Thursday, December 2, 2010

Joan Blondell (1906-1979)

The American born beauty with her big blue eyes and golden locks gained her love for show business while touring the world with her vaudevillian father, Eddie Blondell.  By the age of 17 she had joined a stock company and landed in New York after winning a Miss Dallas beauty contest.  She appeared in several stage plays before landing a role on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies then her lucky break came when she was paired with a newcomer named James Cagney for the stage production of Penny Serenade.

Penny Serenade only lasted two weeks but it was just enough time for Al Jolson to see it, buy the rights to it for $20,000 then sell it to Warner Bro's who also signed Joan to a six year contract beginning in 1930.  Jack Warner cast both Joan and Cagney in the film version of Penny Serenade retitled "Sinners Holiday" 1930.  She was then cast in a few shorts before being selected as one of the WAMPAS baby stars of  1930.  Joan became a favorite at Warner Bro's throughout the 1930's with her wisecracking sense of humor and stunning on screen presence movie goers fell in love with her.

click on Joan's autograph for larger view

Joan and Cagney appeared together in another comedy during 1931 titled "Blonde Crazy" before she went on to appear in the musicals and light comedies she became so known for opposite Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.  Joan married cinema-photographer George Barnes in 1933 and they had one child together, they would divorce in 1936.  During the Great Depression Joan was one of the highest paid individuals in the United States and she certainly stayed busy filming up to 11 films in 1931 alone.  One of her biggest hits was in Busby Berkeley's "Gold Diggers of 1933" co-starring Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers.  

publicity still with Dick Powell

with husband Dick Powell

Joan continued to churn out at least 5 musicals a year usually co-starring Dick Powell or Glenda Farrell who she starred in nine films with then she landed the lead in "The Perfect Specimen" 1937 opposite Errol Flynn.  It's a great little comedy and showcased Errol's comedic talent with the help of the wisecracking Joan.  I have never understood why Errol wasn't offered more comedic roles as he was always one to make fun of himself and known for being one of Hollywood's biggest pranksters.  I will touch more upon the legend and intriguing life of Errol at a later date.  

Errol Flynn and Joan having a moment in the Warner Bro's cafeteria 

Joan with James Cagney 

Joan married her co-star Dick Powell in 1936 and they remained married until 1944. They had one daughter together Ellen and Dick adopted her son from her first marriage ( I can only imagine what a fun household that was).  She left Warner Bro's in 1939 when her contract ran out but it didn't stop her from getting parts in movies for other studios throughout the 1940's.  For the first time since the early 1930's Joan did not receive top billing when she co-starred with Clark Gable and Greer Garson in "Adventure" 1945.  Then she landed the role in "Nightmare Alley" 1947 with Tyrone Power.  It was one of her few dramatic roles and she plays a con woman and carnie who battles with her alcoholic husband quite convincingly.  (She reminds me of Jean Harlow and you have to wonder what acting opportunities Jean would have been given if she had not died so prematurely without reaching her full potential on screen).

I can only imagine how those in charge of this photo shoot described it to Joan. "You will be dressed  like a leopard while holding onto a live leopard. Oh and smiling and acting pleased like it's normal"

with Bette Davis on the beach for a photo shoot for Warner Bro's (It's nice to see actress's who had curves when it was the norm. Beautiful)

Joan hadn't given her all just yet! In 1951 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "The Blue Veil" starring Charles Laughton and Jane Wyman.  She also landed a large role in the critical success " A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" before moving on to television during the late 1960's. Joan married the director Mike Todd who was best known for "Around The World in 80 Days" and for later marrying Elizabeth Taylor.  He was married to Joan from 1947-1950.  He was married to Elizabeth Taylor when he died in a plane crash in 1958.

I'll refrain from commenting on the crushed velvet shorts as this is a movie costume but if you click on the photo for a larger view, her face is simply flawless!

Joan continued to stay busy throughout the 1950's in films like "Desk Set" 1951 with Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy then in "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" with Jane Mansfield and Tony Randall in 1957 (A really funny film) then she won acclaim with her role in "The Cincinnati Kid" 1965 starring Steve McQueen and Ann Margret.  Joan received a Golden Globe nomination for her supporting role.  Joan's last two films were the blockbusters "Grease" 1978 and "The Champ" 1979.

with Tyrone Power in "Nightmare Alley" 1947

with Errol Flynn in "The Perfect Specimen"

Joan died from leukemia on Christmas day at the age of 79 surrounded by her children and her sister. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.  Her grave site can be viewed HERE.  She appeared in over 120 films and her career spanned almost five decades.  To view Joan and Dick Powell's early Hollywood home click HERE.

I would love to see this gown in color. Stunning!

Joan Blondell Facts:

Her first crib was a trunk as her parents traveled place to place in vaudeville.  She spent several years of her youth living in Australia while her family toured there. She first appeared on stage at four months old in her parents vaudeville act.

Jack Warner wanted her to change her name to Inez Holmes upon arriving in Hollywood but she refused.  (Good call Joanie)

She referred to herself as "Warner's workhorse" as she brought in huge profits for the studio during the depression and turned out 6-11 films a year during the 1930's.

She was set to replace Vivian Vance as Lucille Ball's sidekick on "The Lucy Show" with her role as Joan Brenner, Lucy's new friend from California but she walked off of the set humiliated after the first episode when Lucille Ball criticized her performance harshly before a live audience.

She made six films with James Cagney while under contract at Warner Bro's, more than any other actress. 

Her marriage to director Mike Todd was an emotional and financial disaster.  He was a heavy spender who lost hundreds of thousand of dollars in gambling debts which cost them to go through a very public and humiliating bankruptcy.  Once Todd ran through Blondell's savings and left her and her children in financial ruin he left her.  

Actress June Allyson became the step mother to her daughter when she later married her ex husband Dick Powell.

Joan Blondell Quotes:

On Clark Gable:  "It was the joy of your life to know Clark Gable.  He was everything good you could think of.  He had a delicious humor, he had great compassion, he was always a fine old teddy bear.  In no way was he conscious of his good looks as were most other men in pictures at his time".

On Jean Harlow:  "You know, she never wore underclothes and she was walking past the guys during "Public Enemy" one day and James Cagney said "How do you hold those things up  and she said "I ice them" And she was very serious".

On Leslie Howard: "Leslie was a darling flirt. He'd be caressing your eyes and have his hand on someone else's leg at the same time.  He was adorable, he just loved ladies and wanted his hands on every one around"

On Al Jolson: "The screen didn't give him enough space to project in.  There have been two great performers in the world.  One is Jolson, the other is Judy Garland.  They had some kind of magic in front of people that no one could surpass, talent beyond belief".

I really can't name one film as a favorite of Joan Blondell's as she really was fabulous and I can't imagine early musicals and light comedies without her during the 1930's.  If you get the chance to catch one of her films you really will consider it a great hour well spent.  

Please enjoy the trailer for "Blonde Crazy" 1931 with James Cagney



  1. Great, as always. I had no idea she was almost cast as Lucy's friend! Oh, thanks for the post about Ray Milland too :)

  2. Clara you're so kind and you really have been generous to give my little site a boost. I'm re-watching the Marion Davies bio on your site again. Her autobiography is a must read with a fantastic insight on the going's on at San Simeon. I had the pleasure of visiting Hearst Castle a few years ago and it's breathtaking with it's history and your mind wonders of what went on there during it's prime with Marion as the host. If you can find her book please read it as I know you will get a great kick out of it and her fascinating life.

  3. She was a lot of fun.

    I love the leopard picture. They should have gone all the way. Joan wearing a leopard jacket, holding a leopard, while on a leopard skin rug. It even looks like the leash has a leopard pattern on it.

    I love the scene in Grease where she bumps the wall next to the light switch with her arm and the light goes out. She had the magic touch.

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  5. Welcome to the site Raven. I haven't seen "Grease" in years and at one time I had watched it at least 20 times and knew every word! HaHa But now I need to rewatch it just to see Joan. Sadly I don't remember her in the film. I did watch a great Joan musical with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler with my parents over Thanksgiving. I love those light romps.

  6. I've always liked her because she's one of the few classic stars who looks like she would have been approachable, just a regular person. She was also kind of bawdy offscreen with a reputation for flashing people.

    Typical about Lucy dressing her down in front of a live audience. In real life she was nowhere near the adorable redhead she played in her series, but a tough as nails, harsh, bitter woman who loved her vodka.

  7. p.s.
    Lucy ran roughshod over Joan Crawford and Tallulah Bankhead when they appeared on her show as well. You know she had to be a real dragon lady to tangle with those two strong personalities.

  8. Claros,
    I had the clip of Tallulah's appearance on Lucy on the sidebar during the week I did her post. I haven't seen the guest appearance with Joan but I'll certainly look for it.

    I have to admit I'm not a gaga over Lucy like so many but I can respect her as a businesswoman.
    The one film I love of hers is "The Long, Long Trailer". As a matter of fact if I can find the film it would be perfect for a pictorial review.
    (Watch young Bruce Dern be in it too)! Ha Ha


    Enjoy -- I sure did. I remember seeing this when I was 4 or 5 and didn't know what a Joan Crawford was. Lucy was supposed to have been furious with Joan for her drinking (same with Tallulah) and because her Charleston wasn't up to Lucy's standards.

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  11. Oh my gosh! Having Joan scrubbing in her opening is priceless. Too bad she didn't have her face in a bowl of ice. I always imagined Joan being very tall but she looks so slight next to those two.

    One thing about Joan Crawford was her devotion to her roles and her looks. She was probably the hardest working woman in Hollywood plus she adored her fans. She was such a beauty and its upsetting that her reputation has been ripped to shreds over the years.

  12. She had to be extremely strong to survive as long as she did. I think Christina had an ax to grind. Crawford had gotten wind that she was writing a scurrilous book about her upbringing just before she died, which was why she wrote her out of her will.

    Betsy Palmer in an interview said she was shocked when she first met her while they were doing "Queen Bee," because she was very very tiny but had an enormous head.

    Definitely one of the most beautiful women to appear on film, her photos from the 1930s just amaze me.

  13. I have always been a big fan of Joans. Glad to know there are others too. Thanks for putting up this site.

  14. Joan was the greatest! I loved her! There's no one like her!