Joan Blondell (born Rose Joan Blondell, August 30, 1906 - December 25, 1979) was an American actor from The Golden Age of Hollywood famous for her street-wise, deadpan snarkers, and her sultry sexiness. Her most famous roles come from The '30s during The Pre-Code Era where she worked for Warner Bros., perfectly fitting their house style of realism. She made nearly 40 films between the years of 1930-1934.
Born into a vaudeville family, she worked on the road and grew a love for acting. At the age of 24, together with fellow native New Yorker, James Cagney, she was discovered by Al Jolson. He bought the play they were working on, Penny Arcade, and sold it to Warner Bros. with the caveat that both Cagney and Blondell star in the film. That film didn't make much of a splash, but Cagney grew to greater heights with classics of The Pre-Code Era while Blondell never quite reached stardom even with all her winning qualities. Even so, they starred in seven films together and maintained a close friendship throughout the years.
She was a Busby Berkeley regular, appearing in several of his famous song and dance films and is immortalized for her musical number in the “Remember My Forgotten Man” sequence from Gold Diggers of 1933. In most of her pre-code films, she solidified her screen persona that wasn’t all that different from real life: down-to-earth, tough, and honest.
With The Hays Code crackdown, there came a decline for many actors who reveled in the pre-code sauciness. Blondell was one of the victims and starred in lackluster roles thereafter, never recreating the fun of her pre-codes. She still managed to lead the life of a respectable character actor with parts in films and on the stage. There are still some post-pre-code highlights that include Nightmare Alley, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Desk Set, and The Blue Veil. In the latter, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role, her only Oscar nomination.
In 1979, Blondell died from leukemia, having been in over 100 films.
Tropes associated with Joan Blondell's films:
- Deadpan Snarker: It’s a known fact that if Joan Blondell is in your movie, the sarcastic, snarky factor goes up 90 percent.
- Dye Hard: Bleached her natural brunette for blonde for her beginning in films and then fluctuated between the two throughout her career.
- Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: This incredibly risqué publicity photo◊ of Blondell in her Warner Brothers heyday is one of the earliest examples of this trope.
- Ms. Fanservice: Most notable films are Blonde Crazy, Night Nurse, and Smarty.
- Platonic Life-Partners: With James Cagney.
- Southern Belle: At the age of 17, she won a Miss Dallas beauty contest with a phony Southern accent she learned on the stage. She tried to invoke this trope as much as she could.
- Those Two Actors: With James Cagney (six films), Melvyn Douglas (four films) and Dick Powell (a whopping ten films).
Joan Blondell films:
- Blonde Crazy (1931)
- Illicit (1931)
- Millie (1931)
- Night Nurse (1931)
- The Public Enemy (1931)
- The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932)
- Three on a Match (1932) — Not to be confused with the game show.
- Blondie Johnson (1933)
- Footlight Parade (1933)
- Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
- Dames (1934)
- Smarty (1934)
- Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)
- Stand-In (1937)
- Cry Havoc (1943)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
- Nightmare Alley (1947)
- The Blue Veil (1951)
- Desk Set (1957)
- The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
- Grease (1978) — Her last film.