Carroll was born Joan Marie Felt in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Wright Lafayette and Freda Brown Felt. Her father was a government electrical engineer, and her mother was a club and stage pianist. Carroll was performing locally by age 4. Her family moved to California in 1936, and her stage name was changed to Carol and then Carroll.
Carroll became an accomplished child actress, scoring personal successes on Broadway in the hit musical Panama Hattie, and the 1940 film, Primrose Path, as Ginger Rogers's younger sister. Carroll became RKO Radio Pictures' resident juvenile personality in both "A" and "B" pictures. RKO starred Carroll in two zany comedy vehicles, Obliging Young Lady and Petticoat Larceny.
She continued to work in films as an adolescent, but less frequently. Two of her best-remembered pictures came from this period: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) as Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien's sister, and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), in which she played a troubled teenager with an estranged father.
Currently residing in the American Southwest, Joan and her brother donated a historic family lamp to the Nevada State Museum on July 7, 2011. The lamp was originally given to her father, Wright Lafayette Felt, who was the Public Works Administrator for Nevada at the time the Hoover Dam was built. The lamp was created out of materials used in the construction of the 155-mile, $900,000 power line to the Hoover Dam, and was presented to him by the Lincoln County Power District No. 1 on Sept. 25, 1937, for his assistance with the project.
- "Stage Role Transforms Carroll into star". Pittsburgh Press. August 2, 1941.
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