Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2021

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Ex-showgirl remembers father, the late actor Rory Calhoun

Longtime Las Vegan Athena Marcus has among her mementos a photo of her father signed "Athena, the best is yet to come, Dad -- Rory Calhoun."

"I suppose if my father were not an actor, he would have been a cowboy because he loved the outdoors so much," Athena said of the star of Western movies and the TV series "The Texan." "He did not like enclosed areas. He loved the freedom the outdoors offered."

A memorial service for Calhoun, a tall, ruggedly handsome star of Hollywood's golden era who died April 28 at age 76 of complications from emphysema and diabetes, was held this week in Beverly Hills, Calif.

"My father was able to work as an actor both when he was on top and during tough times," said Marcus, a UNLV yoga teacher and former showgirl. "He said you cannot have an ego in this business. You have to be humble. You have to give and take."

Marcus' mother, former Hollywood starlet Vitina Marcus -- today Las Vegas real estate broker Vitina Graham -- had a whirlwind romance with Calhoun in the late 1950s that resulted in the birth of Athena, who has her father's trademark blue eyes.

"Rory offered to marry my mother and provide child support, but she was and still is an independent woman who refused both offers," Athena said.

Vitina went on to carve out an acting career of her own, including appearances in 1960s' TV shows like the "Time Tunnel," "Gunsmoke" and "Lost in Space" and roles in several Irwin Allen-produced films.

Athena appeared headed in her mother and father's footsteps. In 1987 she won "The World's Most Beautiful Showgirl" contest in Paris, then appeared as a featured singer in Spain, where she was known as "The Black Pearl."

When she returned to Las Vegas Athena received the key to the city and worked for a while as a showgirl in the Stardust's Lido de Paris. But she soon left show business to practice and teach yoga, massage and health through proper nutrition.

"Losing my grandfather last September (longtime Sands card dealer Frank Marcus) and my father last month has reaffirmed that I made the right career choice because I am helping other people live healthier and longer lives," Athena said.

Calhoun, who earned two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame -- one for television the other for motion pictures -- came back into Athena's life when she was 17 and studying to be a dancer.

"I never made it known I was his daughter until after I won the most beautiful showgirl title, because I didn't want people thinking I was trying to ride his shirt-tails," she said.

Calhoun was born Francis Timothy Durgin on Aug. 8, 1922, in Los Angeles.

His Western films included "Massacre River," "Yellow Tomahawk" and "Four Guns to the Border." In the late 1940s and early '50s, when Calhoun was romantically linked to Lana Turner and Betty Grable, he appeared in films like "How to Marry a Millionaire," "Meet Me After the Show" and "With a Song in My Heart."

From 1958 to 1960, Calhoun starred as fast-gun hero Big Bill Longley in the half-hour CBS television Western, "The Texan," which was the No. 15-rated show of 1958.

Calhoun later appeared in low-budget films like "The Treasure of Pancho Villa," "Flight to Hong Kong," "Marco Polo," and "Motel Hell." In the 1980s, he appeared on the CBS soap opera "Capitol" and hosted reruns of "Death Valley Days."

Calhoun had other connections to Nevada. Before becoming an actor, he mined silver near Reno. In April 1981, at a low point in his career, he came to Las Vegas to coach a team of female mud wrestlers against a squad coached by actor Adam ("Batman") West. Calhoun's team won the event that was held at the Imperial Palace.