of monster fighter in The Neanderthal Man (1953), Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956) and It Conquered the World (1956). As the story goes, when Beverly Garland first saw the cartoonish prop that was supposed to be the unstoppable force from outer space, she kicked the creature. It toppled over and lied helpless on the ground. She then turned to producer/director Roger Corman and said, “That conquered the world? Give me a break.”
In 1959, Beverly Garland trudged through a Louisiana swamp battling poisonous snakes and outrunning hungry gators looking for her new husband who jumped off the train during their honeymoon just because he never told his new bride he was a radioactive alligator man. Beverly faced it all with a tough optimism.
“The typically strong, independent women I play are like me. I can’t play a wallflower; a clinging vine. I am a strong woman—not namby-pamby. In fact, because of the roles I often played, my agent didn’t want to send me on the interview for Fred MacMurray’s wife in ‘My Three Sons’."
Cathy Downs shot to fame as the title character and apple of Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp eye in My Darling Clementine (1946). She was the prettiest on the plains in a string of Westerns in the 1940s and 50s, but in 1955 she stepped into deep Horror/Sci-fi waters with a starring role in The Phantom from 10.000 Leagues. She traded-in her horse again in 1956. This time for prehistoric humanoid sea monster in The She Creature. In 1958, she rode a Missile to the Moon in remake of the 1953 Marie Windsor B-classic, Cat-Women of the Moon. It was Cathy Downs last feature film, but her Horror/Sci-fi star never shined brighter than it did in the shadows of The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). She showed the stoic resolve of the Old West and remained faithful to her man, who had become quite a big deal in Nevada.
“You know what they wrote about me in the college yearbook? ‘A man most likely to reach the top.’ ”
- Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan) to Carol Forrest (Cathy Downs), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
Faith Domergue tried to stay optimistic in the shadow of a colossal man by the name of Howard Hughes in the early days of her acting career, but after a monstrous 4-year experience on Vendetta (1950), she parted ways with Hughes. Domergue signed with Universal Pictures in 1953 and made the first of her Horror/Sci-fi films, Cult of the Cobra in 1955 playing a snake worshipper with a deadly bite. That same year, she starred in two now classic science fiction films. Domerque played a renowned marine biologist sexually harassed by, but smitten with Kenneth Tobey’s submarine commander character in It Came from Beneath the Sea, and as an unwilling space-traveling scientist slash Rex Reason love interest in This Island Earth.
"It (This Island Earth) has attained more popularity than anything else I've done, though such films are really for the technicians - actors take second place to them and the sets."
Joan Taylor made only two science fiction films in the 1950s, but brother are they memorable. To be completely honest, the star of the two films wasn’t an actor. He was special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen who’s stop motion nearly destroyed the U.S. Capitol and much of Rome. In 1957, Taylor played a young doctor…well, “almost a doctor” in the words of William Hopper’s astronaut character who’s tracking down a sulfur-eating Venusian with an out of control growth problem. The “almost a doctor” and her zoologist grandfather try to help. It wasn’t Joan Taylor’s first tussle with destructive beings from another world. Back in 1956, she and Hugh Marlowe played a husband and wife space invaders fighting team in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.
“I saw it (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) at the Denville Theater in 1956 and I thought it actually was electrifying. I’d never seen a picture like this before. It was a 10-year old’s dream and I think it still holds up today.”
-Joe Dante, film director
Who remembers the girlfriend of Kirk Douglas’ character in 1954 Disney classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Yeah, not many people do, but it was Laurie Mitchell’s first, albeit uncredited role in a science fiction film. Now, who remembers the Queen of Outer Space? If you said Zsa Zsa Gabor was the queen in the 1958 DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope extravaganza, you are wrong. Laurie Mitchell was the queen...Queen Yllana to be specific. That same year, she was shrunken to the size of a living Barbie Doll in Attack of the Puppet People, and she was a loving sympathetic moon maiden in Missile to the Moon, that remake of Cat-Women of the Moon I spoke of earlier. Neither of which came with a big budget or a cabinet full of awards. Still, Laurie Mitchell made them memorable.
“My films weren’t first class, they were crappy pictures, but I loved it. It was a great, great experience.”
Mara Corday was destined for big things. You might say she appeared in films with some of the biggest stars of the day and one of the biggest stars of the future. Stars such as The Black Scorpion (1957), The Giant Claw (1957), a giant spider and kid named Clint Eastwood flying the military jet that bombed the Tarantula in 1955, uncredited of course. Corday and Eastwood share a close association with Westerns, but Corday was equally adapted at playing a 20th Century mathematician who crushes a giant turkey buzzard eating the United Nations building in Manhattan (The Giant Claw), or a Mexican rancher rounding up a giant scorpion eating telephone linemen(The Black Scorpion), or an unsuspecting lab assistant newly hired by a misguided scientist injecting rats and spiders with a nuclear growth serum(Tarantula). Those kinds of things never end well.
"One of the best giant-insect films. A tarantula as big as a barn puts the horror into this well-made program science-fictioner, and it is quite credibly staged and played, bringing off the far-fetched premise with a maximum of believability"
-Leonard Maltin, film critic
The eight women highlighted in this story were done so because they appeared in numerous Horror/Sci-fi flicks of the 1950s, but there are many others who stepped into that genre briefly, but left an everlasting mark. In closing, we tip our hats to them with honorable mention.