9/16/07

Snow White Spider Baby





Jill Banner. . .the Snow White Spider Baby

Most famous for playing Virginia the "spider baby" in SPIDER BABY (1964), James Coburn's flower child friend in THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967), and a couple of hippie chicks in Jack Webb's television series, Dragnet, actress Jill Banner was born Mary Molumby on November 8, 1946 in Bremerton, Washington. After her father's death in 1949, she and her mother lived in South Dakota and Iowa, near several of their Irish relatives, finally ending up in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. She studied at the Hollywood Professional School, a K-12 school for working professional children run by Maurice and Bertha Mann. At HPS, classes typically ran from 8:45 AM to 12:45 PM, allowing the students the afternoon off to pursue various jobs or performing careers. The school assemblies, called “Aud. Calls,” were early showcases for the talents of students aspiring to be dancers, singers, and actors. Banner’s classmates included actress Peggy Lipton (TV’s The Mod Squad), Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Disney Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brian. She graduated with the Class of 1964.
HPS Yearbook photo Scenes from Spider BabyThe President's Analyst poster
She made her film debut in SPIDER BABY with Sid Haag and Lon Chaney, Jr. Directed by Jack Hill (COFFY, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS), the film was tied up in litigation from 1964 until 1968. Released under various titles, including ATTACK OF THE LIVER EATERS and CANNIBAL ORGY, OR THE MADDEST STORY EVER TOLD, the four-year-old black and white feature quickly faded from view in the tie-dyed electric-Koolaid-acid Sixties. We know of SPIDER BABY today, largely through the efforts of Los Angeles cult film resurrectionist Johnny Legend. The film tells the story of the Merrye family, a clan of bizarre cannibals who suffer from a deteriorating mental condition. They eat bugs, cats, and visitors under the watchful eyes of their caretaker, Lon Chaney, Jr. It was an extremely warped version of the Sixties television family horrors, The Addams Family and The Munsters. Jill was only seventeen when SPIDER BABY was filmed.
Jill on the poster for Spider Baby
While SPIDER BABY remained in legal limbo in the mid-1960s, Banner was reportedly featured in DEADLIER THAN THE MALE (1966), a tongue-in-cheek British thriller about a team of female assassins, starring Nigel Green, Richard Johnson, and European bombshells Elke Sommar and Sylvia Koscina. If Banner actually appeared in DEADLIER THAN THE MALE, she is both uncredited and unnoticeable. The film is more noteworthy as the debut of British model Virginia North, who went on to play Vincent Price’s Vulnavia in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.
Jill on Dragnet
Jill played Wendy, one of the wholesome teenagers in C’MON, LET’S LIVE A LITTLE (1967) with singers Jackie DeShannon (“What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”) and Bobby Vee (“Take Good Care of My Baby”), one of the last films of the fading “beach party” genre.
Virginia the Spider Baby
In the psychodelically paranoid spy spoof, THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1967), Banner was a flower child named “Snow White,” who temporarily rescues James Coburn (OUR MAN FLINT, IN LIKE FLINT) from a combined conspiracy of the American CIA, the Russian KGB, and The Phone Company (referred to cryptically as “TPC”). Coburn and Banner hide out in a “flower power” van with the rock band Clear Light, featuring Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”). As Coburn’s Dr. Sidney Schaefer makes love to Banner’s ethereal girl in a sunny meadow, the grass around them is teaming with assassins, who only manage to kill each other off. In the film’s publicity, Banner’s Swinging Sixties character is referred to as “the Mod Snow White.”
With Beverly Washburn in Spider Baby
She was featured in several episodes of Jack Webb's police-procedural shows, Dragnet 1967 and Adam-12, usually playing clueless teenagers and spaced-out daytrippers. In the Dragnet story “Forgery,” she played a pot-smoking woman who is duped into a life of check fraud by two hippie dope dealers. In another memorable episode, "The Hammer: Homicide DR-22," Banner played a hardened but stupid juvenile whose sociopath boyfriend has murdered an elderly man for money and a ring. When she is captured Banner’s character shows no remorse, prompting Detective Sgt. Joe Friday to call her a bitch by saying, "I'll bet your mother had a loud bark." In an episode of the Jack Webb-produced show, Adam-12, Jill played a girl who sells her baby, then kidnaps him back again.
Good girl and hippie on Dragnet
She performed in several movies and TV shows in the late 1960s and early Seventies, including SHADOW OVER ELVERON (1968) with Don Ameche and Adam-12 co-star Kent McCord. In THE STRANGER RETURNS (1968), a comic spaghetti western (aka SHOOT FIRST LAUGH LAST and UN UOMO, UN CAVALLO, UNA PISTOLA), Banner played the pretty daughter of a corrupt postal official who falls into the hands of banditos. A nameless hero, “The Stranger,” saves her from being raped by the bandits, only to receive a slap from the rescued girl. She was also featured in HUNTERS ARE FOR KILLING (1970), an early Burt Reynolds movie, also known as HARD FRAME. Burt’s character returns from prison to a hometown filled with secrets and bad memories; Banner plays a tempting teenager who gets in his way. In an interview, Reynolds once joked that such films were shown in prisons and airplanes, because no one in the audience could leave. She also appeared in episodes of the television shows The Bold Ones and Cade’s County (1972).
Snow White in The President's Analyst
Banner had an uncredited bit part in Christian Marquand’s frenetic 1968 movie, CANDY, although it is difficult to tell where. At the time, Banner’s physical resemblance to Marquard’s 22-year-old wife, actress Tina Aumont, was startling; the two actresses were only months apart in age. The psychedelic CANDY also featured Ringo Starr, Richard Burton, John Huston, and Jill’s co-star from THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, James Coburn. It was while filming CANDY in Rome that she reportedly met Marquand’s friend, actor Marlon Brando, who was playing the role of a charlatan guru in the film. By 1971, Brando was paying the rent on her apartment, and she would travel with him under the name of "Ms. Malumby." According to Charles Higham’s 1987 book, Brando, the Unauthorized Biography (New American Library Books), the couple frequently fought and made up and fought again. The fiftyish Brando was reportedly very possessive of the twenty-something actress. After one argument, Brando bought her a solid gold apple adorned with diamonds and emeralds, which she wore on a necklace. During a later fight on a Hawaiian beach, Brando ripped it off her neck and threw it in the ocean. It was reported that she was romantically involved on and off with both Marlon Brando and his son, Christian (named after Marquand), until 1976 when she abandoned Hollywood for a real estate job in New Mexico. There was talk of her attending law school. Brando’s 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me (Random House), discusses their relationship, but disguises certain details of her life and refers to her by the name “Weonna.” She returned to Southern California and Brando in the early Eighties, reportedly to develop scripts. In 1982, her Toyota was hit by a truck on Ventura Freeway. Thrown from the vehicle, she died at 3 AM, August 7, 1982, in North Hollywood's Riverside Hospital. She was 35.

Jill Banner Filmography
Spider Baby (1964)

Deadlier Than the Male (1966, uncredited)
The President's Analyst (1967)
C'mon, Let's Live a Little (1967)
Candy (1968, uncredited)
The Stranger Returns (1968)
Shadow Over Elveron (1968)
Hunters Are for Killing (1970)

(There is a Wikipedia entry for Jill, but this is the original.)

5 comments:

Jack Hill said...

Hey, Parker. I'd appreciated it if you could contact me directly:
jackhill2@earthlink.net
re your pics of Jill Banner. I would love to have larger files of these if you have them. I also might have a few that you don't have, for your collection.
==Jack Hill

Anonymous said...

she was also a good time girl of clint eastwood's when she was about 17 or 18, elvis, and others at kitty jones' parties in hollywood to get jobs in movies. she did what she had to which is fine. but she was one of many girlfriends of marlon brando which she had to be aware of and got sick of i guess. he juggled her with many other women and she hooked up with other men too.

Perla said...

If I remember correctly, Brando did say in his autobiography. "out of all the women i've known, there was one woman I loved more than any other" he was talking about Jill Banner. It's not a direct quote but it was something of that nature.

C. Parker said...

Peggy Lipton's autobiography gives us several new details about her friend Jill Banner.

Anonymous said...

Mary Molumby was raised a Catholic. Pray for her poor soul. She was a very intelligent and talented girl and is still missed by her friends.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen