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Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy

Joan Blondell. Those who have heard the name will most likely picture either a blowsy, older woman playing the worldwise but warm-hearted saloon owner in the late 1960s television series Here Come the Brides, or a lively, fast-talking, no-nonsense, and unconventionally sexy gold digger in numerous Pre-Code Warner Bros. comedies and musicals of the early 1930s.

Matthew Kennedy's Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes (University Press of Mississippi, 2007) seeks to rectify that cultural memory lapse. Not that Blondell doesn't deserve to be remembered for Here Come the Brides or, say, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Havana Widows, and Broadway Bad. It's just that her other work – from her immensely touching performance as a sexually liberated woman in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to her invariably welcome (if brief) appearances in films as varied as The Blue Veil, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and Grease – should be remembered as well.

As the title indicates, Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes explores the life and career of this actress who, though never a major star, remained a popular leading lady and, later, supporting player – on film, stage, and television – for half a century.

Among Blondell's partners in crime during her Warner Bros. years were Glenda Farrell, Ruby Keeler, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, and Aline MacMahon. Her leading men included the likes of Warren William, Dick Powell, William Powell, Errol Flynn, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Ricardo Cortez, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Pat O'Brien, Wayne Morris, and Leslie Howard. Later on, she supported just about everybody, from Jane Wyman and Jayne Mansfield to Jon Voight and John Travolta.

Her list of directors ranged from Busby Berkeley (Dames, Stage Struck) to John Cassavetes (Opening Night), from Mervyn LeRoy (Gold Diggers of 1933) to Franco Zeffirelli (The Champ), from Elia Kazan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) to Frank Tashlin (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?).

Throughout her career, Blondell received several best supporting actress nods: an Academy Award nomination for her performance as a mother too busy with her own life to pay much attention to her offspring in Curtis Bernhardt's 1951 melodrama The Blue Veil (Jane Wyman steps in to save the day); two Golden Globe nominations, for Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Cassavetes' Opening Night (1978); and a National Board of Review win for The Cincinnati Kid.

Additionally, she was nominated for a Tony as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for The Rope Dancers (1958), and received two Emmy nominations (1969-70) as Lead Actress in a Dramatic Series for Here Come the Brides.

If that weren't all, Blondell also kept a busy private life. She married three times: Oscar winner cinematographer George Barnes (The Greeks Had a Word for Them and other Blondell vehicles, plus Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek, The Greatest Show on Earth, and dozens of other movies), Dick Powell (they were divorced in 1944; the following year Powell married June Allyson), and producer/showman Michael Todd, who physically abused Blondell, and who later romanced Evelyn Keyes and married Elizabeth Taylor.

Blondie Johnson with Chester Morris, Joan BlondellIn November 2007, around the time Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes came out, Matt agreed to answer a few questions about his research on Blondell. This post and the q&a that follows (please see link below) were initially published then. This article has been reposted to coincide with Turner Classic Movies' presentation of several Joan Blondell films.

Matt also took part in two other q&a's for Alt Film Guide: Edmund Goulding (about his book Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy) and Marie Dressler (about Marie Dressler: A Biography).

And one very important thing about the on-screen Joan Blondell that's worth acknowledging: the desire for sex and money never turned her into a bad girl. She was pleasant no matter the role, but when she was sexy and – ahem – enterprising, she was much, much pleasanter. Let that be a moral lesson to all.

Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes cover: Joan Blondell, 1938. Photo by A. L. Schafer

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JOAN BLONDELL: A LIFE BETWEEN TAKES © 2004-2015 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s). Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.

Continue Reading: Joan Blondell Q&A with Biographer Matthew Kennedy: Warner Bros. Years, Rare THE BLUE VEIL

Previous Post: Joan Blondell Movie Schedule: STAND-IN, CRY HAVOC, KONA COAST

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  1. Meredith

    @Jessica Evans

    Hi Jessica. I wish I had seen this board earlier.

    Tell your mom and especially your grandmother "hi" from Meredith. They'll know who I am. I've been meaning to give your grandmother a call - will try to do it tonight.

  2. barbara

    This is one lady that I would have liked to meet. What a classy dame.

  3. Grace Claire

    I have always throught that Joan Blondell was a truly fine actress.

  4. Jessica Evans

    @barbara uhrig

    Ellen is my grammy and Joan (Joan blondells grand daughter) is my mommy.. They are doing very well and still living in California.. :) Just fyi..

  5. Jessica Evans

    Joan Blondell is my great grandmother.. I am Jessica Evans, they mention my name in this book.. Thanks for all the love and respect for her. She was an amazing lady for sure..

    xo Jessie

  6. Millie Snyder

    I read Joan Blondell's biography, and also June Allyson's. I have loved Joan for many, many years. Her part in Topper Returns was wonderful. I believe she really loved Dick Powell, but he
    was a first class * *. Joan was a very classy lady!
    All that I have read of June Allyson had originally intrigued me. But through much research, I found many lies in her writings. She was ashamed of her childhood, among other things. I feel more sad that she couldn't be honest about her life. She was a good actress.
    I was born during the depression, I grew up poor, like everyone else in that era, but, we were taught to work, and being 4th among 6 siblings, we all made something of ourselves. I am not ashamed of my childhood. It made me what I am today. As a child, I loved June, but later, my feelings changed as I found more truths about her. I am a big Joan "Blondell fan!

  7. barbara uhrig

    In 1964 to 1968 my husband was ranch manager for Robert Taylor and Ellen and her daughter Joanie would come and ride horses.I got to meet Joan what a lovely lady.If you know anything about Ellen and Joanie would love to hear it

  8. Andre

    "The Model and the Marriage Broker" is a 1952 movie directed by George Cukor, and starring Jeanne Crain and Thelma Ritter.
    Joan Blondell isn't in it.
    Could that be the one?

  9. lori

    I remember as a child seeing (and loving) a movie with Joan Blondell that I have not been able to track down since. In it she played a marriage broker. I remember it as Marriage and the Stockbroker or Love and the Marriagebroker I'm not sure. Anyone know what I'm talking about? What was the name of it?

  10. Barbara

    Such a great talent and underrated actress. Can't wait to read the book. Thank you.

  11. william sannuto

    Like her costar in three on a match Ann Dvorak she made bad decisions wth her husbands. Ann also ended her life in Honalulu on a fixed income very sad for both who were warner bros both should have been big stars.

  12. Excellent interview, Andre, thank you. Wonderful information here about Joan, her movies, and the entertainingly informative Mr. Kennedy.

  13. Len

    What a great page! This is well written, well laid out, interesting and well done all the way around.

    Thanks for the great information!

    I love these old movies. Will check out A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from Netflix, if they have it.


  14. Andre

    Well, then you might want to check out Matthew Kennedy's biography.

  15. Gregory

    I love Joan Blondell! She's just a beautiful woman through and through. Never read anything about her, but the images that come through of her on film says it all!

  16. Carmen Jonze

    Joan Blondell is THE BEST - love her love her love her. I'll be getting the bio asap. Thanks!


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