Maury Dexter (1927–2017)
aka: Morris Gene Poindexter
Maury Dexter was a film and television director and producer perhaps best remembered for his work on low-budget horror films during the early 1960s, as well as his long professional association with television legend Michael Landon. Dexter’s career paralleled that of an elder Arkansas-born film maker, Jean Yarbrough of Marianna (Lee County). Both were known less for their artistry than for their efficiency, directing or producing numerous competent but unexceptional films for “Poverty Row” studios within the constraints of tight budgets and deadlines. Reflecting on his career, Dexter observed: “I’m first and foremost a filmmaker. Even when I first started out, my intent was to take a script, whatever that script was, and do the best I could under the circumstances.”
Maury Dexter was born Morris Gene Poindexter in Paris (Logan County), on June 12, 1927. His parents were William Henry Poindexter and Emma Foster Poindexter, a coal miner and daughter of a prominent coal mine owner. He had three older brothers—Foster, William, and James—and an older sister who died in infancy. The family moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County), where they lived comfortably until Dexter’s father was killed in an automobile accident in 1935. In financial distress, the family moved in the late 1930s to southern California, where his brothers had gone in search of work.
Dexter’s brothers all served in the military during World War II. During this time, Dexter, still in his teens, began acting on stage at the Rainbow Theater in Hollywood. His first minor film role was in a 1946 Three Stooges comedy Uncivil War Birds. In the same year, he appeared in a bigger part in the feature film One Exciting Week.
Dexter’s nascent acting career was interrupted by his own military service during the Korean War. He served in combat for several months before reassignment to a Special Services unit responsible for planning entertainment for troops stationed at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California. He was unable to find work as an actor after his discharge in the early 1950s until an entertainer with whom he had become acquainted at Camp Roberts hired him as a cast member and production assistant for an early television situation comedy, The Hank McCune Show.
In the mid-1950s, Dexter began working as a production assistant for independent film producer Robert L. Lippert’s Lippert Pictures and quickly became a producer and director, and then head of production for Lippert’s Regal Pictures, later renamed Associated Producers International, which distributed films in partnership with 20th Century Fox. Notable among Dexter’s many film credits are The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1961, producer), Young Guns of Texas (1962, producer/director), House of the Damned (1963, producer/director), and The Yellow Canary (1963, producer). Dexter assessed his body of work with Lippert as “small unpretentious film[s] that were meant to entertain and fill a space alongside the larger, more prominent movies.”
In 1974, Dexter joined Michael Landon’s production team for the television series Little House on the Prairie and stayed on for the show’s entire run, working as assistant director on seventy-three episodes and director on twenty-one episodes. He also worked as assistant director or director on two episodes of the Landon-produced western television series Father Murphy, and assistant director for fifty-six episodes of Landon’s final series, Highway to Heaven. He was assistant director for Us, a 1991 television movie pilot for what was to have been another Landon series. The project ended when Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died soon after.
Dexter retired following Landon’s death in 1991. For several years, he lived in Hawaii before returning to California, where he lived for the rest of his life. He died on May 28, 2017, two weeks before his ninetieth birthday, in Simi Valley, California. His remains are interred at Fort Smith National Cemetery where a brother, James Reed Poindexter, a U.S. Army officer in World War II, is also buried.
For additional information:
Dexter, Maury. “Highway to Hollywood (The Hard Way).” Unpublished autobiography, 2012. Online at 50 Westerns from the 50s. https://fiftieswesterns.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/maury-dexter-hollywood-the-hard-way/ (accessed August 8, 2019).
“Maury Dexter.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0223317/?ref_=nv_sr_1 (accessed August 8, 2019).
Weaver, Tom. I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi Films and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2009.
Greg A. Phelps
Lindsey Wilson College
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