Jill Banner was born Mary Molumby near Puget Sound in Washington. Her widowed mother moved around the country when Jill was a child until the family finally settled in Glendale, California. Jill attended Hollywood Professional School with classmates Peggy Lipton (of TV’s Mod Squad and future mother of actress Rashida Jones), Carl Wilson (of the Beach Boys) and Mouseketeer Cubby O’Brien. The school offered classes in the mornings and allowed students to pursue acting jobs in the afternoons.
At seventeen, Jill landed her first movie role in the low-budget Spider Baby. The future cult film starred Lon Chaney Jr. (in one of his last roles), Carol Ohmart (one in a long line of actresses touted as “The Next Marilyn“), Quinn Redeker (Academy Award nominated screenwriter for The Deer Hunter), horror movie staple Sid Haig and one of the last screen appearances by Mantan Moreland. Spider Baby, filmed in 1964 but released in 1968 due to legal battles, told the story of the demented Merrye Family, three murderous, cannibalistic siblings under the watchful care of chauffeur Bruno (played by Chaney). Jill played Virginia, the childlike, spider-obsessed title character. The creepy, but rather bloodless, film was played as an over-the-top homage to The Munsters and The Addams Family, two popular TV shows of the time.
Jill next appeared with James Coburn as a hippie chick in The President Analyst. This role enabled her to move into a comfortable position playing naive teenagers and strung-out hippies in weekly police dramas like Dragnet and Adam-12. In the late 60s, she was part of an ensemble cast in C’mon Let’s Live a Little, one of the last pictures in the “beach party” genre.
While in Rome, filming director Christian Marquand’s psychedelic 1968 movie, Candy, she met Marlon Brando, one of dozens of actors agreeing to a brief on-screen cameo (including Ringo Starr in his Beatle-less film debut). Jill and Brando, nearly thirty years her senior, became a couple. When they returned to the United States, Jill settled into a behind-the-scenes role, developing scripts for the Oscar-winning actor.
In 1982, Jill was travelling on Southern California’s Ventura Freeway when her Toyota was struck by a truck driven by a drunk driver. Jill was thrown from her vehicle and head-first into a cement divider. She fell into a coma and and died in the hospital, never regaining consciousness. Jill was 35.