Joan Blondell, the big olive eyed round faced beauty who made more than fifty movies between her screen debut in 1930 and 1939 and more than 80 in her career is the subject of a new biography Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes by Matthew Kennedy. In addition to the movies, Joan was regular on the TV series “Here Comes the Brides” and made many TV appearances on such shows as “The Barbara Stanwyck Show,” “Burke’s Law” and “Starksy and Hutch.” Blondell co-starred with James Cagney in more movies (7) than any other leading man did.
The book is a must read for any fan of Blondell and/or the early days of sound movies.
All of Warner Brother’s stars are on hand, Cagney, Bogart, and Eddie G. Joan starred with them all.
Joan’s private life was not as sweet. She came from a vaudevillian family that traveled the world. She was the oldest of three kids and the most talented. As Vaudeville’s days ended, Joan’s family hit on hard times, living in small apartments scraping for money. Joan got occasion work in small theater productions and odd jobs in between. One of those jobs was working at a circulating library where one night she was raped by a police officer. Joan was twenty years old.
Her three marriages all turned out bad. Forced to have multiple abortions by her first husband, cinematographer George Barnes, and physically and mentally abused by third husband Mike Todd. She did have good relationships with her parents, sister and her children.
Joan’s entrance into the movies started with an audition for a role in a Broadway play called “Penny Arcade.” One of her co-stars was a young unknown actor name James Cagney. The play did not last long but the two young hopefuls were signed and brought out to Hollywood to co-star in the film version, renamed “Sinner’s Holiday.” This was the first of seven films they would make together. Joan signed a contact with Warner Brothers and they put her to work. Warner’s was like working at a slave labor camp, a production line where you went from one film to another. “The Office Wife,” “Other Men’s Women,” Illicit, Night Nurse,” “The Public Enemy” and “Blonde Crazy” were just some of the films within the first two years. “The Public Enemy,” “Night Nurse” and “Blonde Crazy” are today still considered classics from the era. In 1932 Joan made ten films, in 1933 eight including “Blondie Johnson,” “Gold Diggers of 1993,” “Footlight’s Parade” and “Convention City.” Gold Diggers one of the great depression era musicals is also notable for Joan’s classic emotional closing number “Remember My Forgotten Man.” “Convention City,” a supposedly lost film is considered one of the films that brought about the Hayes Office. The film is noted for scenes of bootlegging, dialogue with loads of sexual innuendo and the full chested Blondell not wearing a bra. The film apparently so outraged audiences and even Jack Warner that he eventually ordered the negative and all the prints burned. It has been rumored that prints do exist but if so, the film remains elusive.
After her divorce from Todd, Joan’s career took a turn toward older and more supporting type roles. She also started doing a lot of television and even some theater work. Over the life of her career, Joan worked with many of Hollywood’s greats. In addition to Cagney, Bogart, and Robinson, she worked with Gable. Tracy, Dick Powell (her second husband), Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Wyman, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Elvis Presley. In one of her last films, “Opening Night,” she was directed by John Cassavetes.
Author Matthew Kennedy makes you feel and care for Joan giving you a portrait of a woman who was strong enough and resilient enough to overcome her personal tragedies and prevail. Highly recommended.