Kathleen Crowley, Actress in Low-Budget 1950s Horror Movies, Dies at 87

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Kathleen Crowley with Fess Parker in the 1956 film 'Westward Ho, the Wagons!'

The former Miss America contestant also guest-starred on dozens of TV shows, including 'Maverick,' '77 Sunset Strip' and 'Batman.'

Kathleen Crowley, the actress who starred in the 1950s low-budget horror films Target Earth, Curse of the Undead and The Flame Barrier and was a frequent guest performer on television, has died. She was 87.

Crowley died Sunday at her home in Green Bank, N.J., her family announced.

During the first season of ABC's Batman, the attractive Crowley portrayed the naive socialite Sophia Starr, who falls for The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) after the waddling master of foul play goes straight (or so it seems) and sets up his own detective agency.

Water with dye in it rains down on Sophia and The Penguin as they are about to marry, and the colored liquid ruined the dress that Crowley was given by Fox to wear in the scene — a gown that was made for Julie Andrews for the studio's The Sound of Music.

"I felt so sad, because she was so exquisite in it, and it had such a wonderful life," Crowley said in Tom Weaver's 2004 book, It Came From Horrorwood.

Crowley played one of the few survivors of an attack by a robotic alien menace in Target Earth (1954), and in The Flame Barrier (1958), her husband is killed by a satellite that oozes an acid-like substance.

The actress then portrayed the daughter of a doctor in an Old West town in which young girls are dying from a mysterious disease (they're being bitten by a vampire!) in Curse of the Undead (1959).

Crowley appeared on eight episodes of Maverick, six of 77 Sunset Strip and two apiece of Hawaiian Eye and Surfside 6 — all from the Warner Bros. stable. She also could be seen as a guest star on Climax!, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Bat Masterson, My Three Sons, Perry Mason, Bonanza, Gidget and Family Affair.

"Every actor wanted to get in a series, but I didn't. I refused series," she told Weaver. "I had a chance to do Hazel [as the wife] and I didn't want to do it. There was money in it, but it was a nothing part.

"They also called me in for Mr. Ed and offered me the role [also of the wife on that sitcom]. I remember George Burns [the show's producer] sitting on the floor with a cap on, interviewing me, and I said, 'If I could talk to the horse, I'd do it. But she doesn't know anything about the horse — she's stuck in the kitchen, with an apron on.' I wanted to do adventurous things."

Three years after she graduated from Egg Harbor City High School, Crowley won the title of Miss New Jersey and was a finalist in the Miss America pageant held in Atlantic City. She was named Miss Congeniality and won scholarship money, which she used to study acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

In 1951, Crowley starred in two prestigious live TV productions for NBC, playing Esther Blodgett in A Star Is Born on Robert Montgomery Presents and then Jane Eyre in an installment of another anthology series, Kraft Theatre.

Her performances caught the attention of Fox, who signed her and cast her in The Farmer Takes a Wife and then, opposite Robert Wagner, in The Silver Whip, both released in 1953.

After appearing in the films Downhill Racer (1969) and The Lawyer (1970), Crowley retired to raise her son. She later became the bridgetender (the person that opens and closes the span to accommodate waterway traffic) for the Green Bank Road Bridge, her family noted.

Survivors include her husband John, son Matthew and granddaughter Samantha.