Joan Rhodes

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Joan Rhodes (13 April 1921[1] – 30 May 2010) was a London-born British performer, wrestler, stuntwoman and strongwoman. [2] Born into poverty in London, she and her siblings were deserted by their parents. Following unhappy spells in the workhouse and with an aunt, she left home at 14.[3] After sleeping rough in Brewer Street, Soho, she joined a travelling fair, where she got the idea for her act after seeing a professional strong man at work.

With Bob Hope[edit]

She began as a variety and cabaret performer during the 1950s and '60s. Her popularity increased due to her early appearances on television shows in the US and UK, including The Toast Of The Town (1955) and the Bob Hope Christmas Show. It was in the latter that, on stage in Iceland on 27 December 1955, that Rhodes lifted, then accidentally dropped, Hope, while entertaining troops for the USO.

Stage routine[edit]

Rhodes could bend iron bars across her knee, in her mouth and around her arm or neck. She ripped telephone directories, often ripping two simultaneously and ripping others into quarters. She lifted large men over her head or into her arms, including 450 lb boxer Ewart Potgeiter and giant Ted Evans, who reportedly weighed over 480 lbs. She frequently ended her act by lifting four male audience members at the same time.[citation needed]

Other parts of her stage routine included allowing men to try to bend iron bars before she would, arm-wrestling two men at once (one with each hand as each man was allowed to use two arms), lifting jeeps and small cars and pushing them offstage while men sat in them, and defeating a team of four men in tugs of war.[citation needed]

Rhodes was a lifelong friend of author Quentin Crisp.[4]

Stunts[edit]

As a stunt performer, she worked on films, including Fanny by Gaslight (1944). She appeared as herself performing some of her strength feats in the Vernon Sewell-directed crime caper, Johnny, You're Wanted (1956). She also appeared in Burke and Hare (1971), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and The Elephant Man (1980).

Autobiography[edit]

Her autobiography, Coming on Strong, was published in 2007. In her later years she ran a small and very personal cafe in Crouch Hill. Crouch End, North London. It was then just down the road from the Mountview Theatre School (now moved) and she was popular with its students.

Death[edit]

Joan Rhodes died on 30 May 2010, aged 89.[5] On 11 June 2010, Radio 4 in its "Last Word" programme covered her life with anecdotes by Roy Hudd, who had known her well.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Some sources cite 1920, not 1921 as Rhodes's year of birth, including IMDb
  2. ^ Grove, Valerie (June 7, 2005). "Iron lady shows her mettle". The Times. 
  3. ^ Obituary at thestage.co.uk
  4. ^ Elizabeth Sanderson (2009-12-27). "The extraordinary story of Joan Rhodes, the vaudeville strongwoman who shared a waspish correspondence with Quentin Crisp". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  5. ^ Obituary at thestage.co.uk, ibid.

External links[edit]