Joan Caulfield

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Name Joan Caulfield
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Blond, blue-eyed Joan Caulfield was born on June 1 1922 in Orange, New Jersey, one of three daughters to Henry R. Caulfield, an aircraft company administrator based in Manhattan. She received a private education and enrolled in Columbia University in late 1940. Her early forays into acting with the Morningside Players acting troupe did not appear to suggest any special talents in that direction, so she turned her ambitions towards a modelling career. Joan’s exceptional looks and demure personality soon secured her top fashion shoots through the Harry Conover Agency, including the May 11 1942 cover of Life magazine. This, in turn, caught the attention of renowned Broadway producer George Abbott who asked her to audition for a small part (as Veronica, a dumb blonde) in his upcoming production of “Beat the Band”. While the musical was poorly received, critics singled out for praise Joan’s “decidedly winsome” looks and her budding comedic talent. Abbott, to his credit, stuck with her and cast her as the female lead in his 1943 comedy “Kiss and Tell”, co-starring as her brother a young Richard Widmark. This time, Joan attracted rave reviews for her “natural and endearing” performance and was voted most promising actress in the New York Drama Critics annual poll. After fourteen months and 480 shows, Joan quit the cast of “Kiss and Tell” in early 1944 (the play went on for 962 performances, was filmed twice and turned into a TV and radio series as Meet Corliss Archer (1954)).

Though initially reluctant to forsake the stage for motion pictures, Joan succumbed to an offer from Paramount in early 1944. Her contract even included a special clause permitting her to work on Broadway for six months each year. During her tenure with the studio (1944-50), she appeared in eleven films (including a couple of loan-outs to Warner Brothers and Universal, respectively). As a leading lady, she was genteel, cultured and alluring, without exuding too much overt sex appeal. Often, she was merely decorative. As love interest to both Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby (with whom she was rumoured to have had an affair) in Blue Skies (1946), Bosley Crowther of the New York Times considered her “most lovely and passive”. Nevertheless, the picture was a huge hit and Joan found herself in number ten spot on Variety’s list of 1946 top-grossing actresses, despite the inescapable fact, that, as a dancing partner to Astaire, she was barely adequate. In the course of her later films, it also transpired that she was not particularly convincing as a dramatic actress. Joan did, however, come into her own in breezy comedy roles, point in case her chambermaid in Monsieur Beaucaire (1946) (Crowther calling her performance “delightfully nimble”). The highlight of her Hollywood career was a starring role (opposite William Holden) in the wholesome family comedy Dear Ruth (1947), which did for Joan what Gilda (1946) did for Rita Hayworth. From the play by Norman Krasna and allegedly based on the household of Groucho Marx, the picture was box office gold. Joan was to be typecast in peaches and cream roles thereafter. The law of diminishing returns applied.

Following her loan-out to Warner Brothers for the mystery thriller The Unsuspected (1947) (a victory of style over content, thanks mainly to taut direction by Michael Curtiz), Joan was cast in the all-star musical jamboree Variety Girl (1947), getting rather lost among the more extrovert performers. Her other loan-out was to Universal for Larceny (1948), in which she played a naive widow, conned by a hustler (John Payne) out of a large sum of money for erecting a bogus monument to her late husband. There was also a sequel to “Dear Ruth” (Dear Wife (1949)), chiefly enjoyable for the histrionics of that excellent character actor, Edward Arnold, but otherwise unremarkable. By this time, Joan had come to reject her wholesome image, referring to George Abbott who had once quipped that “she looked better on a tennis court than in bed”. Increasingly dissatisfied with her assignments, Joan later claimed to have been poorly advised by drama coaches, agents and studio executives alike. She also blamed herself for some of her choices, “copying the mannerisms of other stars”, “striking poses”, etcetera. Her contract was not renewed in 1949 and Joan free-lanced from then on, but choice roles in films remained elusive. The Petty Girl (1950) , The Lady Says No (1951) and The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) were all decidedly trite, lacklustre affairs, later to be followed by a trio of dismal low-budget westerns. Television anthologies offered her some relief from typecasting. Joan starred in her own NBC comedy series, Sally (1957). It was produced by her then-husband, Frank Ross, and boasted an impressive supporting cast, including Gale Gordon, Arte Johnson and Marion Lorne (who received an Emmy nomination). As fortunes would have it, the series fared poorly in the ratings because of its unfortunate time slot which put it up against top-ranking shows like Maverick (1957) and Bachelor Father (1957). Yet another setback to her career was the 1963 play “She Didn’t Say Yes” which folded before making it to Broadway.

In the end, Joan Caulfield reinvented herself as a business woman with considerable financial acumen on the stock exchange, becoming vice president of Lustre Shine Co. Inc., a company which produced and installed self polishing machines in airports and hotels. There were also two divorces and several law suits which kept her name in the public consciousness. In 1971, she received some good notices for performing in Neil Simon’s play “Plaza Suite” at the Showboat Dinner Theatre in Florida. Joan made several more guest appearances on television, her last in an episode of Murder, She Wrote (1984). She fittingly commented on her show business career, saying: “Before 1952, I was just playing myself, then I learned to be an actress” (The Evening Independent, June 5 1971).


  • Birthname: Beatrice Joan Caulfield
  • Born: June 1, 1922
  • Born Place: West Orange, New Jersey, USA
  • Height: 5' 4½" (1.64 m)
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