Sid Melton
Sci fi's superships
10 lost worlds
'Underwater City'
'Unknown World'



Marilyn Nash appeared in just two films. One was with screen legend Charlie Chaplin in his black comedy about the wife-murdering Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The other was the somewhat less auspicious, but nonetheless ambitious cult science-fiction film Unknown World (1951), which was heralded as "An Adventure Into the Unknown! A Journey to the Center of the Earth!" In it, the Detroit-born Nash portrays an award-winning biochemist -- and ardent feminist -- part of an intrepid expedition that descends to the Earth's core in search of a safe haven for all humanity. The film, part of a cycle of early 1950s sci-fi (Destination Moon, Rocketship X-M, Five), was made in secrecy, and all involved were asked not to divulge its plot to the press. Now, Marilyn Nash reveals a few secrets for the first time.

For instance, she never planned on acting as a career. "No. No, no, no," she declares, "I was going to be a doctor. I made quite a change [laughs]! I was 'discovered' on a tennis court: From school in Tucson, I went to L.A. for Christmas -- we took a train up there, a gang of us, students from the University of Arizona. They were going home for the holidays, and I was just going up to meet my mother. Mother was still a Michigander, but she didn't like to spend the winters there. I stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel; Mother wasn't going to be arriving for a couple days and I had nothing to do, so I went down to the tennis courts. (I always traveled with my tennis racket, and Alice Marble, a famous tennis player in my era, was my idol.) So I was at the Beverly Hills Hotel, playing tennis for a couple days with this one fellow, Carl. It turns out that Carl was a tennis friend of Charlie Chaplin, and a couple days later I was invited by Carl to play up in a foursome at Chaplin's that Sunday. I said okay. We went up on Sunday and played. There was a fellow there named Tim Durant, who was my partner, and Carl was Chaplin's partner. We had tea afterwards, in the teahouse above the tennis court, and then I went up to the pool to shower and change. Later, in the car on the way back down to the hotel, Carl said, 'Chaplin's very interested in you for his new movie.' I said [cautiously], 'Oh ... ?' I'd heard of his reputation."

Few moviegoers, then as now, were unaware of Chaplin's questionable motives and reckless behavior regarding the opposite sex. Aspiring actress Joan Barry had recently brought a paternity suit against Chaplin, who was determined to be the father of her child. Chaplin was later found innocent, however, of violating the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes)."It was all over the United States," Nash recalls, "about Joan Barry. She claimed the child was his, the paternity suit, there was a big to-do. In those days, it was really big." In the midst of these proceedings, the 54-year-old Chaplin married 18-year-old Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill.

"When Carl told me Chaplin was interested in me for his next movie," says Nash, "I said, 'Oh, I'd have to ask my mother.' Later Chaplin's butler phoned me and he said, 'Mr. and Mrs. Chaplin would like to invite you for dinner.' Chaplin's wife, Oona, was my age, maybe a few months older, and we got along super-duper. And that's how it happened. I went up to Chaplin's and [I did a reading from] King Lear for him, had dinner with Oona and Charlie, and he wanted to put me under contract. I told him, 'I have to go back to school and take my exams.' So that's what I did, I came back after my exams, and did a screen test. And he put me under contract."

Marilyn's first -- and only -- production with Chaplin was the offbeat dark comedy, Monsieur Verdoux. "I learned a lot from Chaplin," she recalls. "He was very, very tough, but he taught me the essence of being an actress, and got me started into doing comedy. And I studied hard -- Chaplin had sent me to Nina Moise, so I really studied. Nina Moise was Eugene O'Neill's first director back East, so naturally Oona thought she was wonderful. I was under contract to Chaplin at $50 a week. I started out with $50 a week and I got up to $200 -- that's what they paid in those days. I was under contract to him about three years."

Soon after completing Monsieur Verdoux, Marilyn married renowned screenwriter and playwright, Philip Yordan. "Everything was so new to me," Nash remembers. "It was great fun. It all just seemed to fall into my lap. Philip and I built a home next to Chaplin's -- it just happened that we bought five acres right next to him. On the other side was Ronald Colman's home. Fred Astaire was up the street, and next door to him was Pickfair. It was a very close neighborhood."

It's interesting to note that Yordan's name turns up on a lot of pictures he took no part in writing. "That was around the time of McCarthyism," says Nash, "and a lot of Philip's friends were out of work. So what he did was, he had to put his name on their scripts, but he paid the fellows who actually had written them but who couldn't take the credit because they were blacklisted. Those fellows had families, and they'd all starve to death [if SOMEbody didn't 'front' for them]."

At the urging of her husband and friends, Marilyn finally severed her ties to Chaplin. "People were telling me, 'Oh, Chaplin makes a picture every 10 years, you don't want to stay under contract with him!' I shouldn't have listened to people, but I was young, what did I know? So I got out of my contract. Then I did a picture called Unknown World."

Nash is unclear as to exactly how the part in Unknown World came her way, but she's quite clear, over 50 years later, about the picture's shortcomings. "To the Center of the Earth was the shooting title," she begins, "and it wasn't a part I really wanted, but I thought, 'I gotta do SOMEthing.' I felt like a stupid, ridiculous person, because the director didn't give any directions!" At the time, fantasy films were still relatively scarce, "unless they were serials," Nash says. But the 1950s sci-fi boom was just beginning and things looked promising for the genre," so, yes, I did think Unknown World had possibilities."

Unknown World was the first film produced by special effects men Jack Rabin and Irving Block, and Nash makes it clear that, best intentions notwithstanding, their beginner status was in evidence. "I felt they didn't have any talent," she says. "I couldn't imagine how they became producers. I just thought that they didn't know what they were doing. You know, compared to Chaplin, who had to rehearse every scene. And if Chaplin wanted to change it, he would change it right then and there. But these fellows ... ," Nash pauses to laugh. "They were really nice fellows, but, oh, my God ... "

Likewise, director Terry Morse was, "very nice, but he had no talent either!" An aspiring starlet needs solid direction to deliver a credible performance, and in stark contrast to Chaplin, the Unknown World team provided little or none. "I had learned a lot from Chaplin. In a comedy situation, always deliver your lines straight -- don't try to make 'em funny. He taught me that. And he was so particular about where your hands were and how they looked and how you looked. With Chaplin, there was constant direction, which I needed at the time."

Acting opposite nonexistent special effects that were to be added later further contributed to Nash's frustration. "I never could really visualize what it was supposed to be. They didn't show us drawings of the Cyclotram, or the caves, or anything. It was all special effects, added later, so we didn't get to see ANYthing."

While some supplemental footage was shot in Carlsbad Caverns, the actors shot the majority of their scenes close to home. "Our cave was in Nichols Canyon in L.A., right off Laurel Canyon. It was a natural cave, a big one, I'd say around 100 feet long before you got to the back of it. The scenes of the actors at the edge of the [subterranean] sea were shot on Pismo Beach." Just how long was the team actually cave-bound? "It could have been three days, it could have been a week," says Nash. "The interiors were shot, I think, at Sam Goldwyn Studio."

Some top talents who went on to bigger things journeyed with Nash into the Unknown World. Noted screenwriter Millard Kaufman (Bad Day at Black Rock, Raintree County, Never So Few) wrote it and composer Ernest Gold (Exodus, Judgment at Nuremberg, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) provided the score. "Oh, Millard, God love him. He was such a nice man," Nash remembers. "I've met so many ... idiots," she laughs, "and I was too shy to tell the idiots what I really thought! But Millard was a gentleman through and through." Nash held her costars in similar high regard. "[Leading man] Bruce Kellogg was a very nice man. Jim Bannon started out as a stuntman. They were all very nice."

Oddly, the film's star, Victor Kilian, isn't even mentioned in the credits. Did the blacklist extend to the Earth's core, or was it a simple B-movie snafu? "Oh, my God," Nash gasps. "They sure goofed, didn't they? But I don't remember anybody having blacklist problems on that shoot."

Nash saw the completed picture at its L.A. premiere. To husband Philip Yordan, "it was just another picture." Marilyn's reaction was somewhat less inhibited. "I was ... horrified," she laughs. "Because nobody got any direction. What do I think of my performance? Like I said -- no direction! As for the movie itself, it drags at the beginning. Then it finally picks up a little -- about halfway through it, when the action starts, then it becomes interesting. But before then, it's nothing -- the beginning is a bloody bore! ... Today it seems old-fashioned, and yet a lot of the things in the film [would be] right up-to-date today. But I didn't know whether it was successful or not. It was in theaters and then it was out -- it came and went very quickly."

Nash and Yordan divorced in the early '50s. She married a doctor ("He'd hardly let me out of his sight!") and, because the physician liked to fish, they moved upstate to Oroville, California. Her acting career went by the wayside. In 1974, a movie company came to the area preparing to shoot The Klansman, which starred Lee Marvin and Richard Burton. A neighbor, who was very active in the community, asked Nash to meet the location scout and the producer. The producer turned out to be Nash's former agent Bill Shiffrin, and she ended up working as the location casting director for the film. Stranger still, The Klansman was written by Sam Fuller and Unknown World writer Millard Kaufman. "I saw Millard again after all those years," Nash recalls. "He was so surprised to see me in Northern California!" She later served as location casting director on such films as The Outlaw Josey Wales, starring Clint Eastwood, and The Great Smokey Roadblock, starring Henry Fonda. Around this time, she and the doctor separated, divorcing in 1980. "The doctor -- 25 years I put up with him!"

Her third husband, an industrial real estate broker, "was the last of the Southern gentlemen. I adored him. He was a mentor to so many of the real estate people, the younger crowd, and he was loved by EVERYbody." When he passed away in September 2001, "we had over 450 people at the funeral."

It's been five decades, three husbands and four sons since her foray into the Unknown World and, Marilyn Nash says unequivocally, "I don't regret anything. It was an adventure, and I became a pro."

Tom Weaver wrote the liner notes for the upcoming CD featuring music from the original The Fly, Return of the Fly, and Curse of the Fly, available from Percepto Records:

"Fantastic sights leap at you!"
It Came From Outer Space

"See teenage girls thrust into the weird, pulsating cage of horror!"
Teenage Zombies

"Man-like creatures roaming the roof of the world!"
Man Beast

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