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RIP Arlene Martel

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AMOvershadowed by the sad loss of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, 1960s starlet Arlene Martel also passed away this week from a heart attack. I had the pleasure to interview Arlene for my book Drive-in Dream Girls. Below is an excerpt from it including some of her quotes. She will be missed.

Arlene Martel was one of the many talented Hollywood actors whose face fans recognize but whose name may elude them. In her case it’s even more so since she started out in Hollywood using her real name of Arline Sax. On the big screen Martel had the female lead in the cult film noir The Glass Cage (1964) and played a biker chick in the popular film Angels From Hell (1968), the follow-up to Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1968). But it was on TV where Martel excelled essaying a variety of roles usually hidden under different hair colors and gobs of make-up or speaking in a foreign dialect in such series as Route 66, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hogans Heroes, Star Trek, The Monkees and Bewitched. The exotic, shapely beauty played so many varied roles that she was dubbed “the Chameleon” by honchos at Universal Studios. “I think this was a hindrance because no one knew it was the same actress from week to week,” commented Arlene. “In fact, in one week I was on three different shows. And nobody knew it was the same person. I think it is very good to have that versatility when you are established as a star. They say, ‘Look she can do this and do this.’ But if the audience doesn’t know it’s you, it is not to your advantage.”

Her comments on some of her most memorable 1960s TV appearances.

Route 66 “A Legacy for Lucia”

“This was written by Stirling Silliphant so you can imagine the quality of the writing. I played a young Italian girl who meets this American soldier in Italy. Trying to impress her, he tells her that he owns the state of Oregon and if anything happened to him he’d leave it to her. He dies and she comes to America to claim her property. It was a very touching and beautiful experience. We actually shot it in a lumber camp in Oregon. I still feel the air on my face and I still feel the passion that surrounded this character. Both George Maharis and Martin Milner were just lovely to work with.”

AM R66

The Outer Limits “Demon with a Glass Hand”

“When I first read Harlan Ellison’s script I felt inspired by it. I felt I could do a lot in the role of Consuela. This part had a lovely substance that I connected with. Byron Haskin was our director and he was wonderful! He was the reason I got this role. When they replaced me with Christiane Martel [in the 1959 movie The Little Savage], Byron told me, ‘One day I will make it up to you and find something else for you.’ And sure enough he did.”

“I believe Harlan Ellison was on the set during filming but to tell you the truth my concentration was so much on my part that other than Robert Culp I don’t think I was aware of anyone else. I was very focused on what was happening between our characters.  I found Culp to be very attractive in many ways. I got a very beautiful feeling about him. I thought that as a person he projected a lovely sanity. I enjoyed working with him. He remains a favorite.”

“I also had an operation and had just been released from the hospital the day before. If you watch the episode you’ll notice that as I am being pulled by Robert Culp I am running very stiffly with my arm at my side because I was nervous that the stitches would open. I was running in so much pain—up the stairs, down the stairs—but I was afraid to tell them that I just got out of the hospital because I thought that they would replace me. I kept that to myself and just prayed, ‘Oh dear God please don’t let me start bleeding all over the place.’”


The Monkees “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool”

“The guys were having a ball doing this series. I had an especially good rapport with Peter Tork and Davy Jones. There was a great deal of joviality on the set. I hung out with them one day and it was the first and only instance where I wasn’t on time getting back to a set. The air was thick with smoke and I guess I innocently inhaled. I was twenty minutes late and the director berated me mercilessly in front of the cast and crew.”


Star Trek “Amok Time”

“[Director Joseph] Pevney kept guiding me towards doing less and less and less [playing a Vulcan betrothed to Spock]. Finally he said, ‘Do even less than what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘But I wouldn’t be doing anything at that point.’ He replied, ‘That’s exactly what I want. It will come through.’ So this very dry, icy, intellectual quality came forth and that is exactly what he was after. But it was very different from everything else I had done.”

“Every time Celia Lovsky pronounced one of the Vulcan words Bill Shatner would whisper something funny about it and get me to laugh, which was terrible to do. It was just terrible of him! Of course Ms. Lovsky wasn’t aware of this. But she had difficulty pronouncing the Vulcan words. Bill was like a naughty schoolboy and suddenly I became five years old too. At one point, the director threatened to throw us both off the set. I have very good concentration but Bill just broke me up.”

“Leonard Nimoy was rather removed. Maybe he was maintaining his character—I don’t know. Or maybe he genuinely didn’t like me! I have no idea to this day. We were cast together in three different shows. Before Star Trek we played a mountain couple in the western The Rebel with Nick Adams and I also worked with him later on Mission: Impossible. I thought I was very good to work with and that I gave a great deal in my work. For some reason, he remained very aloof.”




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1 comment

John Black August 14, 2014 - 4:27 am

Man, I just commented that I’d like to read a memoir by her, and now I see that she has passed away. She won’t be publically noted, ala Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams, but she was a favorite of mine.

I absolutely adored her as two weird sisters in the low-budget gem THE GLASS CAGE (1964, but actually filmed in 1961). That film was the subject of a lawsuit, and sat on the shelf for three years. She was Arline Sax in that film’s credits, but soon thereafter became Arlene Martell.


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