Backtrack: Queen For A Day

Starlet Norma Marla posed as Nefertiti for a bust by German sculptor Adolph Wolter, who made his mark on the local architectural scene.

November 2017Add a comment

For days, word had gone out about an event at Eastgate Shopping Mall: At an annual art festival, the renowned German-born sculptor Adolph Wolter would give a demonstration with a live model. The model for Wolter’s rendering of ancient Egyptian royalty was to be reigning 500 Festival Princess Kay Sims. But alas for Sims, she was cast aside when a bona fide Hollywood femme fatale suddenly arrived on the scene: Norma Marla.

Without a film credit yet to her name, Marla was an up-and-comer in the movie business. Armed with a sarcophagus, she was making her way across the country that summer to publicize Hammer Films’s The Mummy, starring horror greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Marla would strike sultry poses next to and even inside of the sarcophagus, her body wrapped in strategically placed gauze.

Like Marla, Wolter occasionally took work that bordered on the macabre, instructing students at the Indiana College of Mortuary Science in how to sculpt the faces of corpses. He had immigrated to the United States from Germany while still in his teens, and arrived in Indianapolis around 1932 with a job to fashion some fabulous Art Deco carvings for the Indiana State Library building. He stayed in this city and made a career as a stone-carver, sculptor, and teacher—creating bas-reliefs for Second Presbyterian Church, busts of George Washington Carver and Crispus Attucks for Crispus Attucks High School, models of eagles and the Indiana State Seal for the Indiana State House, and a bronze bust of Louis Chevrolet for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Wolter also forged the Pan and Syrinx sculptures for University Park after earlier sculptures by Myra Reynolds Richards were stolen. Shortly after his pieces went up, one of them, Pan, was also absconded with.

As for Marla? She appeared in a version of The Ugly Duckling that premiered in the United Kingdom a month after this art festival took place, and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, which got a U.S. release in 1960. Those two B-movies constitute her entire film career, but her countenance lives on in clay.

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