[slideshow_deploy id=’1341′]Audrey Dalton Survived a Sinking, a ‘Serpent,’ and a Stallion

Four decades before James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” swamped the Academy Awards with 11 wins, Audrey Dalton signed on for Hollywood’s 1953 recreation of the famous 1912 maritime disaster.

“Our version only received one Oscar for writing,” said Ms. Dalton, who turned 80 this year, from her home in Saddleback Valley, Calif. “But the special effects were pretty good for 60 years ago. The cast included Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb, and it was a total joy to work on from beginning to end.”

Clifton Webb delighted ’40s and ’50s movie audiences for playing acerbic, snobbish characters, most notably in three Mr. Belvedere films.

“He was a little bit like that and mostly kept to himself,” recalled Dalton. “But he was very funny with a sharp wit. Barbara Stanwyck was a dream – the ultimate pro, always prepared and ready to help.”

During shooting, the cast welcomed some special guests.

“A man and a woman who were Titanic survivors visited the set,” said Dalton. “They were children when the ship sank, but had memories of the event. They seemed fascinated by the moviemaking process.”

Irish born Dalton was 17 when her family moved to London where she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was soon noticed by a movie executive.

“Paramount brought me over to the U.S. on a 7-year contract beginning with ‘The Girls of Pleasure Island,’” she explained. The 1953 comedy was set on a South Pacific Island, towards the end of World War II.

“The Korean War was still in progress. So to promote the film, we were sent to Seoul where it premiered for the troops,” said Dalton. “It’s dated now, but the men enjoyed it. We were driven around in army trucks and dressed up in beautiful Edith Head gowns doing skits for the troops.”

Returning to the U.S., the cast brought back letters from soldiers addressed to loved ones.

“We went on a tour of the States and Paramount arranged for us to actually deliver some letters in person if the addresses coincided with the cities we visited,” said Dalton. “The whole experience was amazing.”

Since retiring from acting, Dalton has been a popular guest at film festivals due to her western and sci-fi roles.

“The sci-fi fans always ask about ‘The Monster That Challenged the World,’” said Dalton, referring to the 1957 B-monster movie classic.

“That monster was enormous!” added Dalton, referring to the 12-ft creature called a reptile in the original trailer, but a giant mollusk in the film.

Among her numerous TV western roles, Dalton appeared in “Wagon Train,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Bonanza,” but wasn’t always at ease on the sets.

“I hate horses!” she admitted. “I mean, I’m really scared to death of them. In one show, I had to ride down a very steep hill and felt sure I was going to fall. I got through it, but when the scene was over the director asked ‘could you do it again, this time with your eyes open?’”

Dalton’s movie career lasted until 1965, with just 16 films, during which time she raised a large family.

“I had four children in six years between 1953-1959. What’s interesting is that many web sites today have given me a fifth child!” she said with a chuckle. “He even has a birthdate and a name – Adrian. Needless to say my children have made great fun of it and ask why I never told them about their lost brother!”

As for her actual children, none were drawn to acting.

“Just as well,” she said, “it can be a difficult business. I did a few very good films and some mediocre ones. But even despite the horses, I enjoyed every day on the set.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 400 magazines and newspapers.