Joan Blondell (1906 - 1979)



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Joan Blondell

Born August 30, 1906 in New York City, New York, USA
Died December 25, 1979 in Santa Monica, California, USA (leukemia)
Birth Name Rose Joan Blondell
Height 5' 2" (1.57 m)
With blonde hair, big blue eyes and a big smile, Joan was usually cast as the wisecracking working girl who was the lead's best friend. Born into vaudeville to a comic named Eddie, Joan was on the stage when she was three years old. For years, she toured the circuit with her parents and joined a stock company when she was 17. She made her New York debut with the Ziegfeld Follies and appeared in several Broadway productions. She was starring with James Cagney on Broadway in "Penny Arcade" (1929) when Warner Brothers decided to film the play as Sinners' Holiday (1930). Both Cagney and Joan were given the leads, and the film was a success. She would be teamed with Cagney again in The Public Enemy (1931) and Blonde Crazy (1931) among others. In The Office Wife (1930), she stole the scene when she was dressing for work. While Warner Brothers made Cagney a star, Joan never rose to that level. In gangster movies or musicals, her performances were good enough for second leads, but not first lead. In the 1930s, she made a career playing gold-diggers and happy-go-lucky girlfriends. She would be paired with Dick Powell in ten musicals during these years, and they were married for ten years. By 1939, Joan had left Warner Brothers to become an independent actress, but by then, the blonde role was being defined by actresses like Veronica Lake. Her work slowed greatly as she went into straight comedy or dramatic roles. Three of her better roles were in Topper Returns (1941), Cry 'Havoc' (1943), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). By the 50s, Joan would garner an Academy Award nomination for The Blue Veil (1951), but her biggest career successes would be on the stage, including a musical version of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." In 1957, Joan would again appear on the screen as a drunk in Lizzie (1957) and as mature companion to Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). While she would appear in a number of television shows during the 50s and 60s, she had the regular role of Winifred on The Real McCoys (1957) during the 1963 season. Her role in the drama The Cincinnati Kid (1965) was well received, but most of her remaining films would be comedies such as Waterhole #3 (1967) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971). Still in demand for TV, she was cast as Lottie on Here Come the Brides (1968) and as Peggy on Banyon (1971).
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana
Spouses (3)
Mike Todd (4 July 1947 - 8 June 1950) ( divorced)
Dick Powell (19 September 1936 - 14 July 1944) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
George Barnes (4 January 1933 - 4 September 1936) divorced (1 child)
Older sister of actress Gloria Blondell.
Mother of Norman S. Powell from her marriage to George Barnes. He was adopted by Dick Powell in February 1938. Mother of Ellen Powell from her marriage to Dick Powell.
Made six movies with James Cagney at Warner Brothers - more than any other individual actress. Cagney said that the only woman he loved other than his wife was Blondell.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1958 Tony Award as best supporting actress (dramatic) for "The Rope Dancers."
According to the July 24, 1944, issue of Time magazine, Blondell divorced Dick Powell on the grounds of cruelty alleging that "when she objected to the incessant coming and going of guests, Powell crooned: 'If you don't like it, you can get the hell out.'". Attended the Professional Children's School in New York City. On the British sitcom Dad's Army (1968), Private Pike has a crush on her and has dozens of pictures of her on his bedroom walls. Her marriage to theatrical impresario Mike Todd was an emotional and financial disaster. Todd was 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. While continuing to live the high-life on a huge estate in New York's Westchester County, the irresponsible Todd ran through Blondell's savings.
She playfully called her friend Bette Davis's four ex-husbands "The Four Skins" since they were all gentiles.
June Allyson was the stepmother of her daughter Ellen Powell after Allyson married Blondell's ex-husband Dick Powell.
Profiled in "Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames" by Ray Hagen and Laura Wagner (McFarland, 2004).
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6311 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1960. Following her death, she was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Her daughter Ellen Powell had a long battle with cocaine that she overcame in 1984.
Had three grandchildren: Joan Ellen Powell, Scott Powell and Stephanie Powell.
Her grandson Scott Powell has a stepson, David, and two grandchildren, Zander and Dakota.
Her granddaughter Stephanie Powell is married to Sean Murphy, owner of a surf travel company.
In 1927, while closing the library she worked at, she was raped by a police officer. He told her he would kill her if she told anyone. She kept her silence for decades, until finally telling her grown daughter. She went public with this in her memoirs.
Her son Norman Scott was named after Claudette Colbert's first husband, actor-director Norman Foster.
Her son Norman Scott was born in the breech position, with the cord wrapped around his neck. Her labor was complicated, because of a fractured coccyx, and lasted twenty hours.
Felt that her best performance was as Aunt Sissy in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945).
Aunt of makeup artist Kathryn Blondell.
Is portrayed by Kathy Bates in Feud (2017).
Daughter of Edward (1865-1943), born in the state of Indiana, and Katherine (née Cain) Blondell (1884-1952), born in the state of New York.
Her paternal grandparents were both born in France.
Personal Quotes (9)
There's a very fine line between underacting and not acting at all. And not acting is what a lot of actors are guilty of. It amazes me how some of these little numbers with dreamy looks and a dead pan are getting away with it. I'd hate to see them on stage with a dog act. In the 20s, you were a face. And that was enough. In the '30s, you also had to be a voice. And your voice had to match your face, if you can imagine that. Jimmy Cagney and Eddie Robinson had voices that were as important as the characters they played. You knew what you were getting even before you paid for the ticket.
[on Al Jolson] The screen didn't give him enough space to project in. I remember as a kid seeing him on stage and I think to this day there have been two great performers in the world: one is Jolson and the other is Judy Garland. They had some kind of magic in front of people that no one could surpass -- they were sheer, magnificent talent beyond belief.
[on her husbands] [George] Barnes provided my first real home, [Dick] Powell was my security man, and [Michael] Todd was my passion. But I loved them all.

Joan Blondell Biography & Family History

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West Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California

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1906 - In the year that Joan Blondell was born, Finland became the first European country to give women the vote and to allow them to run for political office. (Women in Australia and New Zealand already had that right but couldn't run for office.) Although Finland belonged to the Russian Empire, there was great unrest and the Tsar wanted to broker a quick peace. As a part of the brokered peace, women got the vote.

1948 - Joan was 42 years old when on May 14th, the State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel's first Premier, and the U.S. officially recognized Israel. That evening, Egypt launched an air assault on Israel.

1952 - Joan was 46 years old when on July 2, Dr. Jonas E. Salk tested the first dead-virus polio vaccine on 43 children. The worst epidemic of polio had broken out that year - in the U.S. there were 58,000 cases reported. Of these, 3,145 people had died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.

1971 - At the age of 65 years old, Joan was alive when in March, Congress passed the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18 (from 21). It was a response to the criticism that men could fight at 18, but not vote for the policies and politicians who sent them to war. The states quickly ratified the Amendment and it was signed into law on July 1st by President Richard Nixon.

1979 - In the year of Joan Blondell's passing, on March 28th, a partial nuclear meltdown occurred at the power plant at Three Mile Island Pennsylvania. Radiation leaked into the environment, resulting in a rating of 5 on a scale of 7 ("Accident With Wider Consequences") . It ended up costing $1 billion to clean up the site.

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Joan Blondell, Actress, Dies at 70; Often Played Wisecracking Blonde
DEC. 26, 1979
The New York Times Archives
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Dec. 25 (AP) —Joan Blondell, the movie and television actress, died of leukemia today. She was 70 years old and had been hospitalized for several weeks. At her bedside were her son, Norman Powell, a television producer; her daughter, Ellen Powell and her sister, Gloria Blondell.
During a screen career that began in 1930 with the melodrama “Sinners’ Holiday” and ended some 80 films later with the 1979 remake “The Champ,” Joan Blondell personified an American cinema archetype: the self‐reliant, breezy — but slightly blowsy — blonde who specializes in wise cracking. It was an image formed during Miss Blondell's earliest years in Hollywood. Initially a contract player with Warner Brothers, she was quickly stereotyped as a gun moll in such classic gangster films as “Blonde Crazy” and “The Public Enemy.” In 1933 the studio, perhaps in appreciation, even allowed the actress to head her own ring of felons in “Blondie Johnson.”
Rose Joan Blondell gave her birthday as Aug. 30, 1909. She was born in New York to Ed and Kathyrn Blondell, both vaudevillians. Her parents not only arranged their baby's stage debut at the age of 4 months (as a carry‐on in “The Greatest Love"), but also took Miss Blondell, her brother and her sister on tours across the United States and to Australia and China.
In 1927, the actress made her Broadway debut with a small role in “The Trial of Mary Dugan.” When her third play —the 1930 “Penny Arcade” — was purchased by Hollywood, she went West to appear in the film version, which was re-titled “Sinners’ Holiday.” So did another unknown young actor in the play, James Cagney.
From 1930 to 1938, Miss Blondell made almost 50 films, the most successful of which included “The Crowd Roars,” “Three on a Match,” “Bullets or Ballots,” “Three Men on a Horse” and “Stand‐In.” Often cast opposite the era's leading male stars, she appeared most frequently opposite Mr. Cagney (seven times) and Dick Powell (also seven times).
After a two‐year marriage to a Hollywood cameraman, George S. Barnes, by whom she had a son, the actress was married in 1936 to Mr. Powell. Two years later, they both left Warner's. Through the early years of World War II, Miss Blondell continued to make films, including two more with Mr. Powell. She returned to the Broadway stage in 1943 to star in Mike Todd's production of “The Naked Genius,” short‐lived comedy by Gypsy Rose Lee. In 1944, she and Mr. Powell, by whom she had a daughter, were divorced.
By then, Miss Blondell had outgrown her brash, young image. But she proceeded to reveal, in films like “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “Adventure” and “Nightmare Alley,” her capacity to perform effectively in character roles. In 1948, the actress began a three‐year hiatus from the screen that coincided with her marriage to Mike Todd. During this period, Miss Blondell again concentrated on the theater, both in summer stock and with the road company of “Something for the Boys.” When her third marriage ended in 1950, she returned to Hollywood. Her performance the next year in “The Blue Veil,” starring Jane Wyman, earned Miss Blondell her only Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actress.
Since then, Miss Blondell was seen in supporting roles in such films as “The Desk Set,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” “Support Your Local Gunfighter,” “Grease” and, most recently, as a wealthy racehorse owner in “The Champ,” the 1979 Franco Zeffirelli remake, starring Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway, of the 1931 Wallace Beery‐Jackie Cooper film. In addition, she was a regular in the television series “Banyon,” about a 1930's private eye, which was shown in the early 1970's. In 1972, Miss Blondell published a novel titled “Center Door Fancy.” The book traced Nora, its heroine, from a vaudeville childhood to Hollywood stardom.


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