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time in American cinema, few film
heroines were as sexy or as competent as Gifford's Nyoka
Meredith. She didn't get knocked out as much as most serial
heroines did, and did a fair share of the rescuing. In fact,
Nyoka did a great number of heroic things throughout this serial.
Despite the fact that Gifford was hotter than a bowl
of salsa AND she could act, this is easily the film for which she is
best known. She was in many productions before and since, but
Nyoka was her crowning achievement in cinema. I was so absolutely
fascinated by Frances Gifford that I decided to research her.
Unfortunately, Gifford had some sad moments in her life. It is
not my interest to bring you down or to put any negative light on this,
one of my favorite actresses, but compassionate people like to know and
Polar Blair's Den is all about compassion.
Mary Frances Gifford was born on December 7, 1920 in
Long Beach, California, USA. She was raised in Long Beach with no
ambition to be an actress. In fact, she had applied to UCLA Law
School when, at age 16, she and a friend visited the Samuel Goldwyn
studios where they watched a movie being shot. A studio exec saw
her and asked if she would take a screen test. She did, and the
studio was so impressed that they put her under contract. Her
tenure at Goldwyn was all bit parts, nothing special. She then
went on to RKO. Nothing exciting happened there, either.
She married actor James Dunn in 1938 and decided to retire from acting
at only age 17 or 18.
Gifford stayed off the screen for almost two years,
but got a small part in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in 1939.
From there her career began to revive. She was signed by
Paramount and was soon loaned to Republic Pictures where she made the
legendary "Jungle Girl" serial in 1941. She was only 20 when she
played the enticing jungle girl Nyoka Meredith! Although this
serial was popular, her career never took off like it should have and
she was bounced around several studios for the remainder of her
Hollywood days. She did, however, have many notable parts in
popular films. In 1942 she divorced from actor James Dunn.
1948 was not a kind year for Ms. Gifford. She
was in a car accident in which she received severe head injuries.
She was 27 at the time. Although she recovered physically,
mentally was a whole different story. Her career plunged into
obscurity and by 1953 her acting career was finished at the age of
32. Mental instability became such a problem that by 1958 (about
37 years old) she was admitted to a California state mental
hospital. She was in a few different mental hospitals up through
1978, when she was finally released.
No one really knew what she was up to until 1983
when a film magazine writer found her in Pasadena. She had
overcome her physical and mental problems and was working for a city
library. Unfortunately, though, she was 58 years old when
released and now at age 63 her movie days were certainly over after
years of acting inactivity. Gifford did work for charitable
organizations up until the time of her death on January 15, 1994 in
Pasadena, California. The cause was emphysema. She was 73
I can't do anything to change her past, but I
promise that this and the "Jungle
Girl" page will always be places for happy memories and positive
input for Frances Gifford as our beloved vine-swinger!