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Screen sirens descend upon Winston-Salem

by Jim Longworth

As I mentioned in last week’s column, Shirley Jones is coming to town for the Western Film Fair. But Shirley isn’t the only beauty who will be appearing at the event. Joining her will be screen sirens Julie Adams, Sherry Jackson and Connie Stevens.

Before being discovered by a talent scout, Arkansas native Julie Adams had worked as a secretary, admitting to me, “ I was good at shorthand, but I was a terrible typist.” And though she was armed with a good work ethic,

Julie still had to overcome one obstacle before landing any acting roles.

JA: The talent scout said, “First thing you’ve got to do is lose your Southern accent.” So he sent me to a voice coach.

Julie’s first role was in The Dalton Gang. JA: we made it in six days. They kind of liked me, so we then made six movies in five weeks!

She went on to make many more western films, her favorite of which was Bend in the River. Adams also appeared in a number of TV oaters, including “Bonanza,” “The Big Valley,” and “The Rifleman.”

But Julie will always be known as the bathing beauty who was pursued by The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And while she enjoyed making the cult classic, she is conspicuously absent from the two sequels.

JA: Well you know she wasn’t going to marry that fella, and they didn’t want him to kill her, so where could you go with it?

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Sherry Jackson’s acting career began at an early age. At 10, she was already a Hollywood veteran who received stacks of fan mail every week. That increased when she landed the role of Terry on “The Danny Thomas Show.”

SJ: I was working all week, and on Saturdays my mother made me sit down and answer every fan letter. I wrote a personal note in each one, put it in an envelope, and mailed it.

Jackson stayed with the Thomas show for five seasons, then was in demand for guest starring roles on TV, including many westerns, such as “Death Valley Days,” “Wagon Train” and “Rawhide.”

SJ: I also did two Gene Autry segments, and I did an episode of “Range Rider” with Jock Mahoney. He taught me how to ride, and I’ve loved to ride ever since.

Of all the famous actors you’ve worked with, who was her favorite?

SJ: John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way. He was wonderful to me. I had long pigtails and the director wanted to cut my hair. I had tears in my eyes, so Duke came over and touched me on the shoulder and said, “I’m not gonna let them cut your hair.”

I asked Sherry why she liked to attend events like the Western Film Fair.

SJ: I really do enjoy my work, and I want to do these kinds of events for my fans. I want to reciprocate all their caring about me.

Connie Stevens has a special relationship with her fans too, perhaps because she’s always seemed like one of us. It’s that kind of personality that got Stevens elected student body pesident of her Brooklyn high school, but her reign was short lived.

CS: I was impeached by the teacher because I let everyone listen to the last game of the World Series. We had the radio on, and we were dancing and carrying on.

Despite the impeachment, Connie was voted most likely to succeed. Her early success came as a singer.

CS: Somebody showed Jerry Lewis some film of me singing with three boys who later became the Lettermen.

Then he screen tested me which he paid for himself. Paramount didn’t want me, but Jerry did, and that film [Rock a Bye Baby] started my whole career.

Stevens guest starred on a number of TV Westerns including “Maverick” and “Cheyenne” before landing the starring role of

Cricket in the hit show “Hawaiian Eye.” Concurrently her music career took off as well, and her dreamy voice was a big hit with record buyers.

Blessed with breathtaking good looks, it was not surprising that, in 1974, Connie was cast as Marilyn Monroe in The Sex Symbol. But the film ran into political trouble, and was reportedly blocked by Monroe’s former husband Arthur Miller.

CS: They made us change the names, and I had to re-shoot a lot. It finally came out on television in an edited version.

These days, Stevens is performing in Las Vegas, heads up a college scholarship program for Native American youth, and just directed a new movie titled Saving Grace B. Jones which stars Tatum O’Neal.

Stevens, Adams, and Jackson will be appearing at the Western Film Fair from July 20-23 at the Joel Coliseum. (www.westernfilmfair.com).

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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