on November 10, 2007
Several years ago my wife and I were producing a documentary on old Hollywood and Matthew Kennedy was one of the historians we interviewed. We found him to be a kind and ethical man who impressed us with his scholarship.
Having been burned in previous encounters with the press, I had to overcome substantial reluctance to tell the unabridged version of my mother's story as I remembered it. Matt Kennedy's work has vindicated my trust.
"Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes" is a first rate biography written with affection and respect. I found it a funny, touching and accurate portrait of a survivor whose struggle against a lifetime of obstacles would have defeated all but the most resolute. The author has captured much of this struggle in vivid and entertaining detail. His research was both wide and deep and included details that even I did not know.
The process of remembrance for my family and me has been sometimes painful, sometimes joyful but always remindful of how inexorably time goes by. Hopefully, our testimony as eyewitnesses to the life of a good woman long gone will provide knowledge and insight for our children's children.
on October 22, 2007
I read Center Door Fancy by Joan Blondell (the fictionalized account of her life) and after this was looking for a biography of her. Matthew Kennedy has compiled an excellent, highly recommended biography of this legendary star who played the starring role in musicals, solid supporting actress roles, and character parts. She is famous for her Aunt Cissy in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the memorable in classic Warner Brothers Musicals The Golddiggers of 1933 and Dames, among others. Joan Blondell was born the eldest child of two vaudevillians and became a performer on stage early in her life. She eventually appeared in the Theatre and became and up and coming star at Warner Brothers during the 1930s. A durable actress she became an adept comedienne and character actress. Blondell also appeared on the Broadway stage to public acclaim, later in her life and in numerous guest shots on television programs. She had three marriages all ending in divorce: to cinematographer George Barnes, Dick Powell, and Michael Todd. the marriage to Michael Todd was particularly turbulent. Joan Blondell always had a close family ties with her family: her two children Norman Powell and Ellen Powell; her grandchildren; her parents; and her siblings and nieces and nephews. Matthew Kennedy has done extensive research and has had cooperation of Blondell's two children who both provided extensive information about their mother. The author writes how Joan Blondell was "rediscovered" in the sixties via the hit television program Here Come the Brides (where she played "Lottie") and her vintage films being shown on television. Joan Blondell comes across as a very likeable, warm hearted woman who despite physical and emotional hardships, kept on going. She was a true survivor in show business and in her personal life as well. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to read about this remarkable woman and also to learn more about Hollywood's Golden Age.
on October 23, 2007
Over the years, the public--let alone the film industry--took movie star Joan Blondell far too much for granted because she made her performances look so easy. One could always count on Blondell to provide a jolt of needed energy to her many films of the 1930s through the late 1970s, and in the 1930s her home studio (Warner Bros.) worked her constantly to bolster their product output.
As this well-balanced biography of Blondell sharply details, the actress only belateldy realized just how much her career momentum suffered because she had been far too pliable to her studio's work demands. (Unlike such fellow Warner Bros. players as Bette Davis, Ruth Chatterton, and even generally compliant Kay Francis, Joan rarely balked at whatever screen project was tossed her way.) Author Matthew Kennedy points out in his well crafted narrative, how much Blondell ached for the type of film role (e.g. Aunt Sissy in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) that she rarely received and how this expert actress had to struggle to maintain her show biz career in her post stardom years.
Paralleling Blondell's professional disappointments over the decades were her three unsatisfactory marriages - in each instance, she was the brunt of her husband's whims, selfishness, and inadequacies. As the author well illustrates in his narrative, the actress had more than her share of domestic tragedies, traumas, and difficulties. It is these revelations within this book that give this biography its dimension and special appeal to readers--whether they are well acquainted with Blondell the movie star, or are just coming to be aware of this talented star.
The author had the cooperation of Blondell's family and others which doubtlessly provided him with additional data for his probing insights into this talented lady's lengthy life/career.
A highly recommended read.
A few weeks after Christmas, my car was broken into. Only hours before, I took this book out to read on my lunch break. Thank goodness it wasn't stolen; it is quite a good read!
Joan Blondell was quite a fun actress, and that goes for the end of her career as well as the beginning. Why? Part of the reason is her work ethic. It sometimes got her into trouble. Her rough childhood made money an absolute necessity, and as long as she was getting paid, she didn't mind taking on several sub-par projects. She wasn't one to complain, and that sometimes kept her from great roles and the recognition she deserved, but she always gave it her all. Her participation in movies like Gold Diggers of 1933, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Grease landed her in the hearts of many generations.
It wasn't just her screen career that was interesting though. She was married to three important and interesting men. She had a son named Norman with cinematographer George Barnes. He was later adopted by second husband Dick Powell, who then fathered Joan's daughter Ellen. That relationship didn't work out, and her last husband was Mike Todd, a man of many faces. These marriages left different marks on Joan who swore off men in the final years of her life.
Matthew Kennedy has done a good job of researching his topic, seeing all but two of her film and television appearances (and one, Convention City, because it is a lost film). He has also done a service to the film industry by celebrating Blondell; she is a significant piece of cinema history who has been largely neglected over the years. Unfortunately, this neglect has made it difficult to dig up information, so this book is not as satisfying as one might hope, but it achieves its goal to celebrate a bright star.
This is a very detailed and suprisingly intimate biography of that 1930s icon, the likeable Joan Blondell. With the co-operation of Blondell's family, Matthew Kennedy has combined detailed research with lots of personal anecdotes to create an extremely vivid portrayal of the hard working and loving Blondell.
Blondell grew up in vaudeville, living an itinerant life on the boards with her close family. In adulthood, she fell in and out of love, married three times, had abortions and seemed to be constantly on the move. In many ways, her film career was second rate and ironically, with a few exceptions, so were her TV and stage appearances. She struggled for quality scripts all her life. It is a tribute to Blondell that she is remembered with such warmth when for so much of her professional life she was entombed in mediocrity.
Clearly, the gypsy childhood had a lifetime effect on her because sometimes it is hard to reconcile the loving person described with the constant traumas surrounding her. If she was so nice, why was she surrounded by so much mayhem? The answer seems to be that she craved stability but was unable to maintain it, craved family life but could never remove herself from work and loved passionately but was unable to retain it. Also, it is obvious too that her financial affairs were a mess - when she made money, she gave it away. She was not unstable, just naive.
While I admired the warmth she obviously radiated, I must admit I got a little tired of the next financial or personal crisis rearing up which litter her story. This is by no means a criticism of the book. On the contrary, it illustrates how vividly the author has recreated Blondell's life. I just kept hoping that she would live happily ever after. Her life story is really quite sad, the final blow being the debilitating illnesses she endured which eventually killed her.
This is the third film biography Matthew Kennedy has undertaken and each one has improved on the last. He has done a great job making Blondell very real.
Where do I start? Though I didn't care for Matthew Kennedy's book on Marie Dressler, I found his Edmund Goulding book outstanding, and for some of the same reasons his JOAN BLONDELL A LIFE BETWEEN TAKES hits it out of the ballpark and that baby's still high in the sky. Like he did with Goulding, Kennedy manages to write up his subject's achievements without hyperbole, but through a painstaking process of actually paying attention, by slowing down and pausing to see what each film is really like to experience. And he does his research: he's seen every one of Blondell's dozens and dozens of films, even the clunkers, missing out only on the legendary CONVENTION CITY, a film said to be so raunchy that Jack Warner burned it, and a fugitive 60s piece called BIG DADDY which is apparently lost (for now at any rate).
The book benefits as well from the involvement of Blondell's children and grandchildren (and other relations), each of whom seem to have been utterly frank with Kennedy, and they wind up giving the reader a truly intimate picture of a great star at the end of her career and doing just about any job of acting to keep afloat. Sometimes, in fact, there's maybe a bit too much about her children, but as Kennedy says part of the paradox is that, for Joan Blondell, her career came second in many ways to the ideal of a unified and happy family, and yet because of other factors, some not her own fault, Blondell seems like far from a good mother--thus there's something tragic about her life in that the one thing she wanted, she couldn't get. And in fact the second thing she wanted, she couldn't get. And that is, a happy romantic life.
On the surface it all sounds very glamorous, marriage to three famous and accomplished men "in the industry," but none of her marriages lasted very long and something tells me it wasn't always the men who were at fault. She gave as good as she got, at any rate, and her blowsy, harridan ways might have turned off other potential suitors after Mike Todd broke her heart. She was a victim, also, of changing times in Hollywood; she slaved for the studio system, which then collapsed; she worked with a new generation of Hollywood directors, Elia Kazan, John Cassavetes, Frank Tashlin, Norman Jewison, Robert Wise (and Goulding himself, for s memorable turn in NIGHTMARE ALLEY), but had to supplant her meager earnings with a series of TV sitcom guest roles and other less savory fare. The stage was good to her, in a way, but no one who reads the book will fail to cringe when she can't find any work except for the starring part in a play she despised, THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN IN THE MOON MARIGOLDS, and critics and the public loved her in it but she hated every minute, since the awful woman she was playing was cruel to animals and she didn't want to "go there."
All in all, a memorable portrait that will have you, if you are anything like I am, salivating to see ANGEL BABY, LIZZIE, THE OPPOSITE SEX, CHRISTMAS EVE, and THE BLUE VEIL all come to DVD in some memorable and unimaginable JOAN BLONDELL COLLECTION. And who knows? Maybe there's a copy of BIG DADDY out there somewhere! And who knows, maybe a reel or two of CONVENTION CITY escaped Jack Warner's inferno?
on February 12, 2008
Joan Blondell was a perfectly serviceable actress who played by the rules, obeyed the studios, had an incredibly long career and is largely forgotten today. Matthew Kennedy's new book is well written and extremely well-titled. As illustrated in the biography, Blondell lived for her work, and then lived for her family. Neither was particularly rewarding. From singing her heart out in the early '30s with the Warner Brothers musicals co-starring with Ruby Keeler, James Cagney and future husband Dick Powell, through dishing malts in Allan Carr's Grease, she was a fixture in films for more than 50 years. Yet, by never complaining and doing everything the studios threw at her - and never demanding, let alone getting, a memorable role - she did herself an enormous disservice. Television ultimately offered the actress the best roles, but unfortunately these now exist chiefly in memory. Blondell's selfless personal life was likewise marked by what could be called a loving complacency, resulting in failed marriages with selfish, self-consumed husbands. She seemed almost to be a starter wife, as Dick Powell married June Allyson and Mike Todd married Elizabeth Taylor immediately after being wed to Blondell. If the story lacks intrigue, sex and violence, well, the author is being true to the material. Kennedy is able to tell Blondell's story "between takes" by piling up fact upon anecdote of what was a truly fascinating time. This isn't the most salacious Hollywood read of recent years, obviously, but nonetheless an interesting illustration of how luck and choices contribute to, and create, a career.
on November 21, 2007
It's all about the writing! It is true that Joan Blondell is a great subject for all the issues that are addressed in this book, however, after two previous biographies under his belt, Mr. Kennedy really hits it home with this one. The reason I say this is not that the two previous biographies (Marie Dressler; Edmond Goulding) were bad, on the contrary, they were great! It's just that this one becomes so personal as the reader absorbs each chapter that one starts to really understand Joan Blondell, the person. It goes way beyond the "first she made this movie, then this one and married so-and-so" style of the usual Hollywood biography that gets compiled. I'm sure a lot of this is due to the wonderful cooperation of the family of the subject, but Mr. Kennedy's pithy prose and sympathetic heart are up to the task as well. I can say without reservation that this is a first rate biography of a person whose life lessons still resonate....Good job!
on March 10, 2015
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes - The Hollywood Legend Series by Matthew Kennedy, September 2007.
I so enjoyed and was moved by this book about Joan Blondell. What a life she led. Started in show business when she was only three years old and worked until she died. It seems she had to for financial reasons despite how ill she was. She was a loving and generous woman and while her life was marred by financial, medical, and emotional turmoils she was always an "up' and positive person.This book is meticulously researched,the author gives us the public and private Joan Blondell and the book features numerous interviews with family, friends, and colleagues. We also learn of her marriage to Dick Powell and like many stories two sides and somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Did he leave her for June Allyson or did she leave him for Mike Todd? Then we learn of Todd's maniacal rages, how he killed the family dog, and took all of her money before she called it quits. Funny how she never appeared bitter when Mike Todd lavishes money on jewels and airplanes for Liz Taylor and never attempted to pay Joan back a dime of what he owed her.Powell left his two children with her some stock worth about $15,000.00 while his children with June Allyson received millions. Again, she didn't show bitterness,
on June 26, 2014
I really enjoyed this bio and learned a lot about Blondel that I never I knew! Her marriage to Dick Powell certainly was a surprise and also that June Allison stole him away from her! I have a lot of respect for Joan's honest candor!