Beverly Washburn Interview: Spider Baby, Star Trek and more!
by Lee Sobel (9/9/20)
Spider Baby also known as The Liver Eaters, Attack of the Liver Eaters, Cannibal Orgy, and The Maddest Story Ever Told was filmed in 1964 but not completed until 1967, due to financial difficulties. It is a very cool movie that is a bit different from the 70s exploitation films of director Jack Hill. Anybody who has been listening to Quentin Tarantino since the 90s is well familiar with Hill since Tarantino called him his favorite exploitation movie director -- high praise, indeed! Hill, born 1933, graduated from UCLA alongside Francis Ford Coppola, cut his teeth on several Roger Corman movies, then turned out movie after
With Jill Banner in Jack Hill's Spider Baby
movie, mostly released by AIP, before calling it a day with his last film in 1982. See my interview with him HERE.
Spider Baby is a moody black-and-white gothic horror melodrama filtered through the sensibility of a surreal, arty filmmaker -- it would play well on a double bill with David Lynch's Eraserhead. The movie is about the Merrye children who are physically adults but have regressed mentally and are also violent and dangerous. The movie stars Lon Chaney, Jr. as their chauffeur and caretaker and Sid Haig plays the deranged brother Ralph. Haig had appeared in a student film directed by Jack Hill and later rose to fame as the equally insane Captain Spaulding in the films of Rob Zombie. Also starring in Spider Baby is Beverly Washburn who began her movie career at six years old in a very cool
1950 film noir called The Killer That Stalked New York. Her long career has included over 100 appearances in movies and television shows, including the 1967 second season of Star Trek, "The Deadly Years."
Lee Sobel: Your first movie was The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), which is a terrific film noir. There are several things that are interesting about this film - for one thing, both you and Celia Lovsky who played your mother, were later guest stars on Star Trek. You were only six when you made that film. How did you come to be cast in it?
With Sid Haig, Jill Banner and Lon Chaney, Jr. in Spider Baby
With Sid Haig and Jill Banner in Spider Baby
Beverly Washburn: Jock Mahoney, who was a star in Westerns, saw me sing at an event at the Veterans Hospital in Long Beach and when I was waiting to audition for The Killer That Stalked New York he came into the lobby and recognized me. He asked my mother what I was there for but she told him that I probably would not get the part because I didn't look anything like the way the character was described in the script. He went in and spoke to the producers about me and I got the part. On the first day I worked on the movie I went in to have my makeup and hair done and they asked me if I liked my hair a certain way and I asked them to make me look like Shirley Temple, because I was such a big fan of hers. Then I went on the set and
met Evelyn Keyes, who I did not know at the time was famous, and she was very sweet to me. Doing that movie enabled me to have credibility to get more movie roles because I had dialogue scenes in The Killer That Stalked New York.
Lee Sobel: You worked with Cecil B. DeMille in 1952 on The Greatest Show on Earth. Do you have any memories of that?
Beverly Washburn: Yes I had a scene with Jimmy Stewart and there were all of these kids and extras because it was at the circus and at one point during shooting
someone called out "Cut!" and it was the mother of one of the boys in the crowd and she called cut because he couldn't be seen on camera. There was a lot of commotion and they promptly escorted her and her son off the set.
Lee Sobel: You worked with Lou Costello in a 1958 episode of Wagon Train shortly before he died.
Beverly Washburn: It was an episode where Lou played this drifter who is traveling cross country on a wagon train with this little girl who is an orphan and we had befriended each other and there is a murder and
they think that he did it because he has a drinking problem. Times have changed -- a story like this would never be done today with a little girl traveling with a man because it would be totally inappropriate. I was a big Abbott and Costello fan so I was over the moon working with him. Lou was very sweet. The episode was called "The Tobias Jones Story." It was the only dramatic role he ever did and he was amazing. He had trouble remembering all his dialogue because when he was in Abbott and Costello he had free rein to ad-lib and there was no ad-libbing allowed on this show. But when he would forget his lines he would just turn to the camera and say, "How are ya?" which would make me laugh every time. In his book he said that he couldn't have done as a good a job on that show without me, which meant so much to me and always will.
Ward Bond was on that show and he was a real man's man who cursed a lot. Because I was a child actor they had to have
Lou Costello with Beverly Washburn in an episode of Wagon Train
With Tony Dow from Leave It to Beaver
a welfare worker through the Los Angeles Board of Education on the set. They called them welfare workers because they looked out for our welfare and made sure we didn't shoot into overtime and we had to have three hours of schooling every day. She finally walked over to the director and said if Ward Bond used profanity one more time she would yank me from the set. She had that power because they had strict rules and if they had pulled me off the set it would have cost them a lot of money because I was in a lot of scenes. They went over to Ward Bond and told him and he apologized profusely to me. I don't think he was even aware that he was doing it and I didn't even know what the words meant at the time. So after that he never even said "darn."
Lee Sobel: I interviewed Tony Dow from Leave It to Beaver - what are your memories of appearing on an episode of that show?
Beverly Washburn: Tony wrote the foreword for my book. I had a huge crush on him when he was Wally. I had done a live series on CBS called Professional Father (1955) with Barbara Billingsley who played June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. I had played her daughter for six months on that show -- it was only one season. I was filming an episode of another series and found out that they were shooting Leave It to Beaver on the same lot and I wanted to say hi to Barbara Billingsley, but mainly I wanted to meet Tony Dow because I had a crush on him. So I went onto the set of Leave It to Beaver and I did get to meet Tony. He was very shy. As fate would have it, the casting director came on the set and Barbara introduced me to him and he asked me to come in the next day to read for the show and they cast me in an episode called "The Blind Date Committee." Tony and I hit it off and then in the 60's a teen magazine set
us up on a fake date and then we became friends. A couple of years ago we did the play "Love Letters" together. I adore Tony -- he's just a humble, easygoing guy.
Lee Sobel: In 1958 you appeared on a TV show called Shirley Temple's Storybook. She was 30 then and you were 13 but you had already been a child actress for 8 years. Did you get to know her and did she give you any guidance as a child actor?
Beverly Washburn: When I got that part I was so excited because I looked up to her but she only introduced the stories and she wasn't in the show so, sadly, I never got to meet her.
Lee Sobel: What are your memories in general of working at such a young age - did it cause any problems for you?
Beverly Washburn: One of the things that helped me as a kid was that I was never on a long-running series whereas child actors who starred on one
series tended to get typecast and that made it hard for them to transition to roles when they got older. The one thing I did get typecast for was, "the girl that always cried." That's why I named my book Reel Tears, because invariably I cried in almost everything I ever did. Some people couldn't cry on camera so they would either use glycerine or blow something in your eyes but I guess because I was so emotional I could cry easily.
Lee Sobel: What do you remember about Loretta Young who you starred in a TV series with?
Beverly Washburn: She had a "cuss box" which any of the cast or crew would have to put a quarter in if they said a swear word, and then it would go to her favorite charity which was the Home for Unwed Mothers.
Lee Sobel: What are your memories of making Jack Hill's Spider Baby?
Beverly Washburn: We filmed the movie in I think it was 13 days, so we became something of a family but they were on a tight budget and we didn't have a whole lot of time to get to know each other well. I was very excited to get that part because I was a fan of Lon Chaney, Jr. He was like a gentle giant, a very dear man. Kind and soft spoken. It was a well known fact back then that he was an alcoholic but it never posed a problem. He had it in his contract that throughout the day he could go into his trailer and have a little drink or he would get the shakes. Otherwise he was always on time and could deliver his dialogue. It was such a tragedy about Jill Banner. She was so beautiful and I think had she lived she would have gone on to a lot of other roles. We got along great and it was really fun working with her. It was tragic that she was killed in an automobile accident but also tragic that she never got to see Spider Baby because the movie sat on the shelf for years before it was finally released. The movie was in litigation for years and Lon Chaney, Jr., who loved playing that role, also never saw the movie before he died. They missed seeing the movie become a cult classic. I get fan mail for Spider Baby and people say they love it and it was such a low budget, quirky, campy film.
With Sid Haig in Pit Stop
Lee Sobel: And Sid Haig was one of your co-stars in Spider Baby and he later became a big cult star in Rob Zombie's movies.
Beverly Washburn: One thing that was great about Sid was how much he loved his fans. I would see celebrities signing autographs at conventions and some of them would look so bored. But not Sid -- people would line up for him and he really appreciated his fans.
Lee Sobel: How did you come to be cast on Star Trek and what are your memories of making that show?
Beverly Washburn: When I went in to audition for Star Trek they asked me if I was claustrophobic and I couldn't figure out
why they asked me that. It was such an odd question. It was because when I get old in the episode, they had to make a plaster cast of my face and I had to breathe through a straw until it dried. Then they took the plaster cast off and from that they made a rubber mask. I was in makeup for four and a half hours because they had to put the mask on me and then do the wrinkles on top of it. It was really tedious. I never knew if I got the part because they liked my reading or because I said I wasn't claustrophobic. Or maybe it was because I was shorter than William Shatner, I don't know.
Lee Sobel: Your hair was very short on Star Trek.
Beverly Washburn: I hated that. Just before Star Trek I was in
With James Doohan and DeForest Kelley on the Star Trek episode "The Deadly Years"
a movie Jack Hill directed called Pit Stop and I had to act opposite Richard Davalos and we had the same color hair. Jack Hill said he thought it would look better if my hair was darker so we didn't look like brother and sister. So they sent me to a beauty shop to dye my hair but the chemicals weren't that good back then and when they started shampooing it my hair started falling out in clumps. So they had no choice but to cut it off and they gave me that pixie cut. So when I auditioned for Star Trek my hair was already that short.
Lee Sobel: Any other funny Hollywood memories?
Beverly Washburn: I did an episode of 77 Sunset Strip with Efram Zimbalist Jr. and I don't know why but I was chewing gum. During the rehearsal we walked out and we were talking so I figured we would just shoot it once and I didn't want to throw away my
gum so I put it in the palm of my hand so you couldn't see it. He didn't do this during rehearsal but when we were shooting it he took me hand and I had this big wad of gum in my hand and I was mortified. He laughed when he saw the look on my face. I was so embarrassed that I never chewed gum after that.
Beverly Washburn is the author of her memoirs, Reel Tears: The Beverly Washburn Story (2009) and Reel Tears: The Beverly Washburn Story, Take Two (2013), both published by BearManor Media. Her website is beverlywashburn.com.