Well-endowed, attractive Joyce Jameson was typecast as ‘broads’, ‘dames’ and dizzy blondes – somewhat in the vein of Barbara Nichols. In real life, she was said to have been the antithesis of her screen personae, a graduate in theatre arts from UCLA, highly intelligent and well-read. Joyce began acting in films from 1951, after being ‘spotted’ at the small Cabaret Club by Steve Allen. At that time, she was already a seasoned performer on stage in musical revue, featured playing multiple parts in shows staged by her then-husband and mentor, Billy Barnes, initially at the Cabaret Club, then at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood, and finally on Broadway.
After several small supporting bits on the big screen and the odd ghost-written TV script, Joyce’s career gained momentum from the late 1950’s. She was seen in better productions, such as Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). Adept at dialects and mimicry, Joyce also made a name for herself on The Jack Paar Tonight Show (1957) with a ventriloquist act, featuring her ‘alter ego’, an imaginary dummy unsurprisingly named ‘Marilyn’ (the idea of being subsumed by this ‘other personality’, Joyce was said to have derived from the British horror classic Dead of Night (1945)). Reputedly still more uproarious, were her biting impersonations of Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, and, above all, Marlene Dietrich.
Joyce is most fondly remembered for the first of two ‘cult’ Gothic horrors she made for Roger Corman, loosely based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Tales of Terror (1962), finds her (in story number two, ‘The Black Cat’) as perpetually inebriated Peter Lorre’s philandering wife Annabel, who suffers the ignominious fate of being entombed alive in a wine cellar, alongside paramour Vincent Price. Her performance on the way to that demise – at once funny and tragic – amply demonstrated her ability to hold her own in a leading role opposite such dominant personalities as Lorre and Price. She was quite good, too (and certainly very decorative) in her second outing for Corman, The Comedy of Terrors (1963) albeit in a more typical role as decrepit Boris Karloff’s ditzy daughter, Amaryllis Trumbull.
On television, Joyce had a recurring spot on The Andy Griffith Show (1960) and guested in many classic series, including westerns and science fiction, though her forte was almost certainly comedy. Unable to escape her typecasting, she rarely got the roles her acting talent undoubtedly merited, commenting with justifiable bitterness: “Everyone expects to cast me as the dumb or victimized blonde. After they interview me, I can just hear them say, ‘Hey! She’s intelligent, but what do you do with it?'” (The Pittsburgh Press, July 27,1958).
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