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Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell American actress

American actress
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American actress
Countries United States of America
Occupations Actor Beauty pageant contestant Model Stage actor
Gender female
Birth 30 August 1906 (New York City, New York, U.S.A.)
Death 25 December 1979 (Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A.)
Star sign VirgoVirgo
Siblings: Gloria Blondell
Spouse: George Barnes (cinematographer)Dick PowellMike Todd
Children: Norman Powell
Education University of North Texas
The details

Rose Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979) was an American actress who performed in movies and on television for half a century. She began her career in vaudeville.

After winning a beauty pageant, Blondell embarked upon a film career. Establishing herself as a sexy, wisecracking blonde, she was a pre-Code staple of Warner Bros. pictures, and appeared in more than 100 movies and television productions. She was most active in films during the 1930s, and during this time, she co-starred with Glenda Farrell in nine films, in which the duo portrayed gold diggers. Blondell continued acting in major film roles for the rest of her life, often in small character roles or supporting television roles. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Blue Veil (1951).

Near the end of her life, Blondell was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in John Cassavetes's Opening Night (1977). She featured in roles in two more films — Grease (1978) and The Champ (1979) — released shortly before her death from leukemia.

Early life

Rose Joan Blondell was born in New York to a vaudeville family, and gave her birthdate as August 30, 1909. Her father, Levi Bluestein, a vaudeville comedian, known as Ed Blondell, was born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1866. He toured for many years starring in Blondell and Fennessy's stage version of The Katzenjammer Kids. Blondell's mother was Kathryn ("Katie") Cain, born April 13, 1884, in Brooklyn, of Irish American parents. Her younger sister, Gloria Blondell, also an actress, was briefly married to film producer Albert R. Broccoli. Blondell also had a brother, Ed Blondell, Jr. Her cradle was a property trunk as her parents moved from place to place and she made her first appearance on stage at the age of four months when she was carried on in a cradle as the daughter of Peggy Astaire in The Greatest Love. Her family comprised a vaudeville troupe, the "Bouncing Blondells".

Joan had spent a year in Honolulu (1914–15) and six years in Australia and had seen much of the world by the time her family, who had been on tour, settled in Dallas, Texas, when she was a teenager. Under the name Rosebud Blondell, she won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant, was a finalist in an early version of the Miss Universe pageant in May 1926, and placed fourth for Miss America 1926 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September of that same year. She attended Santa Monica High School, where she acted in school plays and worked as an editor on the yearbook staff. While there, she went by the name Rosebud Blondell. She attended what is now the University of North Texas, then a teacher's college, in Denton, where her mother was a local stage actress.


Blondell in the trailer for the 1932 film Three on a Match

Around 1927, she returned to New York, worked as a fashion model, a circus hand, a clerk in a store, joined a stock company to become an actress, and performed on Broadway. In 1930, she starred with James Cagney in Penny Arcade on Broadway. Penny Arcade lasted only three weeks, but Al Jolson saw it and bought the rights to the play for $20,000. He then sold the rights to Warner Bros. with the proviso that Blondell and Cagney be cast in the film version. Placed under contract by Warner Bros., she moved to Hollywood, where studio boss Jack L. Warner wanted her to change her name to "Inez Holmes", but Blondell refused. She began to appear in short subjects, and was named as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1931.

Blondell was paired with James Cagney in such films as Sinners' Holiday (1930) – the film version of Penny Arcade – and The Public Enemy (1931), and was one-half of a gold-digging duo with Glenda Farrell in nine films. During the Great Depression, Blondell was one of the highest-paid individuals in the United States. Her stirring rendition of "Remember My Forgotten Man" in the Busby Berkeley production of Gold Diggers of 1933, in which she co-starred with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, became an anthem for the frustrations of the unemployed and the government's failed economic policies. In 1937, she starred opposite Errol Flynn in The Perfect Specimen. By the end of the decade, she had made nearly 50 films. She left Warner Bros. in 1939.

This 1932 promotional photo of Blondell was later banned under the Motion Picture Production Code.

In 1943, Blondell returned to Broadway as the star of Mike Todd's short-lived production of The Naked Genius, a comedy written by Gypsy Rose Lee. She was well received in her later films, despite being relegated to character and supporting roles after 1945, when she was billed below the title for the first time in 14 years in Adventure, which starred Clark Gable and Greer Garson. She was also featured prominently in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and Nightmare Alley (1947). In 1948, she left the screen for three years and concentrated on theatre, performing in summer stock and touring with Cole Porter's musical, Something for the Boys. She later reprised her role of Aunt Sissy in the musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the national tour, starred opposite Tallulah Bankhead in the play Crazy October (which closed on the road) and played the nagging mother, Mae Peterson, in the national tour of Bye Bye Birdie.

Blondell returned to Hollywood in 1950. Her performance in her next film, The Blue Veil (1951), earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She played supporting roles in The Opposite Sex (1956), Desk Set (1957), and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). She received considerable acclaim for her performance as Lady Fingers in Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid (1965), garnering a Golden Globe nomination and National Board of Review win for Best Supporting Actress. John Cassavetes cast her as a cynical, aging playwright in his film Opening Night (1977). Blondell was widely seen in two films released not long before her death, Grease (1978) and the remake of The Champ (1979) with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder. She also appeared in two films released after her death, The Glove (1979) and The Woman Inside (1981).

With James Cagney in Footlight Parade (1933)

Blondell also guest-starred in various television programs, including three 1963 episodes as the character Aunt Win in the CBS sitcom The Real McCoys, starring Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna. She appeared in a 1964 episode ("What's in the Box?") of The Twilight Zone. She guest-starred in the episode "You're All Right, Ivy" of Jack Palance's circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth, which aired on ABC in the 1963–64 television season. Her co-stars in the segment were Joe E. Brown and Buster Keaton. In 1965, she was in the running to replace Vivian Vance as Lucille Ball's sidekick on the hit CBS television comedy series The Lucy Show. Unfortunately, after filming her second guest appearance as Joan Brenner (Lucy's new friend from California), Blondell walked off the set right after the episode had completed filming when Ball humiliated her by harshly criticizing her performance in front of the studio audience and technicians.

Blondell continued working on television. In 1968, she guest-starred on the CBS sitcom Family Affair, starring Brian Keith. She also replaced Bea Benaderet, who was ill, for one episode on the CBS series Petticoat Junction. In that installment, Blondell played FloraBelle Campbell, a lady visitor to Hooterville, who had once dated Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) and Sam Drucker (Frank Cady). That same year, Blondell co-starred in all 52 episodes of the ABC Western series Here Come the Brides, set in the Pacific Northwest of the 19th century. Her co-stars included singer Bobby Sherman and actor-singer David Soul. Blondell received two consecutive Emmy nominations for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a dramatic series for her role as Lottie Hatfield.

In 1971, she followed Sada Thompson in the off-Broadway hit The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, with a young Swoosie Kurtz playing one of daughters.

John Wayne and Blondell, in Lady for a Night (1942)

In 1972, she had an ongoing supporting role in the NBC series Banyon as Peggy Revere, who operated a secretarial school in the same building as Banyon's detective agency. This was a 1930s period action drama starring Robert Forster in the titular role. Her students worked in Banyon's office, providing fresh faces for the show weekly. The series was replaced midseason.

In 1974, Blondell played the wife of Tom D'Andrea's character in the television film, Bobby Parker and Company, with Ted Bessell in the starring role as the son of Blondell and D'Andrea. Coincidentally, D'Andrea had earlier played Jim Gillis, the television husband of Blondell's younger sister, Gloria Blondell, in the NBC sitcom The Life of Riley.

Blondell has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry. Her star is located at 6311 Hollywood Boulevard. In December 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a retrospective of Blondell's films in connection with a new biography by film professor Matthew Kennedy and theatrical revival houses such as Film Forum in Manhattan have also projected many of her films recently.

She wrote a novel titled Center Door Fancy (New York: Delacorte Press, 1972), which was a thinly disguised autobiography with veiled references to June Allyson and Dick Powell.

Personal life

Joan Blondell, with daughter Ellen Powell and son Norman S. Powell (1944)

Blondell was married three times, first to cinematographer George Barnes in a private wedding ceremony on January 4, 1933, at the First Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, Arizona. They had one child — Norman Scott Barnes, who became an accomplished producer, director, and television executive — and divorced in 1936.

On September 19, 1936, she married her second husband, actor, director, and singer Dick Powell. They had a daughter, Ellen Powell, who became a studio hair stylist, and Powell adopted her son by her previous marriage under the name Norman Scott Powell. Blondell and Powell were divorced on July 14, 1944. Blondell was less than friendly with Powell's next wife, June Allyson, although the two women would later appear together in The Opposite Sex (1956).

Niche of Joan Blondell at Forest Lawn Glendale.

On July 5, 1947, Blondell married her third husband, producer Mike Todd, whom she divorced in 1950. Her marriage to Todd was an emotional and financial disaster. She once accused him of holding her outside a hotel window by her ankles. He was also a heavy spender who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling (high-stakes bridge was one of his weaknesses) and went through a controversial bankruptcy during their marriage. An often-repeated myth is that Mike Todd "dumped" Joan Blondell for Elizabeth Taylor, when in fact, Blondell left Todd of her own accord years before he met Taylor.

Blondell was a Republican.


Blondell died of leukemia in Santa Monica, California, on Christmas Day, 1979, with her children and her sister at her bedside. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Feature films

Year Title Role Notes
1930 The Office Wife Katherine Murdock
1930 Sinners' Holiday Myrtle
1931 Other Men's Women Marie
1931 Millie Angie Wickerstaff
1931 Illicit Helen Dukie Childers
1931 God's Gift to Women Fifi
1931 The Public Enemy Mamie
1931 My Past Marian Moore
1931 Big Business Girl Pearl
1931 Night Nurse Maloney
1931 The Reckless Hour Myrtle Nichols
1931 Blonde Crazy Ann Roberts
1932 Union Depot Ruth Collins
1932 The Greeks Had a Word for Them Schatze Citroux
1932 The Crowd Roars Anne Scott
1932 The Famous Ferguson Case Maizie Dickson
1932 Make Me a Star Flips Montague
1932 Miss Pinkerton Miss Adams
1932 Big City Blues Vida Fleet
1932 Three on a Match Mary Keaton
1932 Central Park Dot
1933 Lawyer Man Olga Michaels
1933 Broadway Bad Tony Landers
1933 Blondie Johnson Blondie Johnson
1933 Gold Diggers of 1933 Carol King
1933 Goodbye Again Anne Rogers
1933 Footlight Parade Nan Prescott
1933 Havana Widows Mae Knight
1933 Convention City Nancy Lorraine
1934 I've Got Your Number Marie Lawson
1934 He Was Her Man Rose Lawrence
1934 Smarty Vickie Wallace
1934 Dames Mabel Anderson
1934 Kansas City Princess Rosie Sturges
1935 Traveling Saleslady Angela Twitchell
1935 Broadway Gondolier Alice Hughes
1935 We're in the Money Ginger Stewart
1935 Miss Pacific Fleet Gloria Fay
1936 Colleen Minnie Hawkins
1936 Sons o' Guns Yvonne
1936 Bullets or Ballots Lee Morgan
1936 Stage Struck Peggy Revere
1936 Three Men on a Horse Mabel
1936 Gold Diggers of 1937 Norma Perry
1937 The King and the Chorus Girl Dorothy Ellis
1937 Back in Circulation Timmy Blake
1937 The Perfect Specimen Mona Carter
1937 Stand-In Lester Plum
1938 There's Always a Woman Sally Reardon
1939 Off the Record Jane Morgan
1939 East Side of Heaven Mary Wilson
1939 The Kid from Kokomo Doris Harvey
1939 Good Girls Go to Paris Jenny Swanson
1939 The Amazing Mr. Williams Maxine Carroll
1940 Two Girls on Broadway Molly Mahoney
1940 I Want a Divorce Geraldine Brokaw
1941 Topper Returns Gail Richards
1941 Model Wife Joan Keathing Chambers
1941 Three Girls About Town Hope Banner
1942 Lady for a Night Jenny Blake
1942 Cry 'Havoc' Grace Lambert
1945 A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Aunt Sissy
1945 Don Juan Quilligan Margie Mossrock
1945 Adventure Helen Melohn
1947 The Corpse Came C.O.D. Rosemary Durant
1947 Nightmare Alley Zeena
1947 Christmas Eve Ann Nelson
1950 For Heaven's Sake Daphne
1951 The Blue Veil Annie Rawlins Academy Award nominee, Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1956 The Opposite Sex Edith Potter
1957 Lizzie Aunt Morgan
1957 Desk Set Peg Costello
1957 This Could Be the Night Crystal
1957 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Violet
1961 Angel Baby Mollie Hays
1964 Advance to the Rear Easy Jenny
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Lady Fingers Best Supporting Actress, National Board of Review
Golden Globe Award nominee, Best Supporting Actress
1966 Ride Beyond Vengeance Mrs. Lavender
1967 Waterhole #3 Lavinia
1967 Winchester '73 Larouge TV movie
1967 The Spy in the Green Hat Mrs. "Fingers" Steletto
1968 Stay Away, Joe Glenda Callahan
1968 Kona Coast Kittibelle Lightfoot
1969 Big Daddy
1970 The Phynx Ruby
1971 Support Your Local Gunfighter! Jenny
1975 The Dead Don't Die Levinia TV movie
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Landlady
1976 Death at Love House Marcella Geffenhart
1977 The Baron
1977 Opening Night Sarah Goode Golden Globe Award nominee, Best Supporting Actress
1978 Grease Vi
1979 Battered Edna Thompson NBC TV movie
1979 The Champ Dolly Kenyon
1979 The Glove Mrs. Fitzgerald
1981 The Woman Inside Aunt Coll

Short films

Year Title Notes
1929 Broadway's Like That Vitaphone Varieties release 960 (December 1929)
Cast: Ruth Etting, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Philips
1930 The Devil's Parade Vitaphone Varieties release 992 (February 1930)
Cast: Sidney Toler
1930 The Heart Breaker Vitaphone Varieties release 1012–1013 (March 1930)
Cast: Eddie Foy, Jr.
1930 An Intimate Dinner in Celebration of Warner Bros. Silver Jubilee
1931 How I Play Golf, number 10, "Trouble Shots" Vitaphone release 4801
Cast: Bobby Jones, Joe E. Brown, Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
1933 Just Around the Corner
1934 Hollywood Newsreel
1941 Meet the Stars #2: Baby Stars
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle


Year Title Role Notes
1961 The Untouchables Hannah 'Lucy' Wagnall Guest star, "The Underground Court"
1964 The Twilight Zone Phyllis Britt Guest Star, "What's in the Box", Season 5/Episode 24
1968–70 Here Come the Brides Lottie Hatfield 52 episodes, Two consecutive Prime time Emmy nominations for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a dramatic series.
1971 McCloud - ″Top of the World, Ma!″ Ernestine White Guest star, playing Bubba White's (Bo Svenson) mother
1979 The Rebels Mrs. Brumple Miniseries

Radio broadcasts

Year Program Episode/source
1946 Hollywood Star Time The Lady Eve
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