Born on June 9, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, Joan Marshall attended St. Clement’s School. Looking far more mature than her age would indicate, when she was just 14 years old she auditioned for, and was hired, as a showgirl at Chicago’s Chez Paree, one of the country’s foremost nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s. Two years later, she was appearing in Las Vegas productions. Vegas was also where she met her first husband and her son, Steven, was born. Her daughter Shari was born three years after Steven. Moving to Beverly Hills, she starred on the television series Bold Venture (1959) in the 1959-60 season. She made some 10 feature films, liking only a few of them. In 1961, she starred in Homicidal (1961) (billed as Jean Arless) playing two roles, one as a male. This small film has developed a cult-like following.
A woman of great beauty and style, she was signed by CBS and appeared often on such television shows as The Jack Benny Program (1950) and The Red Skelton Hour (1951). She had a gift for comedy, which often was overlooked because of her beauty. Possessing a flair for writing, in the 1970s, Joan collaborated with her best friend (from grammar school days in Chicago and an award-winning writer) Dirk Wayne Summers, co-scripting situation comedies. She married film director Hal Ashby and, over the first six months of their marriage, and at his insistence, she related personal experiences of her life. Ashby (and Robert Towne) turned Joan’s life into the romantic comedy film Shampoo (1975). She was not pleased that her husband had used such personal details in creating this film.
Her real-life wedding (to Ashby) can be seen in the opening scenes behind the credits in Ashby’s romantic comedy film The Landlord (1970). Ashby died in 1988 and, two years later, Joan married business executive Mel Bartfield. Although there were many rumors that Joan was secretly wed to Richard Chamberlain, this was not the case. She and the gifted Mr. Chamberlain were — and remained — very close friends. After visiting Jamaica, Joan fell in love with the island nation, where she had a home, and, subsequently, died on June 28, 1992. Her ashes were spread under her favorite tree on the property.
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