Birthday Tribute to Classy, Sassy Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell 1931

Joan Blondell 1931

Actress Joan Blondell was born on August 30, 1906 .  Coming from show business parents her stage career started when she was only 3 years old!  Her folks were successful vaudeville performers and Joan and her siblings got to tour the world.  A newspaper article from 1936 claimed every one of her first seven birthdays was spent in a different country.

After leaving her family vaudeville troupe, she ended up joining  a stock company,  entered a couple of beauty contests, joined the Ziegfeld Follies, got a part in the play Penny Arcade (1929) with James Cagney, which finally  led to her career in film when Warner Brothers bought the rights to the play, turning it into a movie called Sinner’s Holiday (1930) in which they contracted her and Cagney to play the lead roles. She ended up co-starring with Cagney in six films. They made such a  great wise cracking pair on screen!

Joan is crowned Miss Dallas in 1926 as Rosebud Blondell

Joan wins  Miss Dallas competition  in 1926 as Rosebud Blondell

Though Joan’s film career spanned many decades, she was in greatest demand in the 1930s.   One of the busiest actresses in Hollywood, she mostly played comedic supporting roles as the wise cracking, tough talking working girl pal to the lead actress or the sassy girlfriend of the lead actor.

She starred in over 50 movies including  Public Enemy (1931) Blonde Crazy (1931) Three on a Match (1932)Gold Diggers (1933) We’re in the Money (1935) Topper Returns (1941) Cry Havoc (1943) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) Nightmare Alley (1947) The Blue Veil (1951) in which she was nominated for an Academy Award.  She also had a successful stage career on Broadway.

Joan Blondell in shimmering gown

Joan Blondell in shimmering gown

Joan Blondell publicity photo 1930s

Joan Blondell publicity photo 1930s

Joan Blondell in black gown with velvet dots

Joan Blondell in black gown with velvet dots

Joan had always considered herself a tomboy, and not very interested in fashion.  But according to the 1936 newspaper article, when she started dating Dick Powell (whom she eventually married) she gained a new interest in clothing.

Lately (friends date the change identically with the time she began going with Dick Powell) Joan has shown an unusual interest in clothes and has become a joy to Warner Bros designer Orry Kelly for her new found ability to wear them smartly. Previously Joan could hardly be begged or brow beaten into showing up for fittings. “Oh you make it and I’ll wear it-you know what to do” she would say carelessly, then disappear for a couple of days trout fishing before a picture. But now all that has changed.  Joan’s personal wardrobe has taken on such smartness and beauty that her friends can hardly believe their eyes when Joan appears at a dance gowned in the latest mode, cleverly selected.

What a lucky lady to have Orry Kelly, the famous Hollywood costumer, designing outfits for  her movies and personal wardrobe!

Joan was one of those rare actresses who was completely unpretentious and didn’t let fame go to her head. I think this writer, quoted in the book Killer Tomatoes-Fifteen Tough Film Dames,   said it best in describing her~

Joan personifed everyone’s good friend on and off camera. Of all the stars I have interviewed ,wrote Charles Higham,  I have liked Joan Blondell the best. She is unique in my experience in being an actress who is devoid of ego, self congratulation and self pity, and would not dream of quoting a favorable review of herself.  She is down to earth, human and real. This is almost unheard of in saran-wrapped Hollywood. Her accessability, straightforwardness, and quick with a comeback attitude was her appeal and never diminished as she got older.

Truly a wonderful testament to a special lady!  Do you have a favorite Joan Blondell movie?

By | 2014-08-30T11:27:56-04:00 August 30th, 2014|Celebrities|2 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.


  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell September 8, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Yes, good one! Great cast, Hepburn, Tracy, Blondell, Gig Young, Dina Merrill.

  2. Avatar
    Reta K September 7, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Don’t forget her wonderful role in the classic movie The Desk Set. She was a great foil for Katherine Hepburn and held her own in the movie too!

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