The Celebrity Collector

Beverly Washburn, Longtime Film and TV Actress,
Loves and Collects Giraffes
 

By Ken Hall

By the time she was a teenager, Beverly Washburn was already a veteran of films and early television programs. She often got parts on the strength of her uncanny ability to burst into tears on cue. In fact, TV Guide once did an article on her titled, "Beverly Washburn ­ For Crying Out Loud!" Her early film credits included roles in the classics Shane and Old Yeller, as well as the Oscar-winning Here Comes the Groom, with Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman, and The Juggler, with Kirk Douglas.

Beverly loves giraffes and has a collection of giraffe figures made from "just about every material known to man," she said ­ ceramic, crystal, brass, copper, wood, porcelain and more. She estimates she has more than 500 giraffes, which she keeps in her home just outside Las Vegas, in Henderson, Nevada. Her infatuation with the exotic, long-necked creatures doesn't date to her early childhood, however, as one might expect. She had a giraffe epiphany while on a Disney ride, at around age 17.

"All of my friends had collections of things like owls, penguins, cats and whatnot, and I was looking around for something that I could collect, too," she remembers. "Then, one day a bunch of us were on a jungle ride at Disney Land, and when we came around a bend, I suddenly was looking up at this gigantic giraffe ­ fake, of course ­ with long eyelashes and the most beautiful, peaceful look on its face. I decided then and there that's what I wanted to collect. I've always loved animals anyway."

At first, Beverly pretty much gobbled up every giraffe that crossed her path. "It didn't matter how much it cost, how big or little it was, or what it was made of," she said with a laugh. "If it was a giraffe, I had to have it." Then, of course, friends and fellow actors learned of her passion and began giving them to her as gifts. Later on, her husband, Michael Radell, also bestowed many giraffes on Beverly, despite countless empty threats to leave her if she added one more giraffe to her collection.
Radell, the former vice president of operations for Hilton Hotels, passed away after an illness in 2005, at age 57. Many of the most cherished giraffes in Beverly's collection were presents from him, including a lovely vase signed by the Chinese artist who created it and depicting a mother giraffe and her baby; a watercolor painting of a giraffe that today hangs over the fireplace mantel; and a metal sculpture of just the head and neck of a giraffe, by an unknown artist. All are precious to her.

One giraffe, a gift from the legendary actress Loretta Young, came as a complete surprise. "I had worked with Ms. Young before, several times, but she suddenly began sending me little gifts," Beverly recalled. "It was maybe six or seven years ago, not long before she died. The giraffe was a carousel on a marble base, maybe four inches tall. She also sent me an angel book, a scarf and a crystal dove. All were sent within a year of one another, toward the end of her life. It was very touching."

Ms. Washburn said giraffes appeal to her because of their beauty, grace, gentle nature and long eyelashes. "I just love them all," she said. "Their spots are like fingerprints, you know ­ no two are ever alike. I also love receiving giraffes as presents, because it means that person is thinking of me. And that touches me very deeply." As stated, Beverly is a lifelong animal lover. She has rescued numerous dogs and cats throughout the years, and today is mom to six dogs and three cats, all rescues.

Beverly Washburn was born November 25, 1943, in Los Angeles, one of five children. Her older sister was an acrobat and her older brother acted in local stage productions (and later in films). Often, young Beverly would tag along to watch them perform. Once, when she was about five, she was at the Long Beach Hospital watching her sister perform for patients, and one of the organizers invited her up on stage to sing a song. She proceeded to belt out "I'm a Big Girl Now" and a career was born.

At first, young Beverly modeled children's clothes, but soon her mother began taking her around to the casting calls for children's roles in film. (TV was in its infancy.) Her first movie part, at age six, was in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950). It wasn't long before top Hollywood agents, producers and directors began buzzing about how the young lady with the beautiful smile and big blue eyes could turn on the anger and tears on cue. It was a talent that served Beverly well, for many years.

In 1951, she landed a part in Here Comes the Groom, and that was followed by a role in Superman and the Mole-Men, the movie that immediately preceded the popular TV series. In fact, later that year Beverly was cast in one of the very first TV episodes of The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves (the subject of the recent movie Hollywoodland, with Ben Affleck in the Reeves role). In 1952, she appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's hugely successful film, The Greatest Show on Earth. It wasn't long before Beverly's career would turn toward the fledgling medium of television.

Early TV was often broadcast live, and Beverly appeared in some of those productions, on prestigious shows like Playhouse 90, Zane Grey Theatre, Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Studio 57, Four Star Playhouse and The Loretta Young Show. But she continued to act in films throughout the '50s, in classics like Shane (1953) and Old Yeller (1957), as well as The Juggler (1953) and the movie version of The Lone Ranger (1956).

During the 1960s, Ms. Washburn appeared in some of the most memorable TV shows of the time, such as Wagon Train (in an episode that also featured the comedian Lou Costello, in his one and only dramatic role; he played an alcoholic drifter, while Beverly was an orphan); Leave it to Beaver, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, The Patty Duke Show, Gidget, Mr. Novak, and one episode of Star Trek, in which she famously dissolved into dust right in William Shatner's arms.


That last part has actually created a whole 'nother career for Beverly. She appears annually at the Star Trek Experience convention in Las Vegas, signing autographs and reminiscing about her role as Lieutenant Arlene Galway for hordes of adoring Trekkies. But that's not all she does. Beverly is quite busy, always has been, with two movies just filmed (the horror film Demon Haunt, filmed in Las Vegas; and a movie about gambling titled, Hard Four, with Ed Asner and Dabney Coleman).

In addition, Ms. Washburn is involved in projects for My Space and YouTube. In January, she travels to Ohio, to sign autographs at a horror convention. She recently helped celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the movie Spider Baby (1967, with Lon Chaney, Jr.), in which she had a starring role as a sexy, deranged murderess. She keeps an eye peeled for parts that strike her fancy, but is partial to roles that keep her in Nevada, where she's lived since her husband was transferred there years ago.

Beverly also tells her intriguing story to audiences nationwide in the form of a multi-media lecture program. Her insightful, one-woman show covers her TV and movie career and goes into great detail about the many stars with whom she's worked (and a few she even dated!). She talks in frank detail about the joys and heartbreak of being a child star, and maturing into womanhood in the Hollywood whirlwind. The show is complete with 140 star-studded slides and rare videotape footage.

Fans interested in corresponding with Beverly Washburn or securing her to present her show ("Beverly Washburn: Hollywood, Television and Me"), may write to the star c/o Living Legends Ltd., P.O. Box 5290, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, or e-mail: livinglegendsltd@juno.com.

 

Beverly has parlayed her role of Lieutenant Arlene Galway on one episode of Star Trek (1967) into annual appearances at Trekkie conventions.

Beverly gets emotional in the arms of Lou Costello in an episode of Wagon Train. It was the only dramatic role that Costello ever played.

Marble "kissing giraffes" (or "giraffes in love"), made in Zimbabwe.

Metal wall hanging in the form of a giraffe's head and neck.

From left: signed plate given to Beverly as a gift; wooden giraffe
carving; and a Lenox porcelain piece given to her as a gift by Loretta Young.

Gorgeous amber giraffe, made of brass and with a body that lights up, casting a wonderful glow.

Marble-base sculpture of a clown on a ladder scrubbing down a giraffe, signed by the artist Ron Lee.

Beverly Washburn today.

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