Mary Murphy dies at 80; small-town innocent in ‘The Wild One’

Mary Murphy, a film and television actress best remembered for playing the wholesome small-town girl opposite Marlon Brando’s rebellious motorcycle gang leader in “The Wild One,” has died. She was 80.

Murphy died of heart disease May 4 at her home in Beverly Hills, said her daughter, Stephanie Specht.

In “The Wild One,” the 1953 film about two rival biker gangs that menace the citizens of a tiny California town, Murphy played Kathie, the daughter of the ineffectual local cop, who captures the attention of Brando’s tough guy, Johnny.

“She and Brando really got along great,” Specht said. “There was a scene where all the motorcycles circle around her. There was a moment where she had a bit of fear, which is what she was supposed to put out there on the screen. But she had a lot of fun. She loved the film.”


A beautiful brunette, Murphy was a package wrapper at Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills when she was discovered in a nearby coffee shop by Paramount Pictures talent scout Milton Lewis and signed to a contract.

“Mary was one of the most beautiful young ladies we ever had at the studio,” said veteran Paramount producer A.C. Lyles, who was friends with Murphy.

Two years of uncredited bit parts and small roles preceded Murphy’s first starring role, in the 1953 movie “Main Street to Broadway.”

Murphy, who had a supporting role in the 1955 Humphrey Bogart movie “The Desperate Hours,” had starring roles in “Beachhead,” “A Man Alone,” “Hells Island,” “Sitting Bull,” “The Mad Magician” and other 1950s films.


She later made guest appearances on TV series including “Dr. Kildare,” “The Fugitive” and “Ironside,” appeared in a few TV movies and had a role in the 1972 Steve McQueen film “Junior Bonner.”

Murphy, who had a brief 1956 marriage to actor Dale Robertson, married Alan Specht, president of the Hali-Spechts lighting store chain, in 1962. They were divorced in 1967.

Born in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 26, 1931, Murphy spent her early years in Cleveland and moved to Los Angeles with her family in the 1940s. She graduated from University High School in West Los Angeles in 1949.

Her daughter is her sole survivor.