from the trailer for the film
The Hard Way (1943)
|Born||Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel
January 26, 1925
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|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
Born Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel on January 26, 1925 in Highland Park, Michigan, Leslie was the youngest child of John and Agnes Brodel. John was a bank clerk and Agnes was a pianist. Leslie is of Irish ancestry. Leslie's two older sisters, Betty and Mary, 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; acts that included both singing and dancing. Leslie joined the duo at two-and-a-half years old. She soon learned to play the accordion.
When the Great Depression caused financial difficulties for the family in the mid-1930s, the three sisters entered showbusiness as vaudeville performers to support the family. They began touring in Canada and 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 9, she told child labor investigators that she was 16 years old. Out of the three sisters, Leslie proved to be the scene-stealer because of her impersonations of then famous stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Luise Rainer, Maurice Chevalier, Jimmy Durante and ZaSu Pitts. Leslie was raised as a roman catholic and went to catholic schools in Detroit, Toronto and Montreal.
Early Hollywood career
In 1936, Joan Leslie caught the attention of a talent scout from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, while 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. She started attending MGM's Little Red Schoolhouse with other child actors such as Mickey Rooney and Freddie Bartholomew. Her first film role was in Camille, 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. Leslie went back to New York, working with radio and as a model. At 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.
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 daugther's age and that she was only thirteen years old. For the remaining of the filming, Leslie's sister Mary replaced her. Leslie got her first credited part in the 1939 movie Winter Carnival where she played Betsy Phillips. She was chosen for the part because the director was searching for an actress who had a southern accent. 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.
Success at Warner Bros.
Her big break came when she signed a contract with Warner Bros. in 1941. At the time, another actress had a similar name; Joan Blondell. In order to avoid a mix-up between them, her name was changed to Joan Leslie. After two weeks, the then fifteen-year-old actress was asked to give a screen test while unaware which movie it was for. She got the part due to the fact that she could cry on cue. The movie turned turned out to be High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Leslie played the crippled girl Velma. Film critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "a newcomer named Joan Leslie handles lesser roles effectively".
Later that year, Warner Bros. made a biopic about Alvin York, a decorated World War I soldier. The movie was Sergeant York and starred Gary Cooper. For the casting of his character's fiancée, Jane Russell was initially suggested, but Alvin York wanted an actress who neither smoked nor drank. Joan Leslie eventually got the part of Gracie Williams. Sergeant York was a critical and financial success, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1941. It received 11 Academy Award nominations and Gary Cooper won the award for best actor.
In 1942, Leslie had a supporting role in The Male Animal. She played Olivia de Havilland's younger sister Patricia Stanley, a role that Gene Tierney had played in the original Broadway production.
She auditioned for the film Holiday Inn but Warner Bros. decided to cast her in another movie; Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney. The film was a musical that depicted the life of the Broadway star George M. Cohan. Joan Leslie portrayed his girlfriend and wife Mary Cohan, an aspiring singer. The film received 8 Oscar nominations, including a best actor victory for James Cagney. By now, Leslie had become a star whose on-screen image was described as "sweet innocence without seeming too sugary".
Leslie made four motion picture appearances in 1943. The first one was The Hard Way, starring Ida Lupino and Dennis Morgan. Leslie was loaned out to RKO for her next movie The Sky's the Limit, starring opposite Fred Astaire.
She was considered for the role of Tessa in The Constant Nymph, where she would play opposite Errol Flynn. However, studio executive Jack Warner didn't feel she was suitable for the job. Instead, the part went to Joan Fontaine. Flynn was also rejected because the director Goulding wanted a British actor.
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, 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 partly due to her young age. Her decision was also based on moral and religious grounds. With the help of her lawyer Oscar Cummings, she took Warner Brothers to court in order to get released from her contract. In 1947, the Catholic Theatre Guild gave Joan Leslie an award because of her "consistent refusal to use her talents and art in film productions of objectionable character".
As a result of this, Jack Warner used his influence to blacklist her from other major Hollywood studios. 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. The other was Northwest Stampede, a 1948 film playing opposite James Craig.
After the contract with Eagle-Lion Films had run out, she landed a role in The Skipper Surprised His Wife, where she played opposite Robert Walker. The film was distributed by MGM, the studio in which she began her film career in 1936.
In the early 1950s, Joan 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. 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.
She retired from acting in 1991.
In March 1950, she married William Caldwell, an obstetrician. Their identical twin daughters, Patrice and Ellen, were born on January 7, 1951. Both daughters became teachers. Joan 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 alumni of the university for 32 years. She was involved with charity work for the St. Anne's Maternity Home for more than 50 years.
|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|
|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||Garnet Hale||Republic|
|Hell's Outpost||Sarah Moffit||Republic|
|1956||The Revolt of Mamie Stover||Annalee Johnson||Fox|
|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|
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- "Joan Leslie, an update". Toledo Blade, June 26, 1986. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
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- "Sergeant York: An American Hero". The University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
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- "Whatever Happened to...Joan Leslie". Melbourne Observer, March 14, 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
- "Yankee Doodle opens at three theaters today". The Miami News, February 19, 1942. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
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- "Joan Leslie". Big Spring Daily Herald, January 27, 1944. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
- "This is the Army". Youtube upload. Public domain film. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
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- "The Constant Nymph". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
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- "Joan Leslie Interview". Western Clippings. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "Repeat Performance". UCLA film and television archive. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
- "Headed for Paramount". Toledo Blade, December 2, 1948. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
- "Joan Leslie on her way to big screen comeback". Toledo Blade, November 24, 1949. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
- "Joan Leslie Has Twins". The Sunday Herald, January 7, 1951. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "Meet the board". University of Louisville alumni club of California. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
- "Caldwell's legacy endures with $1 million endowment". Louisville.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2014 (cached).
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- "A compendium of the 500 stars nominated for top 50 'Greatest Screen Legends status". American Film Institute. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- "Eastwood honoured with Golden Boot Award". Usa Today. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
- "Joan Leslie". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Joan Leslie.|
- Joan Leslie at the Internet Movie Database
- Joan Leslie at the TCM Movie Database
- Joan Leslie at the NNDB
- Joan Leslie at the American Film Institute