Born in Long Beach, California, on December 7, 1919, beautiful Mary Frances Gifford was put under contract to RKO Studios while still a teenager. Her younger brother, Frank Gifford, also dabbled in acting but became famous while playing football for the New York Giants from 1952 to 1964. Prior to signing with RKO, Frances Gifford had been spotted by a talent agent who brought her to the attention of producer Samuel Goldwyn, who briefly had her under contract. After several roles at RKO, Gifford's career was going nowhere fast. In 1938, she married character actor James Dunn, and the couple costarred in the films Mercy Plane (1939; with William Pawley) and Hold that Woman! (1940; with Dave O'Brien). By the time their marriage fizzled out in 1942, Gifford's film career was in high gear while Dunn's was collapsing. The previous year Gifford had been cast in the Republic serial Jungle Girl, based on the novel by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. This popular serial gave her fortunes a much-needed boost. She left RKO for Paramount where she acted in several films including The Glass Key (1942; with Brian Donlevy). However, she quickly left Paramount for top studio MGM in 1943.

Frances GiffordFrances GiffordFrances Gifford

LEFT: Paramount promotional stills from 1942. CENTER: Arcade card from the mid 1940s. RIGHT: MGM portrait of Gifford from the mid 1940s

At MGM, Gifford was cast in supporting roles in such A pictures as Thrill of a Romance (1945; with Esther Williams) and Luxury Liner (1948; with Jane Powell). She starred in several MGM B-films including She Went to the Races (1945; with James Craig) and The Arnelo Affair (1947; with John Hodiak and Eve Arden). Gorgeous and talented, Gifford seemed destined for great things when a devastating auto accident in 1948 sidelined her career and health. She attempted a comeback in two early 1950s films, Riding High (1950; with Bing Crosby and Coleen Gray) and Sky Commando (1953; with Dan Duryea and Mike Connors). However, during the 1950s her mental health declined to the point where she was institutionalized for nearly two decades.

the films of frances gifford

Jungle Girl (1941)

Frances GiffordFrances GiffordFrances GiffordTom Neal and Frances Gifford

From Republic's 15-chapter serial Jungle Girl. LEFT, CENTER A and B: Gifford as Nyoka. RIGHT: With Tom Neal

West Point Widow (1941)

Frances Gifford

Paramount promotional still from West Point Widow

Tarzan Triumphs (1943)

Frances GiffordFrances GiffordFrances GiffordJohnny Weissmuller and Frances Gifford

From RKO's Tarzan Triumphs. LEFT, CENTER A and B: Gifford as Zandra. RIGHT: With Johnny Weissmuller

Thrill of a Romance (1945)

Esther Williams and Frances Gifford

With Esther Williams in the MGM musical Thrill of a Romance

She Went to the Races (1946)

Frances GiffordJames Craig and Frances Gifford

From the MGM comedy She Went to the Races. LEFT: Gifford is glamorous in this still from the film. RIGHT: With James Craig

Little Mister Jim (1946)

Frances Gifford and James Craig

With James Craig in the MGM tearjerker Little Mister Jim

The Arnelo Affair (1947)

John Hodiak and Frances Gifford

With John Hodiak in the MGM crime drama The Arnelo Affair

Luxury Liner (1948)

Jane Powell, George Brent, and Frances Gifford

With Jane Powell and George Brent in the MGM musical Luxury Liner

later years

Gifford attempted to make a comeback in the early 1950s, but roles in two films and a few television shows didn't help her condition. Committed to an mental institution in 1958, Gifford was released after twenty years, and spent her final days working for charitable causes. Sadly, Frances Gifford passed away from complications arising from emphysema on January 15, 1994, at the age of 74. She was survived by her brother, football player-turned-commentator Frank Gifford.

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Sky Commando (1953) with Dan Duryea, Mike Connors, and Morris Ankrum
Riding High (1950) with Bing Crosby, Coleen Gray, Marjorie Lord, Charles Bickford, William Demarest, Ward Bond, Percy Kilbride, and Margaret Hamilton
Luxury Liner (1948) with George Brent, Jane Powell, and Xavier Cugat
The Arnelo Affair (1947) with John Hodiak, George Murphy, Dean Stockwell, Eve Arden, and Joan Woodbury
Little Mister Jim (1946) with James Craig, Luana Patten, Spring Byington, Laura La Plante, and Morris Ankrum
She Went to the Races (1945) with James Craig, Ava Gardner, and Edmund Gwenn
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945) with Edward G. Robinson, Margaret O'Brien, James Craig, and Agnes Moorehead
Thrill of a Romance (1945) with Van Johnson, Esther Williams, and Spring Byington
Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944) with Lana Turner, James Craig, John Hodiak, Hugh Marlowe, Natalie Schafer, Keenan Wynn, and Morris Ankrum
Cry 'Havoc' (1943) with Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, Fay Bainter, Marsha Hunt, and Ella Raines
Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour (1943) with Jimmy Lydon, Charles Smith, John Litel, and Gail Russell
Tarzan Triumphs (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller and Johnny Sheffield
Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Veronica Lake, and Alan Ladd
American Empire (1942) with Richard Dix, Leo Carrillo, Preston Foster, and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams
The Glass Key (1942) with Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, Bonita Granville, Richard Denning, and William Bendix
Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942) with Dorothy Lamour, Richard Denning, Jack Haley, and Patricia Morison
Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die (1942) with Richard Dix, Edgar Buchanan, Rex Bell, Kent Taylor, and Victor Jory
My Heart Belongs to Daddy (1942) with Richard Carlson, Martha O'Driscoll, and Cecil Kellaway
The Remarkable Andrew (1942) with Brian Donlevy, William Holden, and Ellen Drew
The Reluctant Dragon (1941) with Robert Benchley, Nana Bryant, Gerald Mohr, and Alan Ladd
Jungle Girl (1941) with Tom Neal, Gerald Mohr, Eddie Acuff, Tommy Cook, and Jay Silverheels
West Point Widow (1941) with Anne Shirley, Richard Carlson, and Richard Denning
Border Vigilantes (1941) with William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Victor Jory, Morris Ankrum, and Tom Tyler
Hold That Woman! (1940) with James Dunn and Dave O'Brien
Mercy Plane (1939) with James Dunn
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) with Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, Guy Kibbee, and Eugene Pallette
Having a Wonderful Time (1938) with Ginger Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Red Skelton, Jack Carson, Allan 'Rocky' Lane, and Grady Sutton
Night Spot (1938) with Harry 'Parkyakarkus' Parke, Allan 'Rocky' Lane, Joan Woodbury, and Jack Carson
Living on Love (1937) with James Dunn, Joan Woodbury, and Franklin Pangborn
Stage Door (1937) with Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, and Gail Patrick
New Faces of 1937 (1937) with Joe Penner, Milton Berle, Harry 'Parkyakarkus' Parke, Harriet Nelson, Jerome Cowan, Henry Hite, and Ann Miller
Woman Chases Man (1937) with Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea

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Watch Frances Gifford's 1939 crime drama Mercy Plane
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This page premiered February 6, 2004.