HER SWINGIN' CREDENTIALS: A cheerful young thang who lied about her age to get the plum role as rootin' tootin' cowgirl Wrangler Jane on "F Troop," then she made infrequent TV and film appearances while married to James "Danno" MacArthur of "Hawaii 5-0" fame.
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: TV Star and Movie Star
BIRTH: She was born in '49, making her sweet-sixteen when she auditioned for "F Troop."
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Melody had plenty o' potential, but she's still mostly famous for that first role in "F Troop." Much as we all wanted to see Melody, the dumb bugler had more screen time.
CAREER IN THE '60s: Besides "F Troop," her '60s oeuvre includes the role of Ella Mae Chubber, betrothed to Davy Jones, in the "Hillbilly Honeymoon" episode of "The Monkees" in '66, then later she was a blonde receptionist in "The Devil and Mr. Frog" episode of "Hawaii 5-0." In '69 she appeared in two biker flix, The Angry Breed with James MacArthur (and comedian Jan Murray as a gay talent scout), and The Cycle Savages with Bruce Dern. In '68 and '69 she did USO tours of Vietnam. But feisty Wrangler Jane Anjelica Thrift was enough fun to warrant inclusion on this list of favorite '60s TV actresses. Not so much for the part but for how Melody got it. A stage actress in L.A. since she was five, Melody was only fifteen and still in school when she auditioned for "F Troop," all the more amazing because the guy she was wooing on the show, Captain Wilton Parmenter, was played by someone over twice her age, 32-year-old Ken Berry. By the time she confessed her true age to the producers (who thought she was eighteen), seven episodes had already been filmed and it was too late to replace her with an older, more experienced actress. A modest hit throughout its two-year run, "F Troop" was set at mythical Fort Courage, supposedly located somewhere west of the Mississippi River (actually, "F Troop" was shot way way west of the mighty Mississip, in Burbank). It blended slapstick with gag-shtick as performed by a deep roster of experienced show-biz veterans. Besides Berry, the other main actors were sturdy Forrest Tucker, loony Larry Storch, and a gang of guest-starring comedians, including Edward Everett Horton (playing an Indian named Roaring Chicken), Phil Harris (as 147-year-old Flaming Arrow), Don Rickles (as, appropriately enough, Bald Eagle), Milton Berle (as Wise Owl), Paul Lynde (as Sgt. Ramsden), and Henry Gibson (as the cavalry's Wrongo Starr). Rompin' into this motley crew was pretty young Melody, not just the cutest gal, but the only gal, in them there parts. Bustin' into a room like a ball of fire, she'd chase her Cap'n around a bit, then ride off into the territory for a spell. In '67 the title question of the last episode, "Is This Fort Really Necessary?," was answered with a resounding no, and the show was canceled after only 65 episodes.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Regrettably for her fans, she didn't get too much post-'60s big-screen work: star billing in a minor horror flick in '71, Blood and Lace, then an uncredited role in '73's The Harrad Experiment, followed by an eighteen-year gap until '91's The Immortalizer. Larry Storch, who played Corporal Agarn, told People Online in '98 that he's still in touch with Melody and she's "as beautiful as ever ... she could be acting if she wanted to." She also writes "Wrapping with Wrangler," a fun column for the magazine Wildest Westerns. In '99 she graduated from Sierra Nevada College with a bachelor's degree in visual and performing arts, with a concentration in theater. She then got completed teacher's ed courses to become a drama instructor. "It was as much for myself as for anyone else," she told Biography magazine in January 2001. "Now if I decide to go out and teach drama, I can feel secure in the fact that I've got the life experience and the degree."
TALENT: She made her small Wrangler Jane role memorable, and at such a young age, too! In fact, she did a Howard Stern interview in which she claimed she might've actually been fifteen when she auditioned!
HER '60s LOOK: She was the Best in the West, sort of a frontier Donna Douglas -- great coloring, wrangly blonde hair that was probably a lengthy fall, big rosy lips, friendly smile, big enthusiastic eyes, all adding up to the definition of youthful sex appeal. Her Western cowgirl outfit didn't really show off her figure, but she seemed to have the goods and the athletic ability to warrant all the attention. Certainly the show's cavalry soldiers were all ga-ga over her, and not just because she was the only gal in the whole territory, either.
LIFESTYLE: The story as it's oft told on the Internet: A sixteen-year-old young-'un working on "F Troop," she fell for a married Warner Bros. producer exactly twice her age, causing a scandal within the studio. Later, while still a teen, at eighteen she hooked up with and then married older actor James MacArthur, who was the son of theatre legend Helen Hayes. MacArthur played sensible son Fritz in Disney's Swiss Family Robinson before he was "Dann-o" on "Hawaii 5-0." He was born in '37, making him about a dozen years older than Melody. A 1973 TV Guide interview with MacArthur reported that "he and Melody are heavily involved in the social and cultural life of Honolulu ... he and Melody live in a charming condominium apartment high above one of the best ocean views in Honolulu. Since [Jack] Lord dominates most of the 'Hawaii Five-O' scripts, MacArthur's acting hours are short and he has plenty of time for surfing and tennis and for his multiple Honolulu business enterprises. ... In off-season, he and Melody do a lot of travelling. Last winter, for example, they went with his mother to see the opening of a major revival of The Front Page in London. Jim and Melody then continued on to Africa, where he drove the length of the continent in a Land-Rover and she bought Nigerian and Kenyan art objects for their boutique." The Honolulu boutique was The Iron Butterfly, which they owned and she ran. Melody and James split up in '78. Much later a story emerged that has been reported to us by some of her most loyal fans, Hal Horn. We haven't heard it ourselves, but according to ear-witness listeners, Melody herself talked on the radio about her participation in a three-way romp with a man and another girl in a motel room with a jacuzzi. This tidbit came out in a 1992 radio interview she did with Howard Stern. In the interview she supposedly claimed this was her first experience with another girl, who happened to be a bisexual friend two years younger than Melody. The two girls surprised the guy with a striptease before The Main Event. Melody concluded the story by saying she wasn't inclined to pursue any more girl-girl action again. Howard Stern gave Melody one of his "F-Emmy" awards for her performance! Melody remarried in November of '98, this time to a musician named Vern Miller, who's in a band called the Comstock Cowboys. They live near Reno, Nevada. According to the January 2001 issue of Biography, they met "when she directed a musical in which he performed."
EXTRAS: "F Troop" debuted September 14, 1965 on ABC in the 9:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m. timeslot ... Storch wasn't used to horses and told People Online a story about shooting the show:
"They built a fort the size of a football field for the show. One day my horse ran away with me right out of the fort, and they found me and the horse about a half a mile away. The horse was grazing peacefully. Whoever found me said, 'Why didn't you ride him back?' I said, well ... the leash ... how do I get back on? I couldn't handle it."
... also making appearances on "F Troop" were Zsa Zsa Gabor in '65, Julie Newmar in '66, and Vincent Price and Harvey Korman, both in '67 ... in Melody's The Cycle Savages, chipping in with a bit part was disc jockey Casey Kasem, who was also an executive producer on the film along with Mike Curb of the Mike Curb Congregation ... Curb went on to become lieutenant governor of California, Kasem went on to marry tall blondie Jean when he was 38 and she was 26, she went on to play Loretta Tortelli on "Cheers" ... in 1997 Melody told Kicks magazine about seeing the Bobby Fuller Four live at an L.A. nightclub when she was only sixteen (the group had one major hit, "I Fought the Law," in '66):
"Bobby would kick into some of the wildest, hardest rock & roll that he and the band could produce. ...One of the big memories I'll keep until I get sloshed off to the old actors home is of Bobby with his guitar slung across his back, a blue light on his face, and a microphone in his hand. His clothes black slacks, white shirt stuck to him, transparent with sweat, while he crooned some slow sweet ballad. I swear to you he made eye contact with every babe in the joint, and every babe in the joint including me swore Bobby was singing that sweet song just for them. After the evening ended I was too pumped up to go home so we went over to Ciro's to see this new group that was supposed to be pretty hot. They were called The Doors. They put me to sleep."Melody has her own official Web site: Melody's Official Web Site.