Yes, sometimes even with a big studio behind you, come actors never made the Big Time. MGM did their best to promote Frances Gifford. She received solid billing in some A films, but she never “clicked.”
By 1943, when she arrived at MGM, Gifford (no relation to football great Frank) had bounced around various studios and made her biggest splash as the lightly clad Nyoka in Republic Pictures’ Jungle Girl, a 15-chapter movie serial loosely based on a novel by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs.
In the role, Gifford survived spears, guns, kives, quicksand, poison gas, avalanches and (as seen below) the occasional lecherous simian. Her performances earned her the monicker, Queen of Serial Films.
Gifford was a looker from the getgo. Born in Long Beach, Cal. in 1920, she had no particular ambition to be a movie actress. Having graduated high school and looking forward to enrolling at UCLA, she was “discovered” while taking a tour of the Samuel Goldwyn studios. Contracts followed there and at RKO.
At MGM, she landed in 1945 juicy roles in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes and The Arnelo Affair.
Here career was largely hit and miss, mostly the latter (in all some 42 credits spread over a 17-year period). By 1953, Gifford finished making movies. She had been plagued by head injuries sustained five years earlier, which reportedly proved so troublesome that she spent time at a California state mental hospital. She died of emphysema in 1994 at the age of 73.
To our minds, Gifford had a passing resemblance to Donna Reed, and with better fortune could have enjoyed a longer and more successful career. She married just once — to fading actor James Dunn — and it last from 1938 to 1942. No children. She ended her life as a volunteer at the Pasadena public library.