The fact that Warner Bros. contract actress Joan Blondell never became a top box office draw says more about audiences – who preferred, say, Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney – than about Blondell’s screen presence and acting abilities.
As part of its “Summer Under the Stars” film series, Turner Classic Movies is currently showing 16 Joan Blondell movies today, including the TCM premiere of the 1968 crime drama Kona Coast. Directed by Lamont Johnson, Kona Coast stars Richard Boone and the capable Vera Miles. Blondell has a supporting role – one of two dozen from 1950 (For Heaven’s Sake) to 1981 (The Woman Inside, released two years after Blondell’s death from leukemia). (See Joan Blondell Movie Schedule further below.)
Unfortunately, TCM isn’t showing the super-rare (apparently due to rights issues) The Blue Veil, Curtis Bernhardt’s 1951 melodrama that earned Blondell her sole Oscar nomination (as Best Supporting Actress; she lost to A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Kim Hunter). Or infrequently seen fare such as Lowell Sherman’s comedy The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932); William A. Graham’s Waterhole #3 (1967); Lee H. Katzin’s The Phynx (1970), a curiosity thanks to its numerous star cameos (Martha Raye, Busby Berkeley, Butterfly McQueen, Ruby Keeler, etc.); or Joseph Van Winkle’s aforementioned The Woman Inside. And will someone please unearth the lost pre-Coder Convention City?
But there’s Frank Tashlin’s enjoyable Hollywood satire Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), starring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield at their very best as, respectively, an ad man and a movie star. Blondell steals every scene she’s in as Mansfield’s no-nonsense personal assistant.
Though John G. Adolfi’s Sinners’ Holiday (1930) has Grant Withers and Evelyn Knapp as its nominal leads, this social/crime drama is chiefly remembered for the presence of supporting players Blondell and James Cagney, who would be featured in several other movies together. Among those were Busby Berkeley’s classic show-biz musical Footlight Parade (1933) and the minor He Was Her Man (1934), both on TCM today.
Ray Enright’s Dames (1934) is nice-looking (cinematography by George Barnes, Sid Hickox, and Sol Polito) and it offers several entertaining Busby Berkeley’s numbers. However, Dames lacks the zest of, say, Mervyn LeRoy’s Gold Diggers of 1933.
I haven’t watched either Tay Garnett’s Stand-In (1937) or Richard Thorpe’s Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943). The former is a generally well-liked Hollywood satire starring Leslie Howard as an accountant at odds with the Hollywood film production system; the latter is a war drama told through a female prism – much like that year’s So Proudly We Hail!, which starred Paramount players Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake. In Cry Havoc we mostly have MGM contract players being patriotic on Bataan, including Margaret Sullavan, Marsha Hunt, Frances Gifford, and MGM’s answer to Blondell, Ann Sothern, in addition to Fay Bainter, Ella Raines, Diana Lewis, and Heather Angel.
And finally, those interested in Joan Blondell should check out Matthew Kennedy‘s excellent Blondell biography Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes. Matt, whom I’ve known for several years, explains that he found Blondell a great biographical subject because of her “multiple contradictions.” In his words (from A Life Between Takes):
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 showcased and never won a major award. She was a most steadfast friend to many, yet her three marriages ended badly.”
Blondell’s three marriages were to Oscar-winning cinematographer George Barnes (Rebecca, Spellbound, Samson and Delilah, and the aforementioned Dames); actor Dick Powell, with whom she appeared in several Warner Bros. films – though Powell was usually paired up with Ruby Keeler – and who left her for June Allyson; and showman-movie producer Michael Todd, who physically abused her before moving on to romance Evelyn Keyes, and later to romance and marry Elizabeth Taylor. Check out my q&as with Matt Kennedy about his research on Joan Blondell, Edmund Goulding, and Marie Dressler.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
6:00 AM THE RECKLESS HOUR (1931) A young innocent almost ruins her life for the love of an unfeeling cad. Director: John Francis Dillon. Cast: Dorothy Mackaill, Conrad Nagel, H.B. Warner. Black and white. 71 min.
7:15 AM BIG CITY BLUES (1932) A country boy finds love and heartache in New York City. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Joan Blondell, Eric Linden, Jobyna Howland. Black and white. 63 min.
8:30 AM CENTRAL PARK (1932) Small-town kids out to make it in the big city inadvertently get mixed up with gangsters. Director: John G. Adolfi. Cast: Joan Blondell, Wallace Ford, Guy Kibbee. Black and white. 58 min.
9:30 AM LAWYER MAN (1933) Success corrupts a smooth-talking lawyer. Director: William Dieterle. Cast: William Powell, Joan Blondell, David Landau. Black and white. 68 min.
10:45 AM TRAVELING SALESLADY (1935) A toothpaste tycoon’s daughter joins his rival to teach him a lesson. Director: Ray Enright. Cast: Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, William Gargan. Black and white. 63 min.
12:00 PM COLLEEN (1936) An eccentric millionaire hires a gold digger to run his business. Director: Alfred E. Green. Cast: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Jack Oakie. Black and white. 90 min.
1:30 PM WE’RE IN THE MONEY (1935) Gold-digging process servers set their sights on a breach of promise defendant. Director: Ray Enright. Cast: Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Hugh Herbert. Black and white. 66 min.
2:45 PM GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933) Three chorus girls fight to keep their show going and find rich husbands. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon. Black and white. 98 min.
4:30 PM FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) A producer fights labor problems, financiers and his greedy ex-wife to put on a show. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler. Black and white. 104 min.
6:30 PM HE WAS HER MAN (1934) A safecracker goes straight to get back at some fellow crooks. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Victor Jory. Black and white. 70 min.
8:00 PM SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (1930) A jealous young man frames his sister’s boyfriend. Director: John G. Adolfi. Cast: Grant Withers, Evelyn Knapp, James Cagney, Joan Blondell. Black and white. 60 min.
9:15 PM DAMES (1934) A reformer’s daughter wins the lead in a scandalous Broadway show. Director: Ray Enright. Cast: Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler. Black and white. 91 min.
11:00 PM STAND-IN (1937) An efficiency expert tries to streamline operations at a Hollywood studio. Director: Tay Garnett. Cast: Leslie Howard, Joan Blondell, Humphrey Bogart. Black and white. 90 min.
12:45 AM CRY HAVOC (1943) A group of war nurses fights to survive the siege of Bataan. Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: Margaret Sullavan, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell. Black and white. 97 min.
2:30 AM WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957) A lowly adman tries to better his lot by courting a glamorous Hollywood star. Director: Frank Tashlin. Cast: Tony Randall, Jayne Mansfield, Betsy Drake. Color. 93 min. Letterbox Format.
4:15 AM KONA COAST (1968) A Hawaiian boat captain tries to prove a wealthy playboy killed his daughter. Director: Lamont Johnson. Cast: Richard Boone, Vera Miles, Joan Blondell. Color. 93 min. Letterbox Format.
Turner Classic Movies website.
See also: Actress Joan Blondell on TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars.”