Myrna Hansen is an actress, model, pin-up girl and former Miss U.S.A. from Chicago, Illinois. Hansen was
chosen Miss Photoflash of 1953 by the Chicago Press Photographers Association. She was entered in the
Miss USA contest by virtue of winning this title. For winning the Miss USA crown Hansen was awarded a
Hillman Minx convertible, a Universal Pictures contract, and a $2,500 diamond wrist watch. She also
received an ornate trophy presented by Ruth Hampton, actress, and 1952 Miss New Jersey. Hansen was
presented with a solid silver and gold replica of the crown on the Statue of Liberty. A gigantic loving cup
was also among the prizes she won.
Hansen appeared in 15 films including; The All American, So This is Paris, The Purple Mask, Cult of the
Cobra, Man without a Star, Francis in the Navy, Goodbye Charlie, There's Always Tomorrow, Black
Caesar, Party Girl and more. She also appeared in many TV series including; 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian
Eye, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Green Acres, Straightaway and more. She has worked
with many of the greatest entertainers of all time including; Angela Lansbury, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred
MacMurray, Joan Bennett, Jack Kelly, Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Eva Gabor, Montgomery Clift,
Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Agnes Moorehead, Rhys Williams, Lee Marvin and Nigel Patrick to name
just but a few.
Hansen's most notable film for me is the classic Raintree County from 1957 in which she played the
character of Lydia Grey, wife of Raintree County citizen Ezra Gray played by Rhys Williams. Lydia falls in
love with the charming and carefree "Perfessor" Jerusalem Stiles (Nigel Patrick), nearly runs off with the
professor, but chooses to stay in Raintree County.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed speaking with Miss Hansen.
Mark Sean Orr
June 17, 2013 - June 30, 2013
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|Interview with Actress Myrna Hansen
by Mark Sean Orr
|Actress and Miss U.S.A. Myrna Hansen
|Myrna Hansen with Montgomery Clift in the Swimming scene in the movie Raintree County.
The scene was filmed near Danville, Kentucky in the summer of 1956.
Hi Myrna, it's nice to speak with you. Thank you for allowing me to interview you for my website.
I would like to begin by asking you a little bit about your early career, your interest in animals,
being Miss U.S.A. 1953 and also your work in the movie Raintree County.
Sure...I came to California for two weeks and at that time (after winning Miss U.S.A.) Universal Studios
was a sponsor and they give you a contract so they can cash in on your publicity value. So I kind of saw
what it was all about and it was becoming very enjoyable. Universal had a school at the time that included
people like Rock Hudson, Clint Eastwood, Mamie Van Doren, Tony Curtis, Barbara Rush, Jack Kelly,
Richard Long...there was a whole great bunch and it was a big family. So I thought "Well I will apply myself
and it will be even more fun than horses".
I wanted to be in animal husbandry because I wanted to train horses. I sent in my tuition to Colorado
Springs, but they wouldn't give me a six month break. I wanted to wait for six months and then go in. So
they kept my money and I applied myself and one thing led to another and I'm still in California.
How did you get in to the pageants?
A total fluke. Some of my friends in high school sent in my application without me knowing it (laughs) and I
had done a State Street Council thing for my High School. I was just really active in everything...Junior
Achievement and other things. Then a couple of people at the Chicago Tribune called my mother and
said 'could we enter your daughter in the Miss Photo Flash Contest?'. My mother said sure. The contest
was on three consecutive Saturdays and I'd never even seen a beauty contest. I survived the first one,
the second one and the third was on the night of a school dance and I didn't want to go, I wanted to go to
the dance. Well.. you can always go to a dance...as long as they still have you in the contest, you might
as well show up, and I did and won. So one thing just led to another like magic.
So you won Miss Illinois and then went on to become Miss U.S.A.?
And then to the Miss Universe Pageant
It was held at the same time (July 17, 1953 at Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, Long Beach, California)
and technically I won Miss Universe too because Christiane Martel (Miss France) was going to be
disqualified. (It was found that Martel was only 17 when she won the Miss Universe contest and not eligible
I read about that....I read that Hedda Hopper announced that you should have won. (Hedda
Hopper reported in March 1954 that Hansen should have been awarded the Miss Universe
Oh my goodness...(laughs), so technically I won but I didn't protest it. Enough was enough.
What was it like coming to California from Illinois?
I came to California to stick my toe into the Pacific Ocean and I was surprised that the ocean was so hot
compared to Lake Michigan. There's a big difference between cold fresh water and warm salt water.
Then Universal Studios had plans for you.
Yes..I worked quite a bit. Universal put me on publicity tours and I learned a lot from that. They put me in
different pictures, so you got your groundwork in, it was all training. Universal had a stockholders fight.
They were in big trouble financially and then I got the contract for Raintree County from MGM. The filming
lasted a long time because Montgomery Clift got hurt in the middle of filming. That entailed sitting around
waiting a long time to get back into production.
They actually stopped production for awhile?
Yes....because he was in a lot of the main parts of the film.
Myrna Hansen (front) in a scene from MGM's Raintree County, Also shown are, left to right: Nigel Patrick as
"Perfessor" Jerusalem Stiles, Elizabeth Taylor as the southern belle with a touch of insanity Susanna Drake
and Montgomery Clift as John Shawnessy, the films Raintree County hero. Summer of 1956, near Danville,
What do you think of the movie overall? Do you think it was a great movie?
It should have been a great movie. Somehow it just didn't have the intensity or the drama flow. I think
maybe it was too long and should have been cut down a bit. The photography, the story, everything was
fantastic but it never was the smash hit they were hoping it would be.
I don't think there has ever been a movie with that magnitude of stars.
I think you are right. They put everything into that movie. It was quite an experience. Then MGM started
getting into trouble financially, and they started bringing in television.
I did 'The Thin Man' with Peter Lawford and stayed at MGM for awhile and then they closed down. That's
when Dore Schary took over from Louis B. Mayer and that changed a lot of things. I did quite a bit of
television. Westinghouse Playhouse, and I did a lot of George Burns shows, and Jackie Cooper, it was a
Do you have any particular memories of some of the actors you worked with like George Burns,
Tony Curtis, Angela Lansbury?
I worked in a movie with Angela Lansbury in a movie called 'The Purple Mask', and it was months later I
saw her on a talk television show...it was the funniest quote. She said "If anybody's career survived being
in the Purple Mask, they've really done something"...(laughs).
That stuck in my mind.
With George Burns, it was the early years of television and his wife Gracie (Allen) was a brilliant lady.
They were just terrific. I played the love interest of Ronnie, their son. George would shoot with two
cameras, a close up and a long shot and they would both shoot at the same time, cutting down the time of
shooting an episode, which was very important for television. At first they were trying to do it like a movie
and it was way to expensive for a half hour or hour show. Working on that show was very memorable,
beautiful, professional, terrific people.
How did you become involved in the movie Raintree County?
I auditioned. They called me in to be Lydia Grey and I got the part. Then after the picture was over and
they were releasing it, I did an extensive personal appearance tour with it. Howard Strickland was head of
publicity at that time. I travelled across the country and they had different road managers meeting me in
every city. They had the TV shows and newspaper publicity all lined up.
What I did, was I kept my own record of what I was doing and when I'd go on a television show, I asked
them what they charged for air time for a commercial and I would look at the clock when I went on TV and
when I went off and I made a report that Howard Strickland had never seen before.
It showed the thousands and thousands of dollars I got free for MGM. Howard Strickland was very
impressed with that. I did that because I thought "well I have to find a good way to stay here." (laughs).
And so I did.
Any other memories of the studios?
When I was at Universal, they had a Christmas Show. For three consecutive Saturdays, we would put on a
big show for the industry. I remember Clint Eastwood was a scarecrow, David Jansen was a Tin Soldier,
and I was a skating doll (as I did a lot of ice skating and roller skating). Besides the musical opening and
closing numbers they had skits. Mamie Van Doren had the role in 'Boy Meets Girl', with Jack Kelly and
Hugh O'Brian and the last night she called in and said she couldn't make it and they were going to have to
close the whole skit. Now I had been on the road travelling but I had watched the rehearsals. I don't know
what possessed me but I said "I can do it". So they fitted me for the little waitress costume and while they
are doing that, I'm getting up on my lines, everybody there is helping me, Rock Hudson... Tony Curtis was
cuing me and I went on, and that's what got my contract extended at Universal. If you apply yourself it
helps a lot.
When you went down to Danville, Kentucky to do Raintree County, did you know about the
book or it's author? And what was your first impression of Danville and it's citizens?
No...I had only seen the script. I hadn't known anything prior and when I got there in Danville, it was late
afternoon and the airline had lost my luggage, so I had nothing to wear. Danville is such a tiny town. I
couldn't believe the size of it when I watched the recent political debates that were held there. It looks all
grown up now.
But it was a little tiny town, so I went to the one dress store and everybody was so delightful in Danville. I
said "I have no clothes to wear!". "I don't even have a shower cap". And they were very helpful and I got
some clothes to get me through maybe two days, hoping by that time the airline would find my luggage. By
that time it's dark and I'm starving. I think there was like one restaurant in town and of course the studio
made sure I got to the restaurant.
Now I grew up in Chicago, so I ordered corn on the cob, it looked beautiful, so I went to eat the corn on
the cob and it was horse corn! I couldn't believe it, so I asked the waitress....I said "this is horse corn", and
she had no idea the difference between horse and sweet corn. But you couldn't chew it. I thought I was in
Kentucky, they should know the difference between horse and sweet corn. That was my experience at the
restaurant, but the people were just delightful in Danville.
Did you stay in Danville for months like many of the other actors did?
Yes...and I lived in a motel room right between Rod Taylor and Lee Marvin. This alone was a learning
experience. Both Lee Marvin and Rod Taylor would borrow money from me because they had managers
who would only give them so much to spend, which was kind of interesting.
There was a family (Caldwell?) who had a lovely home in Danville and they would invite us on the
weekends. They had a boat that would make the African Queen look plush. What it was, was a fun raft
with a canopy and they would play musical instruments and they'd play cards and have a picnic and
attached to this big barge was a great speedboat., with really high powered engines. Sometimes we'd
have dinner at the house that was very elegant and sometimes we'd have a picnic on the lake.
Lee Marvin was a total braggart (laughs), he bragged about everything. But he was so frustrating
because everything he bragged about, he could do. One day we were water skiing behind this great
speedboat and he says "I don't need skis to ski with". I said "what do you mean?" He said "I can do it on
my bare feet". We all asked "have you ever done that before"...."no'....."well how do you know you can do
it?". He said "I just betcha I can".
So he started out with two skis, then he kicked off one and then the other ski, motioned for the driver to
go faster and sure enough, there he was skiing with his bare feet. (laughs).
We all had a good laugh about his shenanigans.
What a wonderful story. Do you have memories of spending time with the other stars and crew?
I remember going on picnics with Millard Kaufman, Eddie Dmytryk, Elizabeth Taylor and myself down at
the river creek on Sundays...the four of us would have a picnic there and Millard would look for places to
film scenes for the next days shooting. The four of us would have a lovely picnic.
Elizabeth Taylor was beyond terrific because she had such an unusual childhood but she was a very
down to earth person. White was white and black was black , no nonsense, no ego.
The average public seemed to treat celebrities by being either very snarly to them or over-gracious to
them. It's not easy.
Yes...I learned from talking to some of the Danville residents that feelings were mixed. Some
of the parents were leery of Hollywood coming to Danville and some were just star-struck.
Yes, there's no equal ground really. Of course Montgomery Clift didn't improve the image of Hollywood too
Do you know the story about Clift running naked through the streets of Danville?
So it is true?
Yes. He had a baby-sitter with him at all times after that incident, to keep him indoors. I can't remember his
name, but he has assistant director credit. His job was to make sure that Monty was indoors or covered
when he was outdoors.
How Monty made it to the scene and knew his lines everyday was amazing. He was a fabulous talent, but
he was just doing himself in.
Did you know the truism of how he almost got killed at the train station?
No...I haven't heard that.
We were all at the old train station. Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Nigel Patrick, and he (Monty) is
saying goodbye to Eva Marie as he is going off to war. He finishes his dialog with her, turns, catches the
caboose and swings onto the train and goes off to war.
Well in this one take, his timing was a little bit longer and at the end of the railroad station was this big iron
rail that came out to the end of the platform. As he swung on at the end of the platform, he just missed
being smashed between the caboose and this iron rail. Everyone on the set gasped. We thought for sure
he was going to be smashed in between the two. It was very scary...he missed it by a fraction of an inch. I
saw it with my own eyes.
What an incredible story! That must have been horrible to watch.
You worked closely with Rhys Williams...what was that like?
He was an English actor, very well renowned in England, and so Was Nigel Patrick. Rhys has done many
things in America. (extensive list of TV and movie roles starting in the early 1940s).
Williams was great in the movie as was Nigel Patrick.
Yes...Nigel was so funny.
What about working with Agnes Moorehead?
She kept to herself more on the set. We were in New York walking to a TV station together going to do a
promotion of some kind, it was really cute, somebody stopped her on the street and said "Oh! Sally?"
...and she said "no'....and he said "Oh I'm sorry, you look just like my Aunt Sally". She was very pleasant
to them and we went on our way.
She said that happens so much being a character actor. They know that they know you but they don't
remember from where. That was kind of a cute episode.
Any thoughts about working with Eva Marie Saint?
Oh..she was a love. She was a love. She had kind of her own family together. She wasn't at the resident
parties, like Lee Marvin, Taylor and a couple of the others and myself were. She may have gone to a
couple of the parties thrown by the lovely natives of Danville.
A funny thing, I'd just started being an activities director for Westwood Horizons, which is a senior
retirement hotel for active seniors. I had so much fun doing this because there is so much talent in Los
I'd put on dances and top entertainers would come in and Eva Marie Saints mother in law (or Aunt) lived
there and Eva Marie Saint would come in to visit her. We bumped into each other. "Oh my goodness!" We
hadn't seen each other in years! And then she had some pictures sent over that I hadn't seen, with us
together on 'Raintree County' standing on the balcony with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Nigel
Patrick, myself and Eva Marie Saint. That was very sweet of her. I hadn't seen those pictures.
Your thoughts on Raintree County being such a long movie?
Raintree County was so long Mark. I know Gone With the Wind ran that long, but it was a different pace,
I'm not sure what it was because Raintree was so beautiful and covered so much history. Maybe the
dialogs were too long...I really don't know..I really can't give an answer.
Did you know that Raintree County, the novel by Ross Lockridge Jr., was actually based on the
people and places of Henry County, Indiana where I live?
No I didn't. I knew it was based on a place in Indiana. Oh for heaven sakes, no wonder you embrace the
Yes, the courthouse is still here with a Goldenraintree on the lawn.
Ah ... my goodness. I did a publicity junket to Anchorage, Alaska and planted a Raintree. I don't know if it
survived Alaska or not, but it was a very interesting trip. I also planted a Raintree at a prestigious girls
college on the east coast.
Any more memories of making Raintree County?
Elizabeth Taylor had just started going with Mike Todd at that time and he would fly over the set in his
private plane making Edie Dmytryk furious because it would destroy the take. "Get him out of the sky!"
So I met Mike Todd because they were all in Louisville for the premier. There was a lot of publicity
surrounding the premier. Todd was very funny, delightful, energetic...just terrific.
Did you go to the Academy Awards that year?
Oh yes...in fact I performed on the Academy Awards. I was modeling one of the gowns that Water Plunkett
had one for the movie. I modeled it on the Awards show and Walter Plunkett won Best Costume Design.
Later I was in a thrift store and they were selling the picture of the gown that Walter Plunkett designed for
my character. I should have bought the picture.
Do you think there should be a re-make of the movie?
Oh God no. No, because every time they remake a great movie, I think it turns out terrible. A few come to
mind that were just terrible. Every one I've seen remade was a joke compared to the original. You cannot
beat the photography in Raintree County.
Or the cast
And the cast, absolutely. No...that would be disastrous I think.
And the music I think it was one of the greatest scores of all time.
Oh...it was beautiful. It was a beautiful movie....don't touch it. (laughs).
Was Raintree your favorite movie?
They are all interesting. Y0u get the assignment and you are happy for that. It was certainly the most...
I certainly learned a lot being on location and doing the extensive publicity tour. It certainly was fun.
At night time all the young girls from the mountains of Kentucky would be standing all night long outside of
Lee Marvin and Rod Taylors' door, wanting them to come out and play with them.
I thought "How can I get any sleep around here?" (laughs).
I have to ask..what was it like working on the The show Green Acres and other TV shows?
Oh...that was so fun! Eva Gabor was tremendous. I didn't know it but somehow it is on YouTube....that
particular episode. And so my son says "I just saw you on Green Acres (laughs) and I'm a little Swedish
girl (laughs). That was neat.
I worked with Jackie Cooper as well on his show "When Cleo was a Puppy". I pretended I liked dogs but I
really disliked dogs.
The first thing I did was The All American with Tony Curtis. I was still in High School.
I also worked with Kirk Douglas and Bill Campbell. Kirk Douglas was so energetic and bossing everything
around, the director just sat under the truck in the shade and let Kirk Douglas run it. We were shooting
way out in Thousand Oaks, which was all country then, and that's when Bill Campbell was married to Judy
Campbell who was really Judy Exner who was in the John F. Kennedy scandal.
What are you doing now?
I just retired a year and a half ago from being an activity Director when the corporation bought it out and I
didn't want to work for a corporation. Now I've been traveling and have some trips lined up. I'm paying
attention to my house now which needs some little improvements. I'm just kind of relaxing this year and
then I'll figure out what next I'm going to do.
Well I thank you for speaking with me. It was a real pleasure.
If you think of anything more, I check my email about once a week. I'm not swift on it. Nice talking to you
Mark. Happy Indiana. Come to California, you'd love the scenery. Bye for now.
|Opertion Raintree - The Making of Raintree County Featurette
|Kirk Douglas and Myrna Hansen in Man Without a Star.
|Myrna Hansen, Mamie Van Doren,
Allison Hayes and Colleen Miller
|1955 Picturegoer Magazine
Love that woman.. at least the way Elvgren drew her. :)
Wish you would have shared a few pictures of her now. I am a fan of seeing how people age. Would be fun
to see if she aged gracefully, which i imagine is the case.
Nice interview nonetheless. :)