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Joan Davis
Born Madonna Josephine Davis
June 29, 1907(1907-06-29)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died May 22, 1961 (aged 53)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress, Vaudevillian
Spouse(s) Si Wills (1931–1948; 1 child)

Joan Davis (June 29, 1907 – May 22, 1961) was an American comedic actress whose career spanned vaudeville, film, radio and television. Remembered best for the 1952–55 television comedy, I Married Joan, Davis had a successful earlier career as a B-movie actress and a leading star of 1940s radio comedy.

Contents

Early years

Born as Madonna Josephine Davis in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Davis was a performer since childhood. She appeared with her husband Si Wills in vaudeville.[1]

Films

Her first film was a short subject for Educational Pictures called Way Up Thar (1935), featuring a then-unknown Roy Rogers. Educational's parent company, Twentieth Century-Fox, signed Davis for feature films. Tall and lanky, with a comically flat speaking voice, she became known as one of the few female physical clowns of her time. Perhaps best known for her co-starring turn with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hold That Ghost (1941), she had a reputation for flawless physical comedy. Her pantomime sequence in Beautiful but Broke (1944) was a slapstick construction-site episode.

She co-starred with Eddie Cantor in two features, Show Business (1944) and If You Knew Susie (1948). Cantor and Davis were very close offscreen as well.

Radio

Joan Davis entered radio with an August 28, 1941 appearance on The Rudy Vallee Show and became a regular on that show four months later.

Davis then began a series of shows that established her as a top star of radio situation comedy throughout the 1940s. When Vallee left for the Coast Guard in 1943, Davis became the host of his show. With a title change to The Sealtest Village Store, Davis was the owner-operator of the store from July 8, 1943 to June 28, 1945 when she left to do Joanie's Tea Room on CBS from September 3, 1945 to June 23, 1947. Sponsored by Lever Brothers and Swan Soap, the premise had Davis running a tea shop in the little community of Smallville. The supporting cast featured Verna Felton. Harry von Zell was the announcer.

The tea shop setting continued in Joan Davis Time, a CBS Saturday night series from October 11, 1947 to July 3, 1948. With Lionel Stander as the tea shop manager, the cast also included Hans Conried, Mary Jane Croft, the Choraliers quintet and John Rarig and his Orchestra.

Leave It to Joan ran from on July 4 to August 22, 1949 as a summer replacement for Lux Radio Theater and continued from September 9, 1949 to March 3, 1950. She was also heard on CBS July 3–August 28, 1950. She was a frequent and popular performer on Tallulah Bankhead's legendary radio variety show, The Big Show (1950–52).[1]

Television

When I Love Lucy premiered in October 1951 on CBS Television and became a top-rated TV series, sponsors wanted more of the same with another actress who wasn't afraid of strenuous physical comedy. I Married Joan premiered in 1952 on NBC, casting Davis as the manic wife of a mild-mannered community judge (Jim Backus) who got her husband into wacky jams with or without the help of a younger sister, played by her real-life daughter, Beverly Wills. The series continued until 1955.[1]

Death

On May 22, 1961, Davis died of a heart attack at the age of 53.[2] She was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery mausoleum in Culver City, California. On October 24, 1963, Davis' mother, daughter, and grandchildren were all killed in a house fire in Palm Springs, California.[3]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Joan Davis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street.

Legacy

A quarter-century after her signature series left the air, Davis re-entered the American television viewer's consciousness. The original CBN cable television network began showing the old episodes of I Married Joan in 1981–82, as part of a late-night hour that also included episodes of My Little Margie. This resurrection of I Married Joan remained on the air almost as long as the show's original run.

Since 2004, various episodes of I Married Joan and have become available on budget DVD releases and through Netflix. I Married Joan also became available on the Retro Network.

Filmography

Year Title Role Other notes
1935 Way Up Thar Jennie Kirk
Millions in the Air Singer
1936 Bunker Bean Mabel, Bunker's Secretary Uncredited
1937 The Holy Terror Lili
On the Avenue Miss Katz — Dibble's Secretary
Time Out for Romance Midge Dooley
The Great Hospital Mystery Flossie Duff Alternative title: Dead Yesterday
Angel's Holiday Strivers
Sing and Be Happy Myrtle
You Can't Have Everything
Uncredited
Wake Up and Live Spanish Dancer
Thin Ice Orchestra Leader Alternative titles: Lovely to Look at, Der Komet
Life Begins in College Inez Alternative titles: Life Begins at College , The Joy Parade
Love and Hisses Joan
1938 Sally, Irene and Mary Irene Keene
Josette May Morris
My Lucky Star Mary Dwight
Hold That Co-ed Lizzie Olsen Alternative title: Hold That Girl
Just Around the Corner Kitty
1939 Tail Spin Babe Dugan
Skinny the Moocher The Maid Uncredited
Too Busy to Work Lolly
Day-Time Wife Joyce Applegate
1940 Free, Blonde and 21 Nellie
Sailor's Lady Myrtle
Manhattan Heartbeat Edna Higgins
1941 For Beauty's Sake Dottie Nickerson
Hold That Ghost Camille Brewster Alternative title: Oh, Charlie
Sun Valley Serenade Miss Carstairs
Two Latins from Manhattan Joan Daley
1942 Yokel Boy Molly Malone Alternative title: Hitting the Headlines
Sweetheart of the Fleet Phoebe Weyms
1943 He's My Guy Madge Donovan
Two Señoritas from Chicago Daisy Baker
Around the World Joan Davis
1944 Beautiful But Broke Dottie Duncan
Show Business Joan Mason
Kansas City Kitty Polly Jasper
1944 She Gets Her Man Jane "Pilky" Pilkington
George White's Scandals Joan Mason
1946 She Wrote the Book Jane Featherstone
1948 If You Knew Susie Susie Parker
1950 The Traveling Saleswoman Mabel King Producer
Love That Brute Mamie Sage
1951 The Groom Wore Spurs Alice Dean
1952 Harem Girl Susie Perkins
1952–1955 I Married Joan Joan Stevens 99 episodes, producer

Award nominations

Year Result Award Category
1953 Nominated Emmy Awards Best Comedienne

See also

Further reading

  • Ohmart, Ben. Hold That Joan — The Life, Laughs & Films of Joan Davis. Albany: BearManor Media, 2007. ISBN 1-59393-046-1.
  • Rapp, Philip. The Television Scripts of Philip Rapp. Albany: BearManor Media, 2006. ISBN 1-59393-070-4.
  • Tucker, David C. The Women Who Made Television Funny (2007). ISBN 978-0-7864-2900-4.

References

  1. ^ a b c Dunning, John. On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
  2. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. McNeilly, Donald. Routledge. p. 297. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.  
  3. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. McNeilly, Donald. Routledge. pp. 297, 298. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.  

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