Monday's Glamour Starter --- Joan Leslie
Why Joan Leslie for Glamour Starter when we could have picked Hedy Lamarr (and she’s coming, by the way), or Jane Russell, or any number of obvious choices? Well, it’s because we think she’s cute, and because we do try to avoid the obvious here at the Greenbriar. Besides, we really admire the way Joanie handled her life after she got out of the star business, but more on this anon. As it happens, she just had a birthday --- turned 81 this past Thursday --- and get this --- Joan Leslie was born the same day as Paul Newman --- I mean the very same day!! Really freaked me out to learn this. She seems older than Hud. I had this image of Paul in his knickers watching Joanie with Bogart in High Sierra, and dancing with Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, his feet just barely touching the floor of the little grindhouse where he grew up.
The amazing thing about Joanie is the fact that she was only sixteen when she stepped before the camera with Mad Dog Earle, and only fifteen when she was signed to do High Sierra. Her backstory was a familiar one for those days. She and her sisters seem to have taken every singing, dancing, and overall precocity award to be had around Detroit in the early thirties, till old man Depression hit, and suddenly Dad was out of a job, and desperation was just around the corner. It’s easy to be glib about a thing like this now, but you gotta admire the way these people persevered in the face of such odds. Tough breed, those crash veterans. One of the precocious sisters eventually opened a few Hollywood doors, and suddenly Joan was in, doing a Camille kid-bit, and even scoring a momentary on-set acknowledgement from Garbo herself (the self-same Garbo who turned down Basil Rathbone’s request for an inscribed photo when they made Anna Karenina together --- we can never forgive anyone doing a thing like that to our Basil). Anyway, Joan ended up at WB, where the star build-up went into high gear before the ink dried on her first contract. She says Bogie himself did the High Sierra test with her. What a pro. He could have stayed home that day, fought with Mayo, and left the gig to John Ridgely or Dane Clark, but Bogart was nothing if not a dedicated actor, and to top that, he even forbade swearing on the set in deference to little Joanie. Reminds us once again that Bogart was basically a Victorian at heart. Question is, why did they keep letting that squirrelly Mayo Methot onto the lot to torment this poor man? Joan’s not the first interview to mention that in connection with Bogart tensions during a shoot. Always jealous of the leading ladies, hovering around the set … this guy really needed somebody stationed at the door! There’s a fantastic Warners short Joanie did in that first year called Alice In Movieland, where she plays a variation on her own climb-to-stardom story (a lot like Fox’s terrific Stardust with Linda Darnell). It’s an extra on the DVD with The Sea Hawk, and worth the price of the disc by itself. As for the Warners career, it ended up in a courtroom when Joan turned twenty-one. She wanted out, and eventually made the break, but smiling Jack L. got the word around that she wasn’t a "team player", so some lean years followed, first with Eagle-Lion, then at Republic. I remember having a 16mm network print of an old TV show once where she did a shampoo commercial. The happy ending came with a good marriage, kids that turned out well, and a dress design business. Joan Leslie does a lot of festivals and screenings as well. It’d be great to meet her someday.
These stills really point up the scattershot, schizo madhouse that was the WB publicity mill (that scene from It’s A Great Feeling with the flacks at work does have a near-documentary flavor!). First Joan’s the earnest schoolgirl taking lessons on the set. Now, pardon our cynicism here, but this sure looks like a phony-baloney- let’s-just-barely-comply-with-child-labor-laws set-up to us. Joan says the kids had to pull three hours a day, usually in fifteen-minute increments. You don’t get many Phi Beta Kappa keys on a schedule like that! No wonder so many former child actors come off like Mortimer Snerd when they’re interviewed (not Joan though --- she was really bright, and both her kids became college professors!). The insanely stupid pose with the turkey might well have called the whole movie star idea into question for Joan, especially since this hungry gobbler looks as though he’s getting ready to share something pretty "fowl" with his co-star (they say turkey bites hurt). Watch out, Joanie, or you’ll end up like Old Yeller! Hard to blame him though, as we might well have made the same selection from the menu had we been there! Our personal favorite is the pouty pose, mainly because we just generally go for pouty poses. The one with Cagney needs no explanation. We are ashamed to say it’s the first still of James Cagney that we have uploaded on this site. No excuse for that, as we think he’s great, and we do intend to redeem ourselves on that account in weeks to come. Finally, the sultry pose. This was done for Janie Gets Married, the kind of vehicle that made Joanie start ringing up lawyers. She’s better at pouty, don’t you think? We do.