Dark haired and blue eyed, with muscular legs and a regal face, Alena Murray actually made a few ripples in Tinsel Town and was a newspaper fodder for several years, but failed to make the grade when her acting career was concerned.
Newspaper are full of contradictory stuff about Alena’s childhood. The timelines are impossible and stuff overlaps when you try to patch then all together. But, the more you read, the more her crazy story makes sense and falls into place… It took some time, but I think I finally have an at least partially accurate timeline of her life…
Alena was born on August 18, 1926, to William Murray, a wealthy and influential industrial engineer, and his wife Lurette Murray, in Humboltd, Nevada. Her father was Canadian, and they moved to Montreal, Canada, when Alena was a toddler. Alena’s first language was french, and she only learned English later in life. The family at some point moved to France and back to Canada.
Alena was convent educated, and there she developed her lifelong passion for cooking and started ice skating. She was so good she almost made it to the Olympics and competed on the national level.
Afterwards, she enrolled as a pre-med student into the Laval university in Quebec City. She dropped this to become an actress, and made several french Canadian movies. Hollywood took notice, summoned her to California and she was signed by Warner Bros. Instead of making movies right away, she was given the opportunity to study at the Geller Theater for two years to hone he acting skills.
Unfortunately, something derailing happened in 1952. During a family holiday in Canada, she went ice skating in Montreal. One spot on the ice was soft and imperfect, she hit the spot at high speed and fell on her left leg. She broke her side bone and ankle into two, and metastasal bone into three parts, and suffers a brain concussion. Admitted to the ER unconscious, Alena underwent three major operations and spent 8 months in a cast, and the whole year in the hospitals as a part of her convalescence.
She finally went home in 1953, while using first the crutches, and then the cane, she studied acting in the Quebec Art Theater.
In 1954. when she was well enough again, she returned to work in a Robert Montgomery show, and was rediscovered by the studios – it happened like this: Alena took part in several pageants. It was one of them, the “Miss Hollywood” competition, that she got noticed by movie scouts. Despite losing the title, she won the contract with MGM.
Alena won an MGM contract in June 1956, after doing some bits and pieces on TV (unknown work for Robert Montgomery series, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon ). During her MGM tenure, she appeared in only thee movies, but by no means bad ones: The Power and the Prize, An Affair to Remember. The Great American Pastime. The Power and the Prize is a bit silly but watchable movie about the corporate world. The Great American Pastime is the weakest but still a pleasant comedy about baseball worth watching at least once. An Affair to Remember is a solid movie, although sub par to the original, and has a very good cast (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are a great combo!).
In 958, she signed with 20th Century Fox. She started on the high note with The Three Faces of Eve , Alena’s most demanding and most visible role in movies. As the secretary, she features more prominently than ever before, and holds her own opposite the magnificent Joanne Woodward. While not a particularly good movie and more of a showcase for Joanne than a compact art piece, it does have its merit and tackles a very delicate question with some verve.
Just when things could have looked ip for Alena, she got stuck in the same repetitive minor performances. But the worst part is that the list of films she made is very good and is a credible representation of 20th century fox, who touched upon more serious social issues and post-war sentiments. We have the gentle, dreamlike drama The Gift of Love, and two gritty, masculine war related movies totally different from one another, In Love and War and The Hunters.
Say One for Me is the only movie that gives Alena a meatier character, but she is literary drowned in the large list of famous names featured, like Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner and Ray Walston. Her last three movies are not that remarkable: the cheap parody The Wizard of Baghdad with a over-the-top, clammy Dick Shawn (who would only get onto his own in The Producers), the dry and unsatisfying comedy The Man Who Understood Women, and a wannabe musical, A Private’s Affair.
Alena quite movies after this. As she was from a rich family and she did not act for the money, this was maybe the best course of action for her, as her chances of becoming a featured actress were almost nill by that time.
Before she went to Hollywood, she was engaged to a fellow Canadian, David C. Johnston, but her passion for a career won over matrimony.
Alena was a good friend of fellow starlet Vikki Doggan, made famous by her backless dresses. She even double dated Vikki and her beau Al Simon with Art Adelman.
One of Alena’s earliest beaus in Hollywood was Norm Olson, in 1958. Later that year, a quite nasty things happened to Alena. She introduced her then boyfriend, Robert Whitesides, to her friend Mary Val. The two fell in love and eloped to Las Vegas to get married in a matter of days. It seemed not a lot of tears were shed over that, but I doubt teh two remained friends afterwards. She rebounded by dating Many Walter.
Alena also spoke openly about her injury and how if affected her life outside her career. As a sportswoman involved in ice skating, she had a large appetite and ate a lot, something that had to be cut down once she injured herself. She took by one day at a time, first eating large portions of healthy food, and then gradually decreasing the portions and switching to normal food. She also used a very old french recipe for her skin – she would drill two holes in an egg, and pour lemon juice inside it, leave it in a dark spot for two days, breaks it and apply on the face.
She also got in the papers due to her peculiar relationship with Bing Crosby – it was nothing romantic, but he spoke to her only in French, and was very nice to her during the filming of Say One for Me . Alena remained grateful to Bing for a long time afterwards.
For a time in early 1959, after dating stock broker John McGuire, Alena became the number one girl of the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, previously married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Much like his son Nicky, Conrad liked pretty Hollywood actresses and amassed quite a impressive list of much younger “conquests”. In true Hollywood fashion, in parallel she dated Bentley Ryan, a lawyer who could easily match Hilton by the number of beauties he dated. A partner of the Lothario extraordinaire, Greg Bautzer, Ryan was married to another model/actress, Marguerite Chapman. The press hailed them as rivals for her love. Whatever the truth is, the strange dating arrangements continued. Ryan won out and by the same time next year- June 1960 – she was his leading lady in the matrimonial department. Sadly, the two broke up later in the year, and she was still with Hilton after that for a short while.
Alena married Barclay Johnson on March 28, 1961. Already in may of the same year they were tiffing, and in late June the divorce wheels were rolling. Alena’s lawyer in the case was Ed Hookstratten, the husband of actress Pat Crowley (what a small world :-)). Johnson wasted no time after the divorce, and married Barbara M. Scott in November of the next year.
After her divorce, she gave up acting to become an oil painter. In 1962, there was talk about getting back on the screen as the leading lady for Jack Webb, but no such luck. That same year she dated Bob Dowdell, the handsome actor who would marry Sheila Connolly, and Francois Aubrey, the french skin diving equipment manufacturer. In 1966 she was noted with Martin Stern Jr.
Alena became a member of the WAIF foundation, a Hollywood charity headed by Debbie Reynolds. In 1972, she announced her engagement to “Tobie” Tobias and flashed a huge diamond around to prove it.
Alena died unmarried on February 10, 2009 in Los Angeles.