Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell (June 30, 1904 May 1, 1971)[1] was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Farrell appeared in over 100 films and television series, as well as numerous Broadway plays.[2] She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960, and won an Emmy Award for best supporting actress for her performance in the television series Ben Casey in 1963.

Glenda Farrell
Circa 1930s
Born(1904-06-30)June 30, 1904
DiedMay 1, 1971(1971-05-01) (aged 66)
Resting placeWest Point Cemetery
Years active1928–1970
Thomas Richards
(m. 1921; div. 1929)

Dr. Henry Ross
(m. 1941; her death 1971)
ChildrenTommy Farrell

Early life

Farrell was born to Charles and Wilhelmina "Minnie" Farrell, of Irish and German descent, in Enid, Oklahoma. After her family moved to Wichita, Kansas, Farrell began acting on stage with a theatrical company at age seven, playing the role of Little Eva in the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. She received a formal education at the Mount Carmel Catholic Academy.[3] When her family moved to San Diego, California, she joined the Virginia Brissac Stock Company. Farrell made the third honor roll in Motion Picture Magazine's "Fame and Fortune Contest." Her picture and biography were featured in the magazine's April 1919 issue, which also stated that Farrell had some experience in the chorus, vaudeville, and camp entertainments.[4]


1928–1939: Stage and films

In 1928, Farrell was cast as the lead actress in the play The Spider and made her film debut in a minor role in Lucky Boy. Farrell moved to New York City in 1929, where she replaced Erin O'Brien-Moore as Marion Hardy in Aurania Rouverol's play Skidding. The play later served as the basis for the Andy Hardy film series. By April 1929, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that she had played the role 355 times. Farrell appeared in a number of other plays, including Divided Honors, Recapture, and Love, Honor and Betray with George Brent, Alice Brady, and Clark Gable.

In 1930, she starred in the comedy short film The Lucky Break with Harry Fox, and in July 1930 Film Daily announced that Farrell had been cast in Mervyn LeRoy's film Little Caesar as the female lead, Olga Stassoff. Afterward, she returned to Broadway and starred in On the Spot at the Forrest Theater. At the time, Farrell conceded that motion pictures offered immense salaries, but felt the theater was the foundation of the actor's profession.[4] She appeared in several more plays, and in 1932, starred in the hit play Life Begins. Her performance in the play caught the attention of Jack Warner, who signed her to a long-term contract with the Warner Bros. film studio and cast her to recreate the role in Warner Bros.' film adaptation of Life Begins later that year. Farrell did not return to the stage until 1939.

In her first two years with Warner Bros., Farrell starred in 17 films, including Girl Missing (1933), Gambling Ship (1933), Man's Castle (1933) opposite Spencer Tracy, and Columbia Pictures' Lady for a Day (1933) by director Frank Capra. Farrell often worked on four films at once and managed to transition from one role to another effortlessly. She worked in over 20 movies between 1934 and 1936, starring in films such as Go into Your Dance (1935), Little Big Shot (1935), and High Tension (1936). She appeared with Dick Powell and Joan Blondell in the Academy Award-nominated Gold Diggers of 1935 and Gold Diggers of 1937 musical film series. Farrell was very close friends with fellow Warner Bros. actress Joan Blondell,[5] and throughout the early 1930s, they were paired as bombshell comedy duo in a series of five Warner Bros. movies: Havana Widows (1933), Kansas City Princess (1934), Traveling Saleslady (1935), We're in the Money (1935), and Miss Pacific Fleet (1935). Farrell and Blondell co-starred in a total of nine films. Together, they came to personify the smart and sassy, wisecracking dames of '30s and '40s film.

Torchy Blane series

In 1937, Farrell was given her own film series as Torchy Blane the fast-talking newspaper reporter.[6] In this role, she was promoted as being able to speak 400 words in 40 seconds. Warner Bros. began to develop a film adaptation of "MacBride and Kennedy" stories by detective novelist Frederick Nebel in 1936. For the film version, Kennedy is changed to a woman named "Torchy" Blane and in love with MacBride's character. Director Frank MacDonald immediately knew whom he wanted for the role of Torchy Blane. Farrell had already proved that she could play hard-boiled reporters in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Hi, Nellie! (1934). She was quickly cast as Torchy with Barton MacLane playing detective Steve McBride in the first Torchy Blane film, Smart Blonde. On her portrayal of the Torchy Blane character, Farrell said in her 1969 Time interview:

So before I undertook to do the first Torchy, I determined to create a real human beingand not an exaggerated comedy type. I met those [news-women] who visited Hollywood and watched them work on visits to New York City. They were generally young, intelligent, refined, and attractive. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies.[2]

Smart Blonde was a surprise hit and became a popular second feature with moviegoers. Warner Bros. starred her in several more Torchy Blane movies opposite Barton MacLane. She portrayed Torchy in seven films from 1937 to 1939. The films took Farrell's popularity to a new level. She was beloved by the moviegoing public and received a huge amount of fan mail for the films.

Along with starring in the Torchy Blane series, Farrell appeared in a number of other films, including Breakfast for Two (1937), Hollywood Hotel (1937), and Prison Break (1938). Additionally, she performed in several radio series, including Vanity and Playhouse in 1937, and Manhattan Latin with Humphrey Bogart in 1938.

Farrell was elected to a one-year term as the honorary mayor of North Hollywood in 1937, beating her competition Bing Crosby and Lewis Stone by a three-to-one margin. Despite the fact that it began as a Warner Bros. publicity stunt, Farrell took the job very seriously, attending functions, presentations, and ceremonies. She was also put in charge when the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that it wanted to put sewers along Ventura Highway and started the groundwork for that project.[2]

In 1939, after seven years working in films, when her Warner Bros. contract expired, Farrell left the studio and returned to the theater. "There's something more satisfying about working in a play. You get that immediate response from the audience, and you feel that your performance is your own. In pictures, you get frustrated because you feel you have no power over what you're doing," Farrell told syndicated columnist Bob Thomas in 1952.

1939–1969: Television, stage, and films

Farrell starred in the lead role in the play Anna Christie at the Westport Country Playhouse in July 1939, then followed that with a summer stock production of S. N. Behrman's play Brief Moment. She co-starred with Lyle Talbot and Alan Dinehart in the long-running play Separate Rooms at Broadway's Plymouth Theater for a successful 613-performance run throughout 1940 and 1941.

In 1941, Farrell returned to motion pictures, starring in director Mervyn LeRoy's film noir, Johnny Eager. She starred in the play The Life of Reilly on Broadway in April 1942. Throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s, Farrell continued to appear in numerous films, including the Academy Award-nominated The Talk of the Town (1942), Heading for Heaven (1947), and the 1954 Charlton Heston adventure epic Secret of the Incas, upon which the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was based a quarter-century later.[7]

She starred in the comedy films Kissin' Cousins with Elvis Presley, and The Disorderly Orderly with Jerry Lewis in 1964. In both films, Farrell co-starred with her son, Tommy Farrell.

Farrell made her television debut in 1949 in the anthology series The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. She appeared in over 40 television series between 1950 and 1969, including Kraft Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, The United States Steel Hour, Bonanza, and Bewitched. She won the Emmy Award for outstanding performance in a supporting role by an actress in 1963 for her performance as Martha Morrison in the medical drama series Ben Casey.

Farrell briefly retired in 1968, but soon decided to return to acting. Farrell's final work in her long career was the Broadway play Forty Carats. She was appearing in Forty Carats at the Morosco Theatre until ill health forced her to leave the play a few months later. Farrell was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer.[2]


Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane was credited by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel as the inspiration for the Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.[8] Siegel also named June Farrell, one of the characters in his Funnyman comic book series, after Farrell.

Farrell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to motion pictures, at 6524 Hollywood Boulevard.[9]

In 1977, Farrell's husband Dr. Henry Ross donated 38 acres of land to the Putnam County Land Trust, establishing the Glenda Farrell-Henry Ross Preserve.

Personal life

In 1920, Farrell was hired to do a dance routine at a Navy benefit ball in San Diego. There she met her first husband, Thomas Richards.[10] They were married from 1921 to 1929. Their son, actor Tommy Farrell, was born in 1921. In 1931, she was engaged to Jack Durant of the comedy duo "Mitchell and Durant" but never married him.[11] She dated screenwriter Robert Riskin a few years later.

In 1941, Farrell sprained her ankle during a performance of the play Separate Rooms, and was treated backstage by Dr. Henry Ross, who had been called forth from the audience.[2] Farrell and Ross were married soon after.[12] Ross was a staff surgeon at New York's Polyclinic Hospital and West Point graduate, who later served as chief of the public health section on General Eisenhower's staff.[13] Farrell and Ross remained married until her death 30 years later. Farrell was a devout Catholic.[14]


In 1971, Farrell died from lung cancer, aged 66, at her home in New York City and was interred in the West Point Cemetery in West Point, New York.[15][16] When Ross, who did not remarry, died in 1991, he was buried with her.[13]


Year Title Role Notes
1928Lucky BoyUncredited
1930The Lucky BreakShort
1931Little CaesarOlga Stassoff
1932Scandal for SaleStellaUncredited
Life BeginsFlorette Darien
Three on a MatchMrs. Black
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain GangMarie Woods
The Match KingBabe
1933Mystery of the Wax MuseumFlorence Dempsey
Grand SlamBlondie
Girl MissingKay Curtis
The KeyholeDot
How to Break 90 #2: Position and Back SwingGolfer's WifeShort, Uncredited
Gambling ShipJeanne Sands
Mary Stevens, M.D.Glenda Carroll
Lady for a DayMissouri Martin
Bureau of Missing PersonsBelle Howard Saunders
Havana WidowsSadie Appleby
Man's CastleFay La Rue
Central Airport
1934The Big ShakedownLily 'Lil' Duran
Hi Nellie!Gerry Krale
Dark HazardValerie 'Val' Wilson
I've Got Your NumberBonnie
Heat LightningMrs. Tifton
Merry Wives of RenoBunny Fitch
The Personality KidJoan McCarty
Kansas City PrincessMarie Callahan
The Secret BrideHazel Normandie
1935Gold Diggers of 1935Betty Hawes
Traveling SalesladyClaudette
Go into Your DanceMolly Howard
In CalienteClara
We're in the MoneyDixie Tilton
Little Big ShotJean
Miss Pacific FleetMae O'Brien
1936Snowed UnderDaisy Lowell
The Law in Her HandsDorothy 'Dot' Davis
Nobody's FoolRuby Miller
High TensionEdith McNeil
Here Comes CarterVerna Kennedy
Gold Diggers of 1937Genevieve Larkin
1937Smart BlondeTorchy Blane
Fly-Away Baby
Dance Charlie DanceFanny Morgan
You Live and LearnMamie Wallis
Sunday Night at the TrocaderoGlenda FarrellShort
Breakfast for TwoCarol Wallace
The Adventurous BlondeTorchy Blane
Hollywood HotelJonesy
1938Blondes at WorkTorchy Blane
Stolen HeavenRita
Prison BreakJean Fenderson
The Road to RenoSylvia Shane
Exposed'Click' Stewart
Torchy Gets Her ManTorchy Blane
Breakdowns of 1938Torchy BlaneShort, uncredited outtakes
1939Torchy Blane in ChinatownTorchy Blane
Torchy Runs for Mayor
1941Johnny EagerMae Blythe
1942Twin BedsSonya Cherupin
The Talk of the TownRegina Bush
1943City Without MenBillie LaRue
A Night for CrimeSusan Cooper
Klondike KateMolly
1944Ever Since VenusBabs Cartwright
1947Heading for HeavenNora Elkins
1948I Love TroubleHazel Bixby
Mary LouWinnie Winford
Lulu BelleMolly Benson
1952Apache War SmokeFanny Webson
1953Girls in the NightAlice Haynes
1954Secret of the IncasMrs. Winston
Susan Slept HereMaude Snodgrass
1955The Girl in the Red Velvet SwingMrs. Nesbit
1959Middle of the NightMrs. Mueller
The Bells of St. Mary'sTV movie
1961A String of BeadsTV movie
Special for Women: The Glamour TrapBeauty OperatorTV movie
1964Kissin' CousinsMa Tatum
The Disorderly OrderlyDr. Jean Howard
1970Tiger by the TailSarah Harvey(final film role)

Television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1949The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre
1950The Silver TheatreGaudy Lady
1951Starlight TheatreDorine
Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre
Prudential Family PlayhouseEffie Flound
1953Tales of Tomorrow
Armstrong Circle TheatreSerena Price2 episodes
1955Goodyear PlayhouseMrs. Davis
The Elgin HourMrs. Dane
1956The Kaiser Aluminum Hour
The Alcoa HourEloise Schroeder
Front Row CenterMay Cooper
1957The 20th Century-Fox HourMae Swasey
The Sheriff of CochiseSarah Avery
Kraft TheatreStella Harvey / Alma Wilkes5 episodes
1958Studio One in HollywoodClaire / Mrs. Endsley / Irene4 episodes
Cimarron CityMaggie Arkins
1959The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen
General Electric TheaterMrs. Brady
Wagon TrainBelle MacAbee
Buick-Electra Playhouse
1960Play of the WeekRose Frobisher
The IslandersMrs. Dan King
1961Westinghouse PlayhouseLaura
1962Frontier CircusMa Jukes
The DefendersEdna Holley
Route 66Laverne
1963Ben CaseyMartha Morrison2 episodes
Won the Emmy Award for outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress.
The United States Steel HourGrace Smith / Edna Huntington / Mrs. Rausch5 episodes
RawhideMrs. Elizabeth Farragut
Dr. KildareVera Dennis
The FugitiveMrs. Maggie Lambert
1964BonanzaLulabelle 'Looney' Watkins
1968Felony SquadJeanette Anderson
1969BewitchedHortense Rockeford


  1. "Hollywood Star Walk: Glenda Farrell". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  2. Bubbeo, Daniel. "Glenda Farrell: The Gimme Girl". The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. pp. 74, 79–80, 82. ISBN 0786411376.
  3. "Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy". Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  4. Aliperti, Cliff (September 10, 2013). "Glenda Farrell Biography and 1930s Hollywood Heyday". Immortal Ephemera. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  5. "My Pal Glenda". Hollywood Magazine. January 1936. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  6. Backer, Ron (August 25, 2012). Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood - Torchy Blane: The Investigative Reporter. McFarland. p. 258. ISBN 0786469757.
  7. Mike French & Gilles Verschuere (2005-09-14). "Debora Nadoolman interview". Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  8. Siegel, Joanne. "The True Inspiration for Lois Lane". Superman Home Page. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  9. "Glenda Farrell". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  10. Van Neste, Dan. "Glenda Farrell: Diamond in the Rough". Classic Images. May 1998. Issue 275.
  11. "Los Angeles Actress To Wed In June", Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1931, p. 11.
  12. "Glenda To Wed", The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana. February 6, 1941, p. 5.
  13. "Dr. Henry Ross, 89, Eisenhower's Chief Of Health in War". The New York Times. June 28, 1991. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  14. Garson Kanin, “Glenda Farrell 1904-1971”, New York Times, May 16, 1971, p. 14. (Retrieved 2017-05-04.)
  15. "Actress Glenda Farrell Dies in N.Y. at Age 66", European Stars and Stripes, May 3, 1971, p. 6.
  16. Garson Kanin, “Glenda Farrell 1904-1971”, New York Times, May 16, 1971, p. 14. (Retrieved 2017-05-04.)
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