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Joan Blondell

A Life between Takes

Matthew Kennedy

Publication Year: 2007

Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes is the first major biography of the effervescent, scene-stealing actress (1906-1979) who conquered motion pictures, vaudeville, Broadway, summer stock, television, and radio. Born the child of vaudevillians, she was on stage by age three. With her casual sex appeal, distinctive cello voice, megawatt smile, luminous saucer eyes, and flawless timing, she came into widespread fame in Warner Bros. musicals and comedies of the 1930s, including Blonde Crazy, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade. Frequent co-star to James Cagney, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson, and Humphrey Bogart, friend to Judy Garland, Barbara Stanwyck, and Bette Davis, and wife of Dick Powell and Mike Todd, Joan Blondell was a true Hollywood insider. By the time of her death, she had made nearly 100 films in a career that spanned over fifty years. Privately, she was unerringly loving and generous, while her life was touched by financial, medical, and emotional upheavals. Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes is meticulously researched, expertly weaving the public and private, and features numerous interviews with family, friends, and colleagues. Matthew Kennedy teaches anthropology at the City College of San Francisco and film history at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is the author of Marie Dressler: A Biography and Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy. Read more about his work at http://www.matthewkennedybooks.com/ Hear Matthew Kennedy on WNYC!

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

Joan Blondell’s stature as a person and actress was reflected in the enthusiasm and affection of interviewees in recalling the movie, stage play, or television series they shared. My thanks to directors Norman Jewison and Curtis Harrington, producer Nancy Malone, camera operator Michael Ferris, agent Hillard Elkins, dolly grip Chico Anzures, and actors Theodore Bikel, Alice Ghostley, and Anthony Franciosa. Actor Gloria Manon offered...

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pp. 3-9

Joan Blondell has always been an enigma. As a beloved actress, she was in front of the cameras for five decades, yet was adamant in her priorities to family and home life. She made good money due to an exhausting schedule, yet was never far ahead of the bill collectors. She was one of the most reliably good actresses Hollywood has ever seen, yet she was rarely...

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Chapter 1. The Next Town

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pp. 10-24

When Joan Blondell published Center Door Fancyin 1972, it was labeled a novel, but everyone knew better. She maintained that virtually all events in the book were from her life. No one questioned her; the parallels were too transparent. The names were changed, but it was easy to figure out who was who. She was Nora Marten, vaudeville charmer turned movie star. David Nolan was George Barnes, cinematographer and first husband. Jim...

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Chapter 2. Starlight

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pp. 25-45

When the Blondells arrived in New York for an indefinite stay, they were close to destitute. Twenty-year-old Joan and eleven-year-old Gloria took odd jobs, hating every one of them. Junie had a paper route. Father Ed did a solo routine as the live act before picture shows, but he never brought in more than ten dollars for a day’s work. The reduced conditions of vaudeville...

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Chapter 3. Hammer and Tongs

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pp. 46-67

Thanks to George Barnes’s connections, Joan was enjoying high-class company, but she remained unostentatious, disliking showy hats, jewelry, and makeup. She went to premieres only when ordered by the studio, as she was when Union Depothad a pull-out-the-stops opening at Warner’s Hollywood Theater. It distinguished itself as a sharp, engaging drama that refused to go soft for an artificial happy ending. Joan invested the penniless chorus girl...

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Chapter 4. Nearer to Heaven

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pp. 68-88

Christmas 1934 was quiet on Lookout Mountain. Relatives came loaded with gifts, Joan cooked, Norman slept, and George brooded. Preoccupation with the holiday allowed Joan to postpone contemplating why George seemed distant from her and their son. They were happiest when out of town. For New Year’s Eve, they tent camped in the desert. Later in January, Joan went...

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Chapter 5. Freelancing

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pp. 89-103

On 31 August 1938, Joan reported back to the studio for her first day of work with director James Flood and costar Pat O’Brien. She was now taking in $2,500 a week, the highest salary she would ever have at Warner Bros. It had been a whopping seven months since she made her last movie...

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Chapter 6. The Interrupted Family

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pp. 104-129

Nineteen forty-two brought on blackout shades, civil air patrols, war bonds, victory gardens, and gas shortages. Tens of thousands of women began riveting, welding, and assembling in defense industries. With husbands gone, children were left without parental supervision. Juvenile delinquency staged a comeback and reform school enrollment increased accordingly...

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Chapter 7. Gulag-on-the-Hudson

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pp. 130-152

Joan began work on Adventure in May of 1945 in an unambiguously sup- porting role. The production was rushed to capitalize on star Clark Gable’s decorated service as a pilot flying missions over Germany and his return to the screen after a three-year absence. In Adventure, he played a marine as rest- less as the sea, with Greer Garson as his becalming love interest...

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Chapter 8. Solo Rites

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pp. 153-178

Joan moved quickly toward a premeditated escape. She packed mostly clothes and costumes, then stored the trunks and suitcases in a tarp-covered trailer with her Uncle Ernie and Aunt Mae in Brooklyn. Norman was spending extended time at a friend’s house, but Ellen would be leaving with her mother. The night was animated by fear, as everything had the potential to wake Mike and alert him to Joan’s flight: the firing ignition...

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Chapter 9. Love, Matey

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pp. 179-203

Playwright William Inge, who served Joan advantageously with Come Back, Little Sheba, thought she was a brilliant actress and personally selected her for a seven-month, 110-city national tour of his The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. The story of a troubled Oklahoma family in the 1920s featured loquacious...

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Chapter 10. I Hear Voices

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pp. 217-239

Soon after finishing season one of Here Come the Brides, Joan picked up some extra cash doing a brief turn in Warner Bros.’The Phynx. It was a supposed comedy about a rock band rescuing kidnapped “world leaders” Xavier Cugat, Johnny Weismueller, Butterfly McQueen, and Busby Berkeley from imprisonment behind Iron Curtain Albania. Joan played the American...

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Chapter 11. Predestiny

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pp. 227-239

In mid-1976, Joan taped a two-hour season premiere of the popular cop series Starsky & Hutchwith former Here Come the Bridesregular David Soul. She played an emasculating drugstore manager whose hankering for he-men figures into both the whodunit and the why-do-it. “You take Clark Gable and Ty Power—those were real men,” she said in her familiar timbre. “That’s...

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pp. 240-244

Two services were planned for Joan, one in California and one in New York. Several hundred mourners packed the Forest Lawn Memorial Park’s Wee Kirk O’ the Heather in Glendale. The family arrived in limousines and sat in the front rows of the full chapel, with additional onlookers assembled outside. Family friend Alex Swan conducted the Christian Science Church...


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pp. 245-259

Stage Appearances

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p. 260-260

Radio Appearances

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p. 261-261

Television Appearances

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pp. 262-264

Source Notes

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pp. 265-283


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pp. 284-286


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pp. 287-300

E-ISBN-13: 9781604733006
E-ISBN-10: 1604733004
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578069613
Print-ISBN-10: 1578069610

Publication Year: 2007