Barbara Rush has had a remarkable career on the stage, screen, and television. In the movies, she starred opposite some of the most talented men in Hollywood — Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Mason, Montgomery Clift, Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, and many others in films such as The Young Philadelphians, Bigger Than Life, and Robin and the Seven Hoods. On television, she played evil Nora Clavicle on a memorable (if politically incorrect) episode of Batman and starred in series such as Peyton Place, Falcon Crest, and Seventh Heaven.

barbararush-tcmfestivalThe still-gorgeous Rush turned 88 yesterday and many of her films still get a lot of play. I watched the wonderful Come Blow Your Horn, her first film with Frank Sinatra, on Turner Classic Movies this past Friday and she occasionally introduces her films at various festivals. Last year, the World 3-D Expo at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood screened two of Rush’s films from her time as a Universal contract player in the 1950s: Douglas Sirk’s Taza, Son of Cochise, in which she and Rock Hudson play full-blooded Native Americans (!) as well as one of her much-loved science fiction films, Jack Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space, based on a story by Ray Bradbury. Barbara won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for that film which is a personal favorite of mine. I sat down with Barbara Rush in her stunning Beverly Hills home (once owned by famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper) to talk about It Came from Outer Space and other highlights from her movie career.

Danny Miller: It was so much fun to finally see It Came from Outer Space in 3D at the festival after seeing it on television all these years. 

Barbara Rush: It’s very fun in 3D — they sort of push everything out in your face! Of course what made this film so unique was the way Ray Bradbury told this story.

Were you excited when you found out that you were going to do a film that he was involved in? I understand he wrote most of the dialogue even though Harry Essex gets the screenplay credit.

Oh, yes! Ray Bradbury was such a wonderful man. I remember I used to see him all the time riding his bicycle all over Beverly Hills, I just loved him so much. But the thing about this movie was that he was really the first one who talked about aliens as superior beings — not just monsters trying to kill us. His idea was that if they were intelligent enough to get here, it was probably safe to say that they were a little smarter than us.

That was a very evolved view for 1953. In most of the other Cold War-era sci-fi movies, the aliens were immediately trying to take over the planet! 

Yes. In It Came from Outer Space, the aliens had an accident with their spaceship. They were just trying to fix it and get out of here so they used their ability to look like earthlings and would kidnap people and assume their identities so that they wouldn’t be noticed. These were very smart aliens! Of course, my question back then was that if they were so smart, why did they accidentally crash-land on Earth? (Laughs.) But the idea of space creatures coming here in peace was fairly revolutionary at the time.

It’s a great script—not that it doesn’t have a couple of pretty out-there moments!

Oh, you mean like when my character is kidnapped and an alien turns into me but instead of my regular clothes I’m suddenly wearing this strapless black chiffon evening gown with a flowing scarf?


(Laughing) I remember asking, “How the heck would they know how to dress me that way if they were from Planet X?”

barbara-outerspace-dressWell, we see in one scene that the aliens took all the clothes from your closet.

Oh right, I forgot about that! but I was a simple schoolteacher, why would I even own a dress like that?

And it still doesn’t make any sense because everyone else whose identity they assume is dressed in whatever they were wearing at the time.

I guess the studio just wanted to get me in that dress.

Well, it was gorgeous! Did you ever get to keep the costumes from your movies?

Not that one — I didn’t particularly want it, but every time I worked with Sinatra, he always said to me, “The clothes are yours!” And those were really expensive clothes, let me tell you, particularly Robin and the Seven Hoods. So beautiful! Frank was always a man of great emotion and impulsive action!

itcamefromouterspace-posterI always thought it was strange that Kathleen Hughes, who is barely in the film, got such a prominent placement on the poster for It Came from Outer Space. Did that bother you at all? 

Oh no, of course not — Kathleen Hughes was the bombshell of her day! More power to her! 

And they always use that still of her screaming at the alien — I don’t think her character ever even sees an alien in the film! 

I don’t think so either! That was just a publicity move. You know, Ray Bradbury always thought it would have been more effective if we never saw the aliens and I totally agree with him. I think it’s always more interesting when you leave that up to your own imagination.

It’s true. This was Universal’s first feature in 3D and the trailers really go to town about the 3D experience. Was it different in any way filming a movie in 3D back then?

Danny, to be very honest, I’m not even sure I was aware that it was being shot in 3D, it wasn’t different for me at all! I don’t remember even noticing the different kind of camera!

That film came fairly early in your career. Had you just come from Paramount?

No, I went from Paramount to Fox and then I came to Universal. I hopped around quite a bit!

And in those days, were you just assigned a film like this, or was it something you sought out?

Oh no, honey, when you’re under contract, you just do what they tell you! They’d have a meeting and say, “Okay, she’s going to do this next!” Every once in a while you might go in and ask about something. I really, really wanted to do The Three Faces of Eve at Fox—we all did! But Joanne (Woodward) got it and she was wonderful.

You’d had some prominent roles before It Came from Outer Space but it looked like the studio was finally giving you a real star build-up in this picture.

Were they? Do you know, Danny, I was never really that ambitious — that was sort of a problem I had! I was just so happy that any studio was interested in me at all! When I was younger, my plan had been to go to New York and wait tables and do theater. I got a scholarship at the Pasadena Playhouse after college and did many plays there. This was not long after the war so there were many actors who were there on the G.I. Bill. So in my class at the Pasadena Playhouse there were about 12 guys and I was the only girl. I got every female part.

That must have been fun!

It was — I did everything. I remember we were doing Antony and Cleopatra and we had a million Antonys but guess who played Cleopatra! I was about 19 then, I think, and one day this talent scout from Paramount, Milton Lewis, came to the theater to see me and decided to take me to Paramount for a screen test. They signed me right away — honestly, that was about the last thing in the world I was expecting to happen — just totally out of the blue! I thought I was going to graduate from the Pasadena Playhouse and head straight to New York.


Did you like those early films you did at Paramount?

Oh yes, I did some fun pictures there like When Worlds Collide and The First Legion with Douglas Sirk which had a lot of big stars like Charles Boyer. I did Quebec with John Barrymore, Jr. who is Drew’s father.

In those early years were you always waiting for the movie that would make you a big star?

I never thought of myself that way, Danny. At the time I thought all the really big stars were at MGM.

Really? It wasn’t in the back of your head, “Oh, if I just get this part, I’ll really have made it?”

Not at all. And remember, I was also doing plays in L.A. and also a lot of television which I loved. The studio even let me do summer stock in New Jersey with Windsor Lewis who was married to Barbara Bel Geddes. I was the ingénue there and Tony Perkins was the juvenile male lead so were together in every play as the young couple. Tony was just a big gawky kid back then and we had such a great time. He was so funny — nothing at all like his Norman Bates character! We both had the same ridiculous sense of humor and we’d just fall on the floor laughing all the time. He was really my best friend in those days. After that he went on to New York and became a big star and then he met Alfred Hitchcock. But Tony didn’t like being famous at all, he became very introverted.

When you first got cast in It Came From Outer Space, since you’d already done When Worlds Collide, did you ever worry about being typecast as the sci-fi girl?

Sweetheart, it just didn’t work that way! What you said was, “Oh, is this my next picture? Where do I report and when?” I was just excited that I was an actress and that they were PAYING me!

Do you remember how much you were making during that picture?

I think I had gotten up to $200 a week at that point. I was quite happy about it! I thought being under contract at the studio was a lot of fun. We had to come every day, even when we weren’t working on a picture, and we took all these classes — horseback riding, tap dancing, which I was never very good at!

Even if you weren’t someone who was making musicals?

But you never knew what you’d do next!

Did each of the studios you worked at have a different feel and reputation?

Very much so. What I remember about Universal is that it was a very friendly place. Bill Goetz was the head of the studio at that time and I liked him very much, he really looked out for me. I did feel that I was inching up the ladder with each film I did there. I did this one and The Black Shield of Falworth with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and, of course, several with Rock Hudson — Captain Lightfoot, Taza, Son of Cochise, and Magnificent Obsession, all directed by the great Douglas Sirk.

taza-sonofcochiseI have to ask about Taza, Son of Cochise. I love it, but did you ever think at the time, “Oh, come on, me and Rock Hudson as Indians? What the hell are they thinking?”

Never! You just didn’t think like that, Danny! I thought, “Yay, I’m going to the desert with Rock Hudson to do this fun picture!” I loved my Indian costumes and we had a lot of fun on location even though it was really hot. Oh, I just loved Rock. I remember on that film he was always playing Doris Day records, he loved her even though he didn’t know her yet. I was so happy when they got to work together and, of course, she really adored him. But on Taza we’d just giggle all day long. My Indian name was Oona and he’d always call me “Oona, dos, tres.” We’d just scream with laughter!

Do you ever watch your movies on TV?

Not that much. But do you know what’s been happening lately? I’ll be channel surfing and I’ll go by one of the movie channels and think, “Oh, who’s that girl?” And it’s me! They show a lot of my old television shows, too.

Do you find yourself judging any of your performances?

No, quite the opposite! When I see something decades later, I’m usually very surprised and I think, “Hey, I was really good in that picture!”

But you didn’t always feel that way at the time?

Oh heavens, no, I thought was awful! (Laughs.) But I wasn’t! I recently saw the TV version I did of Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? with Larry Blyden as Sammy Glick and John Forsythe. I was so shocked when I saw it, it’s really great!

I agree, it’s absolutely fantastic! Did you keep scrapbooks of your movie career?

Yes, I have them somewhere around here. I know I have some posters from It Came from Outer Space.

Oh wow, do you know how valuable those are today?

No way!

Are you kidding? I wonder when you were making that film if you could ever have imagined that you’d be introducing the film in a theater 60 years later and that it would have become such a cult classic.

But I’m only finding that out right now!