The Wild Women (and men) of wongo

Lillian Malek

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Lillian Malek 1

 

Lillian Malek was born December 11, 1935 in West Palm Beach, Florida, the daughter of Joseph Malek and the former Margaret Katz. According to the 1940 census the family included older siblings Jack (Joseph), Irene, and Eugene.

 

Lililam Malek sophmore photo Miami Beach HighSchool 1952 center row weating jacket

Lillian is the last girl on the right in the middle row of students in this Miami Beach High School photo from her sophomore year.

 

Lillian graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1954 where she was involved with choir and intramurals, and was in the senior class play as well as being an assistant in the main office. Her yearbook quote was “Profound sincerity is the basis for talent” and her ambition at the time was to direct and produce television plays.

 

Lilliam Malek university photo

Lillian’s photo from the University of Miami yearbook.

 

After high school she attended the University of Miami, graduating with a degree in drama. She was a  member of the Drama Guild and appeared on stage in the university’s productions of SKIN OF OUR TEETH and SCHOOL FOR WIVES. In both the 1958 and 1960 Miami Beach city directories, Lillian was listed as a ‘student’ and she lived with her widowed mother at 1561 Lenox Ave. Apt. 1. Her mother passed away on May 8, 1960.

 

Lilliam Malek photo School for Wives

Lillian (center) in a photo from the University of Miami production of SCHOOL FOR WIVES

 

Lilliam Malek photos from UofM play Skin of Our Teeth as fortune teller

Lillian in the University of Miami’s production of SKIN OF OUR TEETH

 

Lilliam Malek photos from UofM play Skin of Our Teeth

Lillian (center) in the University of Miami’s production of SKIN OF OUR TEETH.

 

Lillian, who plays a woman of the Goona tribe in THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO, was one of several University of Miami students recruited to appear in the picture. She would go on to act in at least two other Florida based feature films: PAGAN ISLAND (1961) and ONCE UPON A COFFEE HOUSE (1965), both in “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles.

PAGAN ISLAND is a rather mild “nudie cutie” written, produced, and directed by Barry Mahon, a prolific east coast B-grade film-maker responsible for movies such as CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959), MORALS SQUAD (1960), BUNNY YEAGER’S NUDE CAMERA (1963), THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965), HOT SKIN, COLD CASH (1965), and FANNY HILL MEETS DR. EROTICO (1969), as well as kiddie fare like THE WONDERFUL LAND OF OZ (1969),  SANTA AND THE THREE BEARS (1970), JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (1970) and SANTA’S CHRISTMAS ELF (1971). Lillian appears as comedy relief in a scene where panic sets in when a man (Eddie Drew) shows up on an island populated entirely by women. When I spoke to famed pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager back in 2004 (Bunny was in charge of casting for PAGAN ISLAND) she remembered hiring Lillian for this film.

 

Pagan Island number 2

 

Although her role in the folk musical ONCE UPON A COFFEE HOUSE (aka: HOOTENANY A GO-GO) is also very small, it is likely that some of her scenes had been cut. In the end credits Lillian’s character is listed as “Mama Angellina,” and two characters reveal near the beginning of the film that they owe “Mama” four month’s rent on the coffee house. It is never explained who “Mama” is and she is never mentioned again in the film. Lillian appears towards the finale, briefly in the kitchen of  the coffee house with Pepe (Pedro Roman), and then during a pizza pie fight, but there is no mention that she is Mama Angellina. In fact there is no introduction of her character at all. She just suddenly appears for a few seconds and then her character is never seen again. ONCE UPON A COFFEE HOUSE is notable as being the film debut of comedian Joan Rivers who at that  time was part of a comedy trio billed as Jim, Jake and Joan. The film also features lovely Deanna Lund who went on to star in Irwin Allen’s popular 1960S sci-fi series LAND OF THE GIANTS.

 

Come Blow Your Horn

Lillian Malek’s professional head shot.

 

Lillian worked frequently on the local stage. At Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse she was seen in BYE BYE BIRDIE with Russell Nype, ON THE TOWN with Peggy Cass, REDHEAD with Gretchen Wyler, and AUNTIE MAME with Gypsy Rose Lee. She also appeared in stage productions outside of Florida. In August, 1964 she played Florence Graves in THE HAPPIEST YEARS with David Nelson and June Blair at The Little Theatre on the the Square in Sullivan, Illinois. The following month she was seen in the same theater’s production of COME BLOW YOUR HORN which featured popular television actor Jack Ging in the lead. She had appeared previously there in 1958 in PAJAMA GAME.

In 1961 Lillian toured with Julie Newmar in DAMN YANKEES, which also featured Murray Matheson, Harry Stockwell, Louise Kirtland, Lloyd Gough, and Barbara James. In 1963 she worked with Bert Parks when the Broadway production of THE MUSIC MAN played in Anaheim, California at the Melodyland Theatre. Eileen Christy, Marian Paroo, Betty Tesman, Robert Driscoll, and Norma Larkin were also in the cast.  One of her last stage productions was the musical-comedy SEVENTH AVENUE which was put on by the Temple Emanu-El Players in May of 1978. She also appeared in radio plays at station MCKR in the early 1960s, along with fellow Wongo actress Iris Rautenberg.

 

The Happiest Years credits

 

Along with stage and film work, Lillian was able to add television to her credits with appearances on THE RED SKELTON SHOW, THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW and PRODUCER’S SHOWCASE.

Lillian was married twice. On November 14, 1964 she wed Istvan Szekeres in Dade County, Florida. Istavan was from Szeged, Hungary (born July 30, 1937) and had been living in the U.S. since 1961. He eventually became a naturalized citizen and changed his name to Steven Sands. He passed away in Miami, Florida on August 18, 2004. At some point Lillian and Steven parted ways and she married Abraham Eisner in Miami on May 20, 1973. As Lillian Eisner, she died on December 23, 1980 at age 46. At the time of her  death she was the activities director at the Miami Beach Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged. She was survived by her husband Abraham, her step-son Michael and her three siblings.

Author: Mike Barnum

I am a lifelong lover of films, with a taste for movies of all genres, new and old, as well as pop culture from around the world. I currently write for the U.S. based film magazines CLASSIC IMAGES and FILMS OF THE GOLDEN AGE and have also been published in FILMFAX, SCARLET STREET, and VIDEO WATCHDOG.

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