Joan Leslie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Joan Leslie
Joan Leslie in The Hard Way trailer.jpg
from the trailer for the film
The Hard Way (1943)
Born Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel
(1925-01-26) January 26, 1925 (age 90)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Occupation Actress, dancer, vaudevillian
Years active 1934–1991
Spouse(s) Dr. William G. Caldwell (1950-2000; his death); 2 children
Awards Golden Boot Awards
2006 Lifetime Achievement
Hollywood Walk of Fame
1560 Vine Street

Joan Leslie (born January 26, 1925, Detroit, Michigan) is a retired American actress who appeared in such films as High Sierra, Sergeant York and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Early life[edit]

Born Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel on January 26, 1925 in Highland Park, Michigan,[1] she was the youngest child of John and Agnes Brodel. John was a bank clerk[2] and Agnes was a pianist. She is of Irish ancestry.[3]

Leslie's two older sisters, Betty and Mary Brodel, shared their mother's musical interest and began learning instruments at an early age, such as the saxophone and the banjo. They started performing in front of audiences in acts that included singing and dancing.[4] She joined the duo at two-and-a-half years old. She soon learned to play the accordion.[5]

The Great Depression caused financial difficulties for the family in the mid 1930s, with John losing his job. As a result, the three sisters entered show business as vaudeville performers to support the family. They began touring in Canada and the United States. Collectively, they were known as The Three Brodels. As an attempt to bypass child labor laws at the time, both Mary and Joan pretended to be older than they were. When Leslie was nine, she told child labor investigators that she was 16 years old.[6] Of the three sisters, Joan proved to be a scene-stealer because of her impersonations of celebrities such as Katharine Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, and Jimmy Durante.[4][7] Leslie was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools in Detroit, Toronto and Montreal.[5]

Early Hollywood career[edit]

In 1936, Leslie caught the attention of a talent scout from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), when the three Brodel sisters were performing in New York. She was put under a six-month contract with the studio, earning 200 dollars per week.[7] She started attending MGM's Little Red Schoolhouse with other child actors like Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew.[8]

Her first film role was in Camille, a romantic drama starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. She played Taylor's younger sister Marie Jeanette, but her speaking parts were deleted and she was uncredited. MGM had trouble finding suitable roles for her and she was let go by the studio along with Deanna Durbin.[4]-[9] Leslie went back to New York, working with radio and as a model. During this time, her sister Mary was signed to Universal Studios. Leslie returned to Hollywood with the rest of her family, working for different studios as a freelancer.[7] She mainly worked for RKO Pictures.[10]

In 1938, Leslie was selected to play a small role in Men with Wings. While shooting the film, director William A. Wellman discovered that Joan Leslie's mother had lied about her daughter's age and that she was only thirteen years old. For the remaining of the filming, Wellman replaced her with her sister Mary.[11]

Leslie got her first credited role in Winter Carnival (1939), as Betsy Phillips. She was chosen for the part because the director was searching for an actress who had a southern accent.[6] She was billed as Joan Brodel. Later that year, she co-starred with Jimmy Lydon in Two Thoroughbreds where she played the daughter of a horse owner.[12]

At age 19, Leslie was selected by a group of Hollywood directors as one of 13 "baby stars of 1940."[13]

Success at Warner Bros.[edit]

Joan Leslie in The Wagons Roll at Night (1941)

Her big break came when she signed a contract with Warner Bros. in 1941.[5] At the time, Joan Blondell's name was considered too similar and Brodel's acting name was changed to Joan Leslie.[14]

After two weeks,[15] the then 15-year-old actress was asked to do a screen test while unaware which movie it was for. She got the part because she could cry on cue.[6] The movie turned out to be High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Leslie played the crippled girl Velma.[16] Film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "a newcomer named Joan Leslie handles lesser roles effectively".[17]

Later that year, Warner Bros. distributed a biopic of Alvin York, a decorated American World War I soldier. The movie was called Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper. For the casting of Gracie Williams, York's fiancée, Jane Russell was initially suggested, but York wanted an actress who neither smoked nor drank.[18] Leslie eventually got the part.[19] Sergeant York was a critical and financial success, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1941. It received 11 Academy Award nominations and Cooper won the award for best actor.[20]

In 1942, Leslie had a supporting role in The Male Animal.[21] She played Olivia de Havilland's younger sister, Patricia Stanley, a role Gene Tierney had played in the original Broadway production.[22]

She auditioned for the film Holiday Inn, but Warner Bros. decided to cast her in Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney.[23] The film was a musical that depicted the life of the Broadway legend George M. Cohan.[24] Leslie portrayed his girlfriend/wife Mary, an aspiring singer.[25] The film received eight Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor victory for James Cagney.[26] By now, Leslie had become a star whose on-screen image was described as "sweet innocence without seeming too sugary".[2]

Leslie made four motion picture appearances in 1943. The first one was The Hard Way, starring Ida Lupino and Dennis Morgan.[27] She was loaned out to RKO for her next movie, The Sky's the Limit, starring opposite Fred Astaire. Leslie's character introduced the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer song "My Shining Hour"; her vocals were dubbed by Sally Sweetland.[28]

Leslie co-starred in the wartime motion picture This Is the Army with future president of the United States Ronald Reagan.[29]

Leslie in This Is the Army (clip)

She was considered for the role of Tessa in The Constant Nymph, wherein she would play opposite Errol Flynn.[30] However, studio executive Jack Warner felt she was unsuitable and the part went to Joan Fontaine. The Australian Flynn was rejected because the director wanted a British actor.[31]

During World War II, she was a regular volunteer at the Hollywood Canteen, where she danced with servicemen and granted hundreds of autographs. In 1944, she starred with Robert Hutton in the Warner Bros. film Hollywood Canteen. Like most of the Hollywood stars in the film, she played herself, but the fictionalized plot had her falling in love with a soldier (played by Hutton) frequenting the canteen. Her sister, actress Betty Brodel, briefly played herself in the film as well. In 1946 an exhibitors' poll, conducted by Motion Picture Herald, voted her the most promising star of tomorrow.[32]

Later career[edit]

In 1946, Leslie was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the roles offered to her. She sought more serious and mature roles and wanted to break out of the ingenue image that she had that was partly due to her young age. Her decision was also based on moral and religious grounds.[33]

With the help of her lawyer Oscar Cummings, she took Warner Brothers to court in order to get released from her contract.[34]

In 1947, the Catholic Theatre Guild gave Leslie an award because of her "consistent refusal to use her talents and art in film productions of objectionable character".[35]

As a result of this, Jack Warner used his influence to blacklist her from other major Hollywood studios.[36] In 1947, she signed a two-picture contract with the poverty row studio Eagle-Lion Films. The first one was Repeat Performance, a film noir in which she played a Broadway actress.[37] The other was Northwest Stampede, a 1948 film playing opposite James Craig.[38]

After her contract with Eagle-Lion Films expired, she landed a role in The Skipper Surprised His Wife, opposite Robert Walker. The film was distributed by MGM, the studio in which she began her film career in 1936.[39]

In the early 1950s, Leslie chose to focus on raising her daughters, which resulted in a slowed-down film career. In 1952, she signed a short-term deal with Republic Pictures, an independent, low-budget studio that primarily produced western pictures.[36] One of the films she made for Republic was Flight Nurse in 1953. It was described by the newspaper Kingsport Times-News as a thrilling film that "honors the courageous women who performed miracles of mercy above the clouds in evacuation of wounded GIs from Korean battlefields".[40] Her last film was The Revolt of Mamie Stover in 1956. However, she continued making sporadic appearances in television shows while her children were at school.[7] She retired from acting in 1991.[4]

Personal life[edit]

In March 1950, she married William Caldwell, an obstetrician.[7] Their identical twin daughters, Patrice and Ellen, were born on January 7, 1951.[41] Both daughters became teachers.[42]

Leslie was in the business of designing clothes, with her own brand called Joan Leslie. Her husband died in 2000. A year later, she founded the Dr. William G. and Joan L. Caldwell Chair in Gynecologic Oncology for the University of Louisville. As of 2014, Leslie has been an adopted alumna of the university for 32 years.[43] She was involved with charity work for the St. Anne's Maternity Home for more than 50 years.[44]

In 1999, she was one of the 500 nominees when the American Film Institute voted for the 50 greatest screen legends to have debuted before 1950.[45]

On August 12, 2006, she received a Golden Boot Award for her contributions to the genre of Western television and movies.[46]

Joan Leslie has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street.[47]


Year Title Role Studio Notes
1936 Camille Marie Jeanette MGM Uncredited
1938 Men with Wings Patricia Falconer at age 11 Paramount Uncredited
1939 Nancy Drew... Reporter Mayme, journalist student Warner Bros. Uncredited
Love Affair Autograph seeker RKO Uncredited
Winter Carnival Betsy Phillips Walter Wanger Productions As Joan Brodel
Two Thoroughbreds Wendy Conway RKO As Joan Brodel
1940 Laddie Shelley Stanton RKO As Joan Brodel
High School Patsy Fox Uncredited
Young as You Feel Girl Fox As Joan Brodel
Star Dust College girl Fox Uncredited
Susan and God Party guest MGM Uncredited
Military Academy Marjorie Blake Columbia As Joan Brodel
Foreign Correspondent Jones' Sister Walter Wanger Productions Uncredited
Alice in Movieland Alice Purdee Warner Bros. Short film
1941 High Sierra Velma Warner Bros.
The Great Mr. Nobody Mary Clover Warner Bros.
The Wagons Roll at Night Mary Coster Warner Bros.
Thieves Fall Out Mary Matthews Warner Bros.
Sergeant York Gracie Williams Warner Bros.
Nine Lives Are Not Enough Newspaper receptionist Warner Bros. Uncredited
1942 The Male Animal Patricia Stanley Warner Bros.
Yankee Doodle Dandy Mary Warner Bros.
1943 The Hard Way Katie Chernen Warner Bros.
The Sky's the Limit Joan Manion RKO
This Is the Army Eileen Dibble Warner Bros.
Thank Your Lucky Stars Pat Dixon Warner Bros.
1944 Hollywood Canteen Herself Warner Bros.
I Am an American Herself Warner Bros.
1945 Where Do We Go from Here? Sally Smith/Prudence/Katrina Fox
Rhapsody in Blue Julie Adams Warner Bros.
Too Young to Know Sally Sawyer Warner Bros.
1946 Cinderella Jones Judy Jones Warner Bros.
Janie Gets Married Janie Conway Warner Bros.
Two Guys from Milwaukee Connie Reed Warner Bros.
1947 Repeat Performance Sheila Page Eagle-Lion
1948 Northwest Stampede Christine "Honey" Johnson Eagle-Lion
1950 The Skipper Surprised His Wife Daphne Lattimer MGM
Born to Be Bad Donna Foster RKO
1951 Man in the Saddle Laurie Bidwell Isham Columbia
1952 Hellgate Ellen Hanley Commander Films
Toughest Man in Arizona Mary Kimber Republic
1953 Woman They Almost Lynched Sally Maris Republic
Flight Nurse Lt. Polly Davis Republic
1954 Jubilee Trail (it) Garnet Hale Republic
Hell's Outpost Sarah Moffit Republic
1956 The Revolt of Mamie Stover Annalee Johnson Fox


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Family Theater Claudia Procles Episode: " Hill Number One: A Story of Faith and Inspiration"
1951 The Bigelow Theatre Episode: "Flowers for John"
1951-1952 Fireside Theater Ilse Episodes: "Black Savannah", "The Imposter"
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Episode: "The Von Linden File"
1953 Summer Theater Ada Jordan Episode: "Dream Job"
1953-1954 Ford Theatre Marie Pasquin/Susan Farrington Episodes: "The Old Man's Bride, Wonderful Day for a Wedding, Girl in Flight
1954 Lux Video Theatre Vanessa Cook Episode: "Pick of the Litter"
1955 Studio 57 Jane Merlin Episode: "Vacation with Pay"
1956 The 20th Century Fox Hour Peg Episode: "Smoke Jumpers"
1956 Chevron Hall of Stars Episode: "Conflict"
1958 The Christophers Episode: "Find the Good Within You"
1959 General Electric Theater Sarah Owens Episode: "The Day of the Hanging"
1965 Branded Emily Cooper Episode: "Leap Upon Mountains"
1975 Police Story Mary Devereux Episode: "Headhunter"
1976 The Keegans Mary Keegan TV movie
1978 Charlie's Angels Catherine Calhoun Episode: "The Jade Trap"
1979 The Incredible Hulk Lily Beaumont Episode: "My Favourite Magician"
1983 Simon & Simon Toni Meyers Episode: "Shadow of Sam Penny"
1983 Shadow of Sam Penny
1986 Charley Hannah Sandy Hannah TV movie
1988 Murder, She Wrote Lillian Appletree Episode: "Mr. Pennroy's Vacation"
1989 Turn Back the Clock Party Guest TV movie
1991 Fire in the Dark Ruthie TV movie


  1. ^ "Gala Musical Due at Eckel". Syracuse NY Journal, 1943. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Joan Leslie. Life Magazine. October 26, 1942. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Joan Leslie's Ego Isn't Inflated by Film Fame". St. Petersburg Times, January 6, 1946. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Joan Leslie profile at. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c "Joan Leslie, an update". Toledo Blade. June 26, 1986. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "Detroit's outlaw Brodel sisters go straight in Hollywood". The Sunday Morning Star. August 10, 1941. Retrieved February 25, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Joan Leslie. Movies Were Always Magical": Interviews with 19 Actors, Directors, and ... Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Mary MacDonald". The Lowell Sun. October 8, 1972. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ "One film puts Joan Leslie on brink of stardom at 16". PM, August 24, 1941. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Joan Leslie - She's acted every age but her own; has kept Fred Astaire waiting". Oakland Tribune. August 20, 1944. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Hollywood Highlights". Ottawa Citizen, July 13, 1938. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "Two-Thoroughbreds". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Directors Favor Brunettes". Arizona Independent Republic. October 19, 1940. Retrieved March 13, 2015 – via  open access publication - free to read
  14. ^ "Most stage folk take new names". The News and Courier, March 8, 1942. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Warner Bros. turns 75". Kentucky New Era. June 22, 1998. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  16. ^ Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Directors. The University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Review: High Sierra, January 25, 1941". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Hollywood Chatter". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. July 12, 1941. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  19. ^ Sergeant York: An American Hero. The University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Sergeant York (film by Hawks [1941])". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 February 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Male Animal". Heppner Gazette-Times. August 6, 1942. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Joan Leslie gets part". The Deseret News. July 11, 1941. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Joan Leslie Happy to Be Just 18". The Milwaukee Journal. December 27, 1942. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Whatever Happened to...Joan Leslie". Melbourne Observer. March 14, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Yankee Doodle opens at three theaters today". The Miami News. February 19, 1942. Retrieved February 25, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan in The Hard Way". The Spokesman-Review, February 16, 1944. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Joan Leslie profile at". Big Spring Daily Herald. January 27, 1944. Retrieved February 25, 2014. 
  29. ^ "This is the Army". Youtube upload. Public domain film. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Errol Flynn-Joan Leslie to make Constant Nymph". Schenectady Gazette. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  31. ^ "The Constant Nymph". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  32. ^ "The Stars of To-morrow.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW: 1842-1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). September 10, 1946. p. 11 Supplement: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Joan Leslie osttracized for turning down roles against her principles". The Canadian Register. June 14, 1947. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  34. ^ "Joan Leslie Pleased At Adult Roles After Leaving Warners". The News and Courier. March 2, 1947. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Joan Leslie Honoured". Catholic Herald, May 20, 1949. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  36. ^ a b "Joan Leslie Interview". Western Clippings. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  37. ^ "Repeat Performance". UCLA film and television archive. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  38. ^ "Headed for Paramount". Toledo Blade. December 2, 1948. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  39. ^ "Joan Leslie on her way to big screen comeback". Toledo Blade, November 24, 1949. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  40. ^ "Joan Leslie, Forrest Tucker in Flight Nurse". Kingsport Times News. November 29, 1953. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  41. ^ "Joan Leslie Has Twins". The Sunday Herald. January 7, 1951. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  42. ^ "Meet the board". University of Louisville alumni club of California. Retrieved February 26, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Caldwell's legacy endures with $1 million endowment". Retrieved February 22, 2014 (cached).  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  44. ^ "Art Council Hopes the Sun Will Shine, April 18, 1986". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 23, 2014. 
  45. ^ "A compendium of the 500 stars nominated for top 50 'Greatest Screen Legends status". American Film Institute. Retrieved February 27, 2014. 
  46. ^ "Eastwood honoured with Golden Boot Award". Usa Today. Retrieved February 10, 2014. 
  47. ^ "Joan Leslie". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved August 30, 2014. 

External links[edit]