The perfect speciwomen

18 May

Dear fellow Flynn fans,

what do you see in the picture above?

I know about you, but I see a yacht and I think it was Errol`s.

The smiling siren in front of course is Joan Blondell, his co-star in the 1937 screwball comedy “The Perfect Specimen”.

In her biography “A Life Between Takes” she remembers our Hollywood hero very fondly: “Sometimes we walked in Warner`s Sherwood Forrest, where Errol Flynn gleefully told me untold tales of his youth during the picture we were making.”

Rose Joan Blondell was born on August 30, 1906 (she herself claimed 1909) to a vaudevillain family on the Manhattan Upper West Side and made her stage debut at the age of four months in a play called “The Greatest Love”. Right from the start her father of Jewish- polish descend Levi Bluestein aka Eddie Blondell and her Irish mother Catherine “Katie” Cain, gave her more acting lessons than she saw schooling. Famous for their stage version of the then immensely popular newspaper comic strip “The Katzenjammer Kids” her folks toured the country relentlessly along with her sister Gloria and brother Ed Jr.

At age eight she was shipped to Honolulu and spent a year there, and then six more in Australia. Little Joanie`s upbringing during that time probably was outsourced to some charitable society like for example the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. The Elks still have a lavish estate on Hawaii, actually very near located to the former “Shangri- La” villa of Doris Duke, where Errol used to roam too. Up to this day the B.P.O.E is very engaged in youth programms, while their boy scout like kiddie club “The Antlers” was disbanded abruptly in 1947. Whatever the ties Blondell had with this hornoray organisation, they proved career defining. In 1931/32 a dinner in her honour was held at the Elk`s Club in Hollywood when she had been elected “Baby Star”. Furthermore she was one of the main hostesses of the Elk`s Motion Picture Electrical Pageant in LA on July 16th of 1936. This extravaganza saw dozens of carriages with local beauty queens dressed as butterfly winged fairies (the Victoria`s Secret formula) carted to the Coliseum, where the parade came to a bonfire end.

A Warner Bros. workhorse in terms of turnout, Joan was making 50 films from 1930 to 1938. Ten in 1931 and another ten in 1932. This cruelling schedule landed the hard working girl in hospital at the end of the year. Starring mostly alongside James Cagney, whom she had met while playing opposite him on Broadway in the show “Maggie the Magnificent”. The film adaptation of their play “Penny Arcade” retitled “Sinner`s Holiday” became the starting point of a lifelong friendship. Cagney stated that she was the only woman other than his wife he ever had fallen in love with. Plus he stated she possessed the most beautiful derriere in Christendom. He should know, when one night on stage a lighting mishap set her asset on fire. Cagney was caught in a laughing fit looking at what seemed like “…two giant owl eyes staring back at me!

Unlike the other contract players Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davies, Joan never gave Jack Warner a hard time for piss pour roles and overexposure.”It takes all the talent you`ve got in your guts to play unimportant roles. It is not degrading, just hard to do.” Even when pregnant she managed to produce six movies, sitting behind desks hiding her growing tummy. Her utmost professionalism and toughness as acrylic nails got her the inofficial title of Studio Dame of the lot. “I just sailed through things, took the scripts I was given, did what I was told. I couldn`t afford to go on suspension.” In 1952 she earned her first and only Academy Award nomination as supporting actress in the “The Blue Veil”. By then she had switched from wisecracking blondie to strong female characters like that of Aunt Cissy in “A Tree  Grows in Brooklyn” directed by Elia Kazan.

Married three times (often time co- star William Powell  being one of her husbands), she never quite found the happiness of those carefree comedies in private life. Clark Gable had proposed to her, urging her not to marry that jealous and violent other guy. He may have meant Mike Todd, the theatre and film producer, who allegedly in a fit of rage hung Blondell out of the window feet last. With doing so he passed himself on to Elizabeth Taylor. In 1972 Joan Blondell lifted the veil on some of her life`s miseries in a thinly disguised fiction novel called “Center Door Fancy”.

I wonder if the book also reveals one of movie history`s all time greatest mystery. If it was her who was on lips and mind of Citizen Kane at his deathbed. Joan entered the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant and promptly won. But she participated under a false first name. Wanna know what it was !?




— shangheinz


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    May 18, 2020 at 10:41 am

    Joan Blondell was also a favorite of mine as “The Perfect Specimen” is one of my favorite Errol Flynn movies. But you made a mistake in your list of her husbands. Joan was married to Dick Powell, not William Powell. No matter, people are always getting those two mixed-up.–A. R.

    • shangheinz

      May 18, 2020 at 4:06 pm

      U R right, A.R! I stand corrected. Making 6-7 movies together may equal marriage, but it doesn`t make you husband an wife. Thanks.

  2. Gentleman Tim

    May 18, 2020 at 10:50 am

    perfect way to start the week, heinz. joan had eye-popping talent, looks, and personality. I had no idea about her connection to the elks; that’s wonderful, I’ll have to tell my deer friends at the elk club.

    Errol appeared to have eyes for joannie! I wonder went on in “sherwood forest” between them two merry movie makers.


    did lili make flynn wear a wedding ring?…

    • Gentleman Tim

      May 18, 2020 at 11:01 am

      Such a wonderful talent, and such a New Yorker!!

      Remember this (much) forgotten scene?…

      And her outstanding performance in this masterpiece?…

    • Selene Hutchison-Zuffi

      May 18, 2020 at 11:03 am

      Yes Errol wore a ring
      Blondell only had nice words for Errol and it doesnt sound like she did have any kind of romantic relationship

      • Gentleman Tim

        May 18, 2020 at 11:15 am

        Well, they certainly had fun together.

        I wonder if Lili made Errol wear the ring. I’ve seen it before of course, not just with Joan, but always seems so odd to wear while playing the part of a bachelor.

        Here they are at Romanoff’s with backstabbing Bruce:


      • shangheinz

        May 18, 2020 at 4:23 pm

        Errol liked to laugh just as much as to love. I think bombshell Blondell was one of his platonic female friends, Selene.

        • Selene Hutchison-Zuffi

          May 19, 2020 at 11:08 pm

          Yes it was just platonic

    • shangheinz

      May 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

      Joanie indeed was the Robin Hood`s merry woman of Sherwood Forrest, Deerstalker Tim. Tiger Lil` did well to put a ring on Errol.

    • DespinaV

      August 13, 2020 at 4:00 pm

      Hello, I believe that it’s Joan Blondell’s sister, Gloria, pictured above having lunch with Errol in the studio commissary.

  3. Karl

    May 18, 2020 at 1:26 pm


    A positively BANG UP write up of one the most down to earth and lively women in ALL of Hollywood… DEFINITELY in the Carole Lombard (who WAS married to William while Joan… the connubial companion to DICK) vein!

    A missed opportunity that they didn’t work together just once more because, as you highlight, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” could have been Flynn’s Oscar and a possible “course” altering.



    • shangheinz

      May 18, 2020 at 4:25 pm

      Your kudos, King Karl, are very much appreciated. And yes, her Dick wasn`t Will.

      • Karl

        May 19, 2020 at 12:20 am

        Without getting too obscure (or obscene for that matter), I instead… WILL re-direct the course of the conversation…

        In other words a non sequitur-

        Recalling that old Robin Hood script line, #361: “What’s it Will?

        (and leave it at THAT!)

  4. Ralph Schiller

    May 19, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    Thank-You Heinz for this great biography on the gorgeous Joan Blondell. I read that the only reason she left Warner Bros because she listened to her husband Dick Powell who was fighting with Jack L. Warner. She was happy there and had just made her favorite film ever, the one with Errrol Flynn. Leaving WB ended her starring days but she was a great screen actress indeed. I have a friend in Hollywood who in his youth had hung drapes. He met Ms. Blondell hanging drapes and said she was so lovely, nice and sweet. Ralph Schiller

    • shangheinz

      May 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      No whining for sour drapes there. Glad you liked my little ditty, Rushstreet Ralph.