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Marla Adams: Ocean City’s Homegrown Star

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Marla Adams at the 60th Reunion of her Ocean City High School Class.

By Donald Wittkowski

It was during a Christmas performance at St. Peter’s Methodist Church in Ocean City in 1942 that a little girl sensed stardom awaited her.

Just 4 years old at the time, Marla Adams knew she had the church audience in the palm of her hand when she sang a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“I tore the house down,” she recalled, laughing. “I decided then, at 4 years old, in the Methodist church, that I was going to become a movie star.”

Film legend Grace Kelly gave Ocean City some Hollywood glitz when she spent her summers on the island. But she was from Philadelphia. Marla Adams is Ocean City’s homegrown star.

“I’ve had the most wonderful life, this little gal from Ocean City,” she said.

By her early 20s, only five years after she had graduated from Ocean City High School in 1956, she was in the movie “Splendor in the Grass” starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty and directed by the acclaimed filmmaker Elia Kazan.

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Marla Adams, center, with friends Dexter and Joan Faunce and Carol and Will Loper.

But it was in daytime soap operas, not the movies, that Adams really made her mark – first as the villainess Belle Clemens on “The Secret Storm” and next as the scheming Dina Abbott Mergeron on “The Young and the Restless.”

“I was the bitch of daytime,” she said with a chuckle. “I played a good bitch.”

Now, at 78, Adams is back in the movies. She plays a foster mother of four boys in a new thriller, “Beneath the Leaves.” The movie features father and daughter Paul and Mira Sorvino and is expected to be released in January or February.

Soap opera fans will also want to know that Adams is ready to reprise her role as Dina in “The Young and the Restless” if she gets the chance. The head writer who created Dina has returned to the show, boosting Adams’ hopes for a comeback on daytime TV.

“I would love to do it, even at my age,” Adams said.

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Adams with her friends Jennifer and Terry Crowley and their sons Tripp and Ian.

From Broadway plays to Hollywood films to TV soap operas, Adams has had a long show business career dating to the 1950s. Her best-known movie was “Splendor in the Grass.” She played the part of June, a friend of Natalie Wood’s character.

“She was so drop-dead gorgeous,” Adams said of Wood.

As a prelude to her entertainment career, Adams got a taste for the stage by winning the Miss Ocean City and Miss Cape May pageants and finishing as the runner-up in the Miss New Jersey Pageant. She also fondly remembers being the Miss Diamond Jubilee Queen during the 1954 celebration of the 75th anniversary of Ocean City’s founding.

Now living in Santa Monica, Calif., with her Norfolk Terrier, Piper, Adams was in Ocean City recently to attend her 60th high school reunion.

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The Ocean City house at 834 Plaza Place where Adams once lived.

Her visit to Ocean City included a stop at her old house, at 834 Plaza Place, two blocks from the beach. Her Santa Monica home is also two blocks from the beach.

“When I got back to Ocean City, it was wonderful to smell that salt air,” she said. “When I go there, I really feel at home.”

Adams said she usually returns to Ocean City every five years to attend her class reunions. But now, she is thinking of coming back more often, perhaps every two years.

“It’s so great to be part of such a fabulous town,’ she said.

While in town recently, she visited with some old friends, including Dexter and Joan Faunce, Carol and Will Loper and Betty Boswell Dill and her husband, Cy. Peter Harp, former owner of the Tuckahoe Inn, took Adams back and forth to the airport. Adams and Harp once performed in plays together.

Adams stayed in Ocean City at the bayfront home of Dr. Richard Ely and his wife, Nancy. She considers their daughter, Jennifer Crowley, a member of her extended family. Jennifer lived with her in California for a year.

After leaving Ocean City, Adams flew to Wisconsin to visit with her son, Trip, his wife, Renee, and their children, Gefjon and Stone. Adams also has a daughter, Pam, who lives in Washington state.

Born in 1938, Adams is a descendant of the Lake family, the group of Methodist ministers who founded Ocean City in 1879. Her grandparents lived in Ocean City. Her mother and father, Jeannette Smith and Scott Adams, also made the town their home.

“I came from a long line of Methodist ministers,” Adams said. “I used to sing in the choir in the Methodist church at Eighth and Central.”

It was in that church that Adams’ movie aspirations were launched with her performance of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”