Rediscovering Adele Mara and Her Riviera Home
By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer
Hollywood is often guilty of losing track of some of its most-talented screen players. One such star is actress Adele Mara.
Born Adelaida Delgado to Spanish parents in 1923, Mara spent the last 10 years of her long life in Pacific Palisades. She lived quietly in a house built in 1941. The home sits on Corsica Drive and is touted by real estate agents as a “charming Riviera home.”
Mara and her husband, writer and television producer Roy Huggins, purchased the four-bedroom, single-level home in 2000.
When the happy couple moved into the house, the only protection Mara needed from any remaining fans that would remember the dancing actress with striking looks was a knee-high white picket fence. The fence fronted a brick walkway that led visitors to the front door of the onetime star, while splitting a green lawn and gardens.
By the time the Michigan-born actress, singer and dancer had passed away in 2010, she was decades removed from her film work and fame. Her Hollywood career started in a series of “B” films such as the 1942 film, “Vengeance of the West.”
By the mid-1940s, she played a senorita-type character alongside the likes of cowboy actors Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. She played with Rogers in the 1945 film “Bells of Rosarita.” Mara was cast opposite Autry in “Twilight on the Rio,” a 1947 western.
By then, Mara had become a platinum blonde bombshell. This was one of a couple of purposeful career moves she had made early in her career.
Author Paul Green wrote a biography on Huggins in 2014. For the book, “Roy Huggins: Creator of ‘Maverick,’ ‘77 Sunset Strip,’ ‘The Fugitive’ and ‘The Rockford Files,’” he spoke to Mara’s son.
“John Huggins told me his mother’s original stage name was Adel Maria,” Green explained to the Palisadian-Post. “But early in her career, she wanted to escape the Latino stereotype.”
Huggins told Green, “She dyed her hair blonde … dropped her maiden name Delgado and replaced Maria with Mara.”
And while Mara had a base of talent inside her leggy and made-for-the-dance-stage figure, luck was part of the equation that propelled the Hispanic beauty to the silver screen.
Her climb to fortune and fame started in 1929. It was then, at 6 years of age, Mara won a movie theater door prize: She took home dancing lessons.
Within a few years, dancing had become one of the dark brown-eyed little girl’s favorite things to do.
Mara told authors Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers for their 1999 book, “Ladies of the Western,” that she “started dancing when I was 8 years old. My mom felt a girl should have some kind of dancing. I started with tap.”
Luck and physical talent would combine again when she was 12 years old. American-Spanish musician Xavier Cugat had spotted Mara and recognized her talents. At age 15, the bandleader put her in his Detroit act as both a dancer and singer.
Working in the clubs and hotels, Mara told Fitzgerald and Magers that she “could dance but I could not sit in any of those places. As soon as I finished, I had to get back to our room.”
Her mother shared rooms with her where they often ate their dinner together.
In 1942, while performing in New York in a show built around her, Mara got the luckiest break of her budding entertainment career. While she was displaying her talents on the famed stage of the Copacabana nightclub, a Columbia Pictures talent scout caught sight of the attention-grabbing talents of the captivating brunette.
She was quickly signed to Harry Cohen’s studio in 1942.
No doubt, her claim to fame would be a major supporting role in the 1949 classic film, “Sands of Iwo Jima.” She played opposite actor John Wayne.
But her most memorable film clip was with Wayne in an earlier film called “The Fighting Seabees.” In the 1944 movie, Mara’s character teaches Wayne’s character to do
Mara spoke with author Ronald L. Davis in 1993 for his eventual John Wayne biography.
“I wasn’t in awe of John Wayne,” Mara said, “because I didn’t know too much about him. I didn’t even know he was doing the lead. All I knew was that he was supposed to do some kind of a dance with me.”
Since Mara had been a professional dancer, she told Wayne, “All you have to do is just hold me, and I’ll do the dancing.”
She would add, “I think he had fun doing it.”
Mara finished her last movie role in the 1950s. She finished her acting career doing television parts. Her last acting job was in the late 1970s.
Mara’s only husband—a rarity in Hollywood—Huggins passed on in 2002.
Mara would summarize her life in her interview with Fitzgerald and Magers: “I never expected anything, and everything came to me … very easily. I’ve been the luckiest person in the world.”
Michael Oldham, author of the novel “The Valentino Formula,” can be reached at email@example.com.
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