Debra Paget

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).

Debra Paget
Paget in 1958
Debralee Griffin

(1933-08-19) August 19, 1933
Years active1948–1965
  • David Street
    (m. 1958; div. 1958)
  • Budd Boetticher
    (m. 1960; div. 1961)
  • Louis C. Kung
    (m. 1964; div. 1980)
ChildrenGregory Kung

Early life

Paget was born in Denver, Colorado, one of five children born to Margaret Allen (née Gibson),[1] a former actress (one source says, "ex-burlesque queen"),[2] and Frank Henry Griffin, a painter.[3] 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.[2] 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.[4]

Paget had her first professional job at age 8,[4] and acquired some stage experience at 13 when she acted in a 1946 production of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor.


20th Century Fox

Paget's first notable film role was as Teena Riconti, girlfriend of the character played by Richard Conte, in Cry of the City, a 1948 film noir directed by Robert Siodmak for 20th Century Fox.

Fox liked her and signed her to a long-term contract. She had small roles in Mother Is a Freshman (1949), It Happens Every Spring (1949) and House of Strangers (1949).

Broken Arrow

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 had a sizeable role in Fourteen Hours (1951) and was reunited with Broken Arrow director Delmer Daves and star Jeff Chandler in Bird of Paradise (1951), playing a role similar to Broken Arrow.

Paget was the second female lead in Anne of the Indies (1951). She was third billed in Belles on Their Toes (1952) and second billed in Les Misérables (1952), playing Cosette.

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.

Princess of the Nile

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.[5]

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.

The Ten Commandments

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".[6] However, she also said that the lenses were "awful to work in because the klieg lights heat(ed) them up".[6]

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).


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.[7]

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.

Paget appeared in Cleopatra's Daughter (1960) shot in Italy, Why Must I Die? (1960) for American International Pictures, Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961), and Rome 1585 (1961) again in Italy.


Her final two films were for Roger Corman at American International Pictures: Tales of Terror (1963) and The Haunted Palace (1963).

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.[5]

Later Career

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.[4]

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."

Personal life

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.[8] 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.[2]

Paget married actor and singer David Street on January 14, 1958,[9] but she obtained a divorce on April 11, 1958.[10] On March 27, 1960, she married Budd Boetticher, a prominent director, in Tijuana, Mexico.[11] 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 孔令傑 on April 19, 1962.[12] 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, Gregory (Kung Teh-chi) (Kong Deji) (孔德基), but ended in divorce in 1980.


Feature films

1948Cry of the CityTeena Riconti
1949Mother Is a FreshmanLinda
1949It Happens Every SpringAlice
1949House of StrangersMaria Domenico
1950Broken ArrowSonseeahray
1950Fourteen HoursRuth
1951Bird of ParadiseKalua
1951Anne of the IndiesMolly LaRochelle
1952Belles on Their ToesMartha Gilbreth
1952Les MisérablesCosette
1952Stars and Stripes ForeverLily Becker
1954Prince ValiantIlene
1954Princess of the NilePrincess Shalimar/Taura
1954Demetrius and the GladiatorsLucia
1954The Gambler from NatchezMelanie Barbee
1955White FeatherAppearing Day
1955Seven Angry MenElizabeth Clark
1956The Last HuntIndian girl
1956The Ten CommandmentsLilia
1956Love Me TenderCathy Reno
1957The River's EdgeMargaret Cameron
1957Omar KhayyamSharain
1958From the Earth to the MoonVirginia Nicholl
1959The Tiger of EschnapurSeetha
1959The Indian TombSeetha
1960Cleopatra's DaughterShila
1960Why Must I Die?Dottie Manson
1961Most Dangerous Man Alive (shot in 1958)Linda Marlow
1961Rome, 1585Esmeralda
1962Tales of Terror (segment: "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar")Helene Valdemar
1963The Haunted PalaceAnn Ward

Radio plays

Family Theater

  • 1950-11-29 "The Clown" Debra Paget, Stephen Dunn
  • 1952-01-23 "The Thinking Machine" Donald O'Connor, Debra Paget
  • 1953-02-11 "The Indispensable Man" Lisa Gaye, Robert Stack, Debra Paget[13]
  • 1953-12-09 "The Legend of High Chin Bob" Debra Paget, Walter Brennan
  • 1955-07-27 "Fairy Tale" Debra Paget, Jack Haley
  • 1956-11-07 "Integrity" Debra Paget, Cesar Romero[14]

Lux Radio Theatre

  • 1951-01-22 "Broken Arrow" Burt Lancaster, Debra Paget
  • 1952-09-22 "I'll Never Forget You" Tyrone Power, Debra Paget, Michael Pate
  • 1952-12-22 "Les Misérables" Ronald Colman, Debra Paget, Robert Newton
  • 1953-04-20 "Deadline USA" Dan Dailey, Debra Paget, William Conrad[15]

Stars over Hollywood

  • 1953-02-21 "The Wonderful Miss Prinn" Debra Paget[13]


  1. "Quotes From The News: Hollywood". The Times-News. January 14, 1958. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  2. Shearer, Lloyd (July 15, 1956). "More glamor for Hollywood". Albuquerque Journal. pp. 68–69. Retrieved June 10, 2015 via
  3. Hopper, Hedda (March 10, 1951). "Lovely Debra Paget Ambitious, Talented". Toledo Blade. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  4. ""When You Wish Upon a Star, or It's a Star-Spangled Life: Family Cast"". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-26.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. "The Private Life and Times of Debra Paget". Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  6. Belser, Emily (June 1, 1955). "Now Stars Change Eyes Just Like Pair Of Shoes". The Miami News. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  7. ""The Unwilling", Riverboat, October 11, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  8. Victor, Adam (2008). The Elvis Encyclopedia. Overlook Duckworth. ISBN 9781585675982.
  9. Bacon, James (January 14, 1958). "Debra Paget Wedding Quiet Despite Threat of Ruckus". The San Bernardino County Sun. p. 10. Retrieved June 11, 2015 via
  10. "Debra Paget Leaves Husband of 19 Days". Wisconsin State Journal. April 19, 1960. p. 10. Retrieved June 11, 2015 via
  11. "Debra Paget, Director Wed". Redlands Daily Facts. March 28, 1969. p. 1. Retrieved June 11, 2015 via
  12. Bacon, James (April 21, 1962). "Debra Paget Weds Oilman, Nephew of Madame Chiang". Independent. p. 11. Retrieved June 11, 2015 via
  13. Kirby, Walter (February 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 21, 2015 via
  14. Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Family Theater
  15. Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Lux Radio Theater Archived 2016-12-05 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Kinchlow, Ben (2001). "Praise the Lord". TBN Newsletter. 28 (9).
  • Wandworth, James (July 1953). "Ready for love". Motion Picture and Television Magazine. 85 (6): 38–39, 73–74.
  • Weaver, Tom (April 1998). "First Maid in the Moon". Starlog (249): 63–67.
  • Weaver, Tom (September 2002). "Working in the B's". Classic Images (327): 65–68.
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