Meg Randall (born Genevieve Roberts; August 1, 1926 in Clinton, Oklahoma) was an American film actress who also attended the University of Oklahoma as an undergraduate, completing only her freshman year. She was active in motion pictures, radio and television between 1946 and 1961, changing her name from Gene Roberts to Meg Randall in mid-1948. Randall is best known for her portrayal of Babs Riley in the 1949 film version of the popular radio comedy The Life of Riley with William Bendix and Rosemary DeCamp, as well as her reoccuring role as Kim Parker Kettle in the Ma & Pa Kettle comedy series from 1949 to 1951. Randall's first recognizable role was in the supporting cast for the 1949 film noir classic Criss Cross which starred Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo. In 1952, she returned to the film noir genre where she headlined with Adam Williams in the intriguing suspense Without Warning.
Meg Randall was the professional identity used by the actress Gene Roberts during the successful part of her career. She was born August 1, 1926 in Clinton, Custer and Washita County, Oklahoma and known informally as Gene, which was derived from her birth name, Genevieve. Her father, Charles Patrick Roberts (1892-1980),originated from Texas and by 1900 his family moved into Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory of Oklahoma, to farm while Charles was still very young. He generally worked as an auto mechanic and then a construction laborer Her mother, Winnie McMillin (1899-1952), was born in Tennessee and grew up in an Oklahoma farming community as well. By the age of 20, she was a school teacher in Harris Township, OK. After World War II, both of Gene's parents were employed as attendants at the local Veterans' Administration Hospital in Muskogee, OK. Gene was the third of five children. Her two older siblings were Juanita and Juarez with the younger set named Cleo and Robert. Although her family is of primarily Welsh decent, it was noted that her father favored names of alternate ethnicity. So he selected a few for his children rather than naming them all strictly Welsh names, therefore breaking away from family tradition. Gene's older brother, Juarez Roberts (1923-2009), was a courageous World War II paratrooper who graduated from the University of Oklahoma after the war. He found his niche in Hollywood by writing for several television shows during the 1950's until the early 1960's.
In 1943 at the age of seventeen, Gene Roberts graduated from high school in her hometown of Muskogee, OK. She then enrolled in the University of Oklahoma School of Drama where she studied for one year. By her eighteenth birthday, Gene had made the decision to head for Hollywood and leave the University of Oklahoma behind, knowing there was no guarantee that she would actually become a Hollywood actress. As it turned out, Gene's mother had a friend from the teachers college they attended in Tennessee who lived in Los Angeles, and plans were made for Gene to stay with her. There, Gene soon acquired a talent agent who arranged interviews for her with both Mary Pickford, co-founder of United Artists, and Paramount. Although she only had some school stage experience, including the lead in the play Claudia on the OU campus, Gene had managed to make a substantial impression with both of her appointments. Mary Pickford wanted Gene to sign on at $125 a week, a considerable amount more than the industry usual of $50 a week for new recruits. Paramount came back with an even more profitable invitation and Gene decided to accept. But another encounter would steer her away from the generous Paramount offer.
The friend of Gene's mother was also an acquaintance of the alluring silent film star, Rubye De Remer, which gave Gene the opportunity to meet Rubye and make a marked impression on her as well. On Gene's behalf, Rubye in turn piqued the interest of Director Clarence Brown. It was early 1945 when MGM and Clarence Brown first embarked on a nationwide casting search for some fresh talent for The Yearling And now months later, Clarence believed that perhaps the role of Orry Baxter might be suited for Gene. So Rubye contacted Gene the day after the Paramount offer was made and persuaded her to meet with Clarence at MGM that day. Despite the fact that MGM newcomer, Jacqueline White, was actually selected and had filmed some scenes that summer, Clarence was still not convinced that she was the right choice. As a result, Gene was called back three times to test for the role and eagerly awaited to hear from the studio each time. This experience earned her a $250 a week, long-term MGM contract which she signed as herself, Gene Roberts. Ultimately, Gene's youthfulness was the deciding factor that prevented MGM from assigning her this lead role. When production resumed in mid-September 1945, Clarence had chosen 28-year-old Jane Wyman, who was on loan from Warner Brothers, to portray a more mature-looking character with co-star Gregory Peck. The Yearling was released in May 1947 and went on to win multiple Academy Awards and nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Jane Wyman.
Gene remained under contract with MGM for nearly two years and found that there were very few roles for young women her age at that time. It wasn't until late October 1946 and over a year since Gene first signed on, that she was cast in a small supporting role. This role placed Gene into the last of Ann Southern's film series, the final episode entitled Undercover Maisie which was released in May 1947. Next, she was cast in the low-budget Comet Productions film Stork Bites Man where she co-starred with Jackie Cooper, who had resumed his acting career after returning from the war. With production completed in early February 1947 and MGM showing no serious interest in her by that spring, Gene asked for and was granted release from her contract. She then signed once more as herself, Gene Roberts, with 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation but was overlooked by the studio there as well. After a year had passed, Gene opted out of the 20th Century contract and was on the move again.
In mid-June 1948, Universal-International brought Gene aboard with what would become a three-year contract. Once again, she had no idea if she would be offered any work there either.Surprisingly, just two days later, she was cast as Helen and filming on the set of Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea. This became a significant event that inevitably changed her career potential and her name.
Prior to signing with Universal-International, Gene had married a studio musician named Robert Thorpe. It was the opinion of U-I producers that neither her birth name, Gene Roberts, nor her married name Gene Thorpe (also known as Jean Thorpe), was considered a good fit for her Hollywood identity. As a new U-I player, Gene was obliged to immediately select a screen name. Since this occurred during the production of Criss Cross, she was dubbed "Miss X" early on by the studio. The name Meg McClure was first chosen and announced in a press release along with her new image in a Hollywood fashioned pose set against a giant "X". However, this name was short-lived. Another young newcomer had already changed her name to M'Liss McClure and attracted gossip column interest with her protests about the competing last name. Overall, it was reported that the publicity over the name change drew six thousand letters into the studio offering name suggestions. Before filming ended on the movie, a new name was chosen and Gene would forever be publicly recognized by her screen name, Meg Randall.