Joan Blondell

Rose Joan Blondell (August 30, 1906 – December 25, 1979) was an American actress[1] who performed in movies and on television for half a century. She began her career in vaudeville.

Joan Blondell
Rose Joan Blondell

(1906-08-30)August 30, 1906
DiedDecember 25, 1979(1979-12-25) (aged 73)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Years active1927–1979
Children2, including Norman S. Powell

After winning a beauty pageant, Blondell embarked upon a film career. She established herself as a pre-Code staple of Warner Bros. pictures in roles as a sexy, wisecracking blonde, and appeared in more than 100 movies and television productions. She was most active in films during the 1930s, and during that time she co-starred with Glenda Farrell in nine films, in which the duo portrayed gold-diggers. Blondell continued acting on screen 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 two more films — Grease (1978), and The Champ (1979), which was released shortly before her death from leukemia.

Early life

Rose Joan Blondell was born in New York to a vaudeville family; she gave her birthdate as August 30, 1909.[2] Her father, Levi Bluestein, a vaudeville comedian known as Ed Blondell,[3][4] 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.[5][6][7][8] Blondell's mother was Kathryn ("Katie") Cain, born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on April 13, 1884, 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".[9]

Joan had spent a year in Honolulu (1914–15)[10] 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.[11] While there (and after high school), she gave her name as Rosebud Blondell, such as[12] when she attended North Texas State Teacher’s College (1926–1927), now the University of North Texas in Denton,[13] where her mother was a local stage actress.


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.[14] 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, named Sinners' Holiday (1930). 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",[7]:34 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 several more times with James Cagney in films, including The Public Enemy (1931), and she 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 unemployed people 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.

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.[2] 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 theater, performing in summer stock and touring with Cole Porter's musical, Something for the Boys.[2] 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.[2] 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).

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.

Also in 1963, Blondell was cast as the widowed Lucy Tutaine in the episode, "The Train and Lucy Tutaine", on the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. In the story line, Lucy sues a railroad company, against great odds, for causing the death of her cow. Noah Beery Jr., was cast as Abel.[15]

In 1964, she appeared in the episode "What's in the Box?" of The Twilight Zone. She guest-starred in the episode "You're All Right, Ivy" on 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 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 her daughters.[16]

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 title 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.[17] 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.[7]:10

Personal life

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 known as Norman Powell. Joan and George divorced in 1936.

On September 19, 1936, she married her second husband Dick Powell, an actor, director, and singer. 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).

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.[7] 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 left Blondell for Elizabeth Taylor, when in fact, she had left Todd of her own accord years before he met Taylor.


Blondell died of leukemia in Santa Monica, California, on Christmas Day, 1979, with her children and her sister at her bedside.[2] She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[18]


Feature films

Year Title Role Notes
1930 The Office Wife Katherine Mudcock [19]
1930 Sinners' Holiday Myrtle [19]
1931 Other Men's Women Marie [19]
1931 Millie Angie Wickerstaff [19]
1931 Illicit Helen Dukie Childers [19]
1931 God's Gift to Women Fifi [19]
1931 The Public Enemy Mamie [19]
1931 My Past Marian Moore [19]
1931 Big Business Girl Pearl [19]
1931 Night Nurse Maloney [19]
1931 The Reckless Hour Myrtle Nichols [19]
1931 Blonde Crazy Ann Roberts [19]
1932 Union Depot Ruth Collins [19]
1932 The Greeks Had a Word for Them Schatze Citroux [19]
1932 The Crowd Roars Anne Scott [19]
1932 The Famous Ferguson Case Maizie Dickson [19]
1932 Make Me a Star Flips Montague [19]
1932 Miss Pinkerton Miss Adams [19]
1932 Big City Blues Vida Fleet [19]
1932 Three on a Match Mary Keaton [19]
1932 Central Park Dot [19]
1933 Lawyer Man Olga Michaels [19]
1933 Broadway Bad Tony Landers [19]
1933 Blondie Johnson Blondie Johnson [19]
1933 Gold Diggers of 1933 Carol King [19]
1933 Goodbye Again Anne Rogers [19]
1933 Footlight Parade Nan Prescott [19]
1933 Havana Widows Mae Knight [19]
1933 Convention City Nancy Lorraine Lost film[19]
1934 I've Got Your Number Marie Lawson [19]
1934 He Was Her Man Rose Lawrence [19]
1934 Smarty Vickie Wallace [19]
1934 Dames Mabel Anderson [19]
1934 Kansas City Princess Rosie Sturges [19]
1935 Traveling Saleslady Angela Twitchell [19]
1935 Broadway Gondolier Alice Hughes [19]
1935 We're in the Money Ginger Stewart [19]
1935 Miss Pacific Fleet Gloria Fay [19]
1936 Colleen Minnie Hawkins [19]
1936 Sons o' Guns Yvonne [19]
1936 Bullets or Ballots Lee Morgan [19]
1936 Stage Struck Peggy Revere [19]
1936 Three Men on a Horse Mabel [19]
1936 Gold Diggers of 1937 Norma Perry [19]
1937 The King and the Chorus Girl Dorothy Ellis [19]
1937 Back in Circulation Timmy Blake [19]
1937 The Perfect Specimen Mona Carter [19]
1937 Stand-In Lester Plum [19]
1938 There's Always a Woman Sally Reardon [19]
1939 Off the Record Jane Morgan [19]
1939 East Side of Heaven Mary Wilson [19]
1939 The Kid from Kokomo Doris Harvey [19]
1939 Good Girls Go to Paris Jenny Swanson [19]
1939 The Amazing Mr. Williams Maxine Carroll [19]
1940 Two Girls on Broadway Molly Mahoney [19]
1940 I Want a Divorce Geraldine Brokaw [19]
1941 Topper Returns Gail Richards [19]
1941 Model Wife Joan Keathing Chambers [19]
1941 Three Girls About Town Hope Banner [19]
1942 Lady for a Night Jenny Blake [19]
1942 Cry 'Havoc' Grace Lambert [19]
1945 A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Aunt Sissy [19]
1945 Don Juan Quilligan Margie Mossrock [19]
1945 Adventure Helen Melohn [19]
1947 The Corpse Came C.O.D. Rosemary Durant [19]
1947 Nightmare Alley Zeena [19]
1947 Christmas Eve Ann Nelson [19]
1950 For Heaven's Sake Daphne [19]
1951 The Blue Veil Annie Rawlins Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress[19]
1956 The Opposite Sex Edith Potter [19]
1957 Lizzie Aunt Morgan [19]
1957 Desk Set Peg Costello [19]
1957 This Could Be the Night Crystal [19]
1957 Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Violet [19]
1961 Angel Baby Mollie Hays [19]
1964 Advance to the Rear Easy Jenny [19]
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Lady Fingers National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture[19]
1966 Ride Beyond Vengeance Mrs. Lavender [19]
1967 Waterhole #3 Lavinia [19]
1967 Winchester '73 Larouge TV movie
1967 The Spy in the Green Hat Mrs. "Fingers" Steletto
1968 Stay Away, Joe Glenda Callahan [19]
1968 Kona Coast Kittibelle Lightfoot [19]
1969 Big Daddy [19]
1970 The Phynx Ruby [19]
1971 Support Your Local Gunfighter! Jenny [19]
1975 The Dead Don't Die Levinia TV movie
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Landlady [19]
1976 Death at Love House Marcella Geffenhart
1977 The Baron
1977 Opening Night Sarah Goode Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture[19]
1978 Grease Vi [19]
1979 Battered Edna Thompson NBC TV movie
1979 The Champ Dolly Kenyon [19]
1979 The Glove Mrs. Fitzgerald
1981 Feud 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[20]:50
1930 The Devil's Parade Vitaphone Varieties release 992 (February 1930)
Cast: Sidney Toler[20]:52
1930 The Heart Breaker Vitaphone Varieties release 1012–1013 (March 1930)
Cast: Eddie Foy, Jr.[20]:53
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.[20]:226
1933 Just Around the Corner
1934 Hollywood Newsreel
1941 Meet the Stars #2: Baby Stars
1965 The Cincinnati Kid Plays According to Hoyle


1961 The Untouchables Hannah 'Lucy' Wagnall Episode: "The Underground Court"
1963 The Virginian Rosanna Dobie Episode: "To Make This Place Remember"
1963 Wagon Train Ma Bleecker Episode: "The Bleecker Story"
1964 The Twilight Zone Phyllis Britt Episode: "What's in the Box"
1964 Bonanza Lillian Manfred Episode: "The Pressure Game"
1965 My Three Sons Harriet Blanchard Episode: "Office Mother"
1968–70Here Come the BridesLottie Hatfield52 episodes[21][22]
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1969–70)
1971 McCloud - ″Top of the World, Ma!″ Ernestine White Episode: "Top of the World, Ma"
1972–73 Banyon Peggy Revere 8 episodes
1979 The Rebels Mrs. Brumple TV movie

Radio broadcasts

1946Hollywood Star TimeThe Lady Eve[23]


  1. Obituary Variety, December 26, 1979.
  2. "Joan Blondell, Actress, Dies at 70; Often Played Wisecracking Blonde". The New York Times. December 26, 1979. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  3. "[Unknown]". The Republic. Columbus, Indiana. October 7, 1971. p. 26. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. The Katzenjammer Kids will be presented in Franklin this evening, the company having passed through here this morning on the way to that place. "Eddie Blondell's true name is Levi Bluestein, and he was a resident of Columbus many years ago, living with his father at the foot of Washington street
  4. "[Unknown]". The Republic. Columbus, Indiana. January 29, 1906. p. 1. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. No allowance was made for alimony, but Mrs. Blondell seemed to be satisfied. The Blondells, who in private life were Mr. and Mrs. Levi Bluestein, have been annoyed by a case of incompatibility of temper for a long time. They were formerly a member of Katzenjammer Kids' company....
  5. "Blondell and Fennessy's hurricane of fun and frolic, The Katzenjammer Kids". United States Library of Congress. Archived from the original on February 16, 2018. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  6. "[Unknown]". Variety. November 1916. Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Rowland & Clifford, a western producing firm, have also a production in preparation under the title of 'The Katzenjammer Kids', securing the rights from Blondell & Fennessy. Both shows are scheduled to play over the International, with the Hill production to be ready by Jan. 1.
  7. Kennedy, Matthew (September 28, 2009). "Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes". University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781628461817 via Google Books.
  8. "Grave Spotlight - Joan Blondell". Archived from the original on January 2, 2016. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  9. Rathbun, Joe (December 10, 1944). "Joe's Radio Parade". Sunday Times Signal. p. 23. Archived from the original on May 4, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015 via
  10. Punahou School Alumni Directory, 1841–1991. White Plains, New York: Harris Publishing Company, 1991.
  11. Santa Monica High School Yearbook, 1925
  12. "Page 68". The Yucca. North Texas State Teacher's College. 1927. Retrieved December 2, 2019 via
  13. "Lights! Camera! University of North Texas!: Joan Blondell (1906 – 1979)". University of North Texas. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  14. Joan Blondell at the Internet Broadway Database
  15. "The Train and Lucy Tutaine on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  16. "Joan Blondell".
  17. "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Joan Blondell". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  18. Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-7864-7992-4. Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  19. "Joan Blondell". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  20. Liebman, Roy (2003). Vitaphone Films: A Catalogue of the Features and Shorts. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0786446971.
  21. Here Come the Brides - 'The Complete 2nd Season': Shout!'s Street Date, Cost, Packaging Archived November 12, 2011, at the Wayback Machine November 7, 2001
  22. Here Come the Brides - Official Press Release, Plus Rear Box Art & Revised Front Art Archived November 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine March 7, 2006
  23. "Joan Blondell In 'Lady Eve' On WHP 'Star Time'". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 21, 1946. p. 17. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2015 via

Further reading

  • Oderman, Stuart. Talking to the Piano Player 2. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 1-59393-320-7
  • Grabman, Sandra. Plain Beautiful: The Life of Peggy Ann Garner. BearManor Media, 2005. ISBN 1-59393-017-8
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