Elena Verdugo

"I started at 20th Century-Fox in 1902," was Elena Verdugo's flippant response to an interviewer who had the poor taste to ask her age. Elena Verdugo was born on April 20, 1926 in Paso Robles, California, Elena Verdugo is best known to classic horror movie fans as Ilonka the Gypsy girl, the Wolf Man's girlfriend in the great Universal monster rally House of Frankenstein and for her work opposite Lon Chaney Jr. in the Inner Sanctum entry, The Frozen Ghost. Ironically enough, the actress who didn't attain a Universal contract in 1944 would ultimately spend more years on the studio's lot than any of her other contemporaries. That fact alone is a fitting tribute to Verdugo's talent, beauty and versatility. Her performance in House of Frankenstein was to be among the finest to come out of any Universal chiller. From her first scene performing a gypsy dance, to the tenderness and sympathetic understanding she gives to both Daniel and the tragic Larry Talbot, to her final demise after firing the silver bullet that brings an end to the suffering of the latter, Verdugo is perfect in the role. She brought warmth, sensuality and vulnerability to the part, and adds much to the film.

Descended from a Spanish family that had settled in California in 1776, the property on which Universal studio stood on was once a land grant by the Spanish Crown to Jose Maria Verdugo, one of the petite actress' ancestors. Perhaps because of her heritage, Verdugo was often called upon to wear a dark wig over her naturally golden blonde locks to make her physical appearance more fitting with her lineage. She began studying Latin-style terpsichore from the age of three and trainied as a dancer at age five. She made her film debut in the western "Cavalier of the West" with Harry Carey, Sr. in 1931.

 However, it was as a teenager that she first attained notice for her screen work. In 1940, she appeared briefly but successfully in the film that launched Betty Grable to stardom, "Down Argentine Way." Educated by studio tutors, she was stereotyped early in her career as an ethnic dancer, playing harem beauties, island girls, senoritas, and Indian maidens. Sang briefly with Xavier Cugat's band in the early 40s and recorded the song "Tico-Tico." Her work in the 1942 film "The Moon and Sixpence" resulted in even greater critical acclaim. In late 1945, she was cast in the Abbott and Costello comedy "Little Giant." For Verdugo, "Little Giant" was a chance to appear in a film sans her brunette wig for a change, portraying a small town girl from Cucamonga, California. She also met her first husband, Charles Marion, during production. In 1949, she was featured opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the Jungle Jim feature "The Lost Tribe." She also co-starred with Roland Winters in the Charlie Chan mystery "Sky Dragon," which also featured Keye Luke and Mantan Moreland.

She was cast in another major release in 1950, appearing opposite Jose Ferrer and Mala Powers in "Cyrano de Bergerac." Also on hand were two other well-known Universal horror film alumni, Virginia Christine and Lloyd Corrigan. She became the first Latina woman to star in a TV series, when she replaced Audrey Totter as star of the radio sitcom Meet Millie. However, the character of "Millie" was played as Jewish not Latina. She continued to portray Brooklynese secretary Millie Bronson on the subsequent TV version, which ran from 1954 to 1956. Verdugo then went into early retirement, reemerging in 1959 on the straw-hat circuit in such musicals as Oklahoma! and South Pacific. Beginning with her role as hotel manager Gerry in Redigo (1963), she entered into her TV-series supporting player phase; she went on to portray Audrey in The New Phil Silvers Show (1964), Lynn Hall in Many Happy Returns (1964) and Alice Henderson in Mona McCluskey (1965). Elena Verdugo is most fondly remembered as pragmatic but warmhearted nurse Consuelo Lopez on Marcus Welby MD (1969-76). She was nominated for a golden Globe Actress In A Supporting Role - Series, Mini-Series Or Television Movie for that role. With her film and television career having drawn to a close, Verdugo makes frequent appearances at nostalgia film conventions and is a favorite among attendees.