Sleek and striking Abby Dalton became a very familiar perky and sexy presence in 60s TV households. Known not only for her award-worthy acting on TV comedy, she became an avid game-show panelist and appeared on a slew of TV’s more popular programs. It might come as a surprise to some, then, that Abby honed her wholesome sitcom personality only after apprenticing in Roger Corman cheap-jack cult movies — sometimes as a juvenile delinquent.
She was born Marlene Wasden on August 15, 1935 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and started working in the entertainment field as a teen magazine cover model, also appearing at times on record album jackets. An acting company member for writer/producer Roger Corman beginning in 1957, Abby made her dubious debut in the low-grade beatnik film, Rock All Night (1957), in which she and others are trapped and held hostage in a bar by a pair of killers. Corman continued to use her in his films, some with and some without billing, including Teenage Doll (1957), Carnival Rock (1957), Stakeout on Dope Street (1958), and the absurdly-titled The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), in which she played Desir, a stalwart leader of Nordic women in search for men, after presumably losing their own at sea. Outside the Corman fold, she appeared in the equally low-budgeted and exploitable Cole Younger, Gunfighter (1958) and Girls on the Loose (1958).
The blonde, toothy beauty fared much better on TV starting in the late 50s, popping up on several TV’s best known westerns (Have Gun – Will Travel (1957), Rawhide (1959), Maverick (1957), The Rifleman (1958), Sugarfoot (1957)). She eventually earned a steady role on Jackie Cooper’s Hennesey (1959) series and both actors received Emmy nominations for their roles — she playing his girlfriend. The TV couple “married” just before the demise of the sitcom in 1962. A higher degree of visibility was achieved when Abby won the role of Joey Bishop’s pert-looking wife on The Joey Bishop Show (1961). Abby gave birth to a TV baby in 1963 (played by her real-life infant son, Matthew David Smith). Her daughter, Kathleen Kinmont, also appeared on the program.
Following the end of its four-season run, Abby engaged more fans to her corner by appearing regularly on the game show circuit. She showed off a delightfully off-the-cuff humor and sexy edge as a mainstay panelist, alongside Cliff Arquette, Wally Cox, and Rose Marie, on The Hollywood Squares (Daytime) (1965) and was located in the lower middle square for about four seasons before leaving her then-permanent post in 1970. During that time, she also played the “straight woman” in a number of sketch sequences for Jonathan Winters on his show, playing Margaret, his wife. The series, however, was rather short-lived (1967-1969). The only film she made during the 1960s was as Calamity Jane opposite Don Murray’s Wild Bill Hickok and Guy Stockwell’s Buffalo Bill Cody in a lackluster remake of the Gary Cooper starrer, The Plainsman (1966). For the most part, she focused on TV.
Abby continued to be seen here and there throughout the 1970s. She might have enjoyed a major career boost as Hal Linden wife, Elizabeth, in the pilot of sitcom favorite Barney Miller (1975) had she stayed with it, but she was replaced by Barbara Barrie, when the show was picked up for its first season. Interestingly, Barrie’s wifely character was written out of the show at the end of its first season.
Abby’s best-remembered TV role came from a much darker place, however, when she became part of the original cast of Falcon Crest (1981), a prime-time soap. As winery heiress Julia Cumson, Jane Wyman’s daughter and Lorenzo Lamas’ mother, she eventually shows her true colors as a murderous schemer. Relishing a major cliffhanging “Who shot…” type of episode, it proved her character’s undoing, when Abby was written off the show after her character was sent away to live in a convent. Coincidentally, Abby’s daughter, actress Kathleen Kinmont, was later married for a time to “Falcon Crest” star Lorenzo Lamas.
After leaving the show, Abby was seen only sporadically on TV and in films (including a short stint on a daytime soap). Her work continued until 1999, though she still remains active in volunteer work. Twice married, her first to Jack Smith in 1960, produced three children, including daughter/actress Kathleen and son Matthew David. Her second marriage to Joe Moudragon also ended in divorce.
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