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Joan Rhodes (13 April 1921 – 30 May 2010) was a London-born British performer, wrestler, stuntwoman and strongwoman. 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. 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
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.
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. 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.
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).
Her autobiography, Coming on Strong, was published in 2007. In her later years she ran a small cafe in Crouch Hill. Crouch End, North London, just down the road from the Mountview Theatre School (now moved) and she was popular with its students.
- Burke and Hare (1971) - Hairy Mary
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) - Daphne
- The Elephant Man (1980) - Cook
- Some sources cite 1920, not 1921 as Rhodes's year of birth, including IMDb, which indicates her surname at birth was Taylor', although this is not confirmed.
- Grove, Valerie (7 June 2005). "Iron lady shows her mettle". The Times. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
- Obituary at thestage.co.uk
- Elizabeth Sanderson (27 December 2009). "The extraordinary story of Joan Rhodes, the vaudeville strongwoman who shared a waspish correspondence with Quentin Crisp". Daily Mail. Retrieved 21 January 2010.
- Joan Rhodes at the Internet Movie Database
- Obituary at thestage.co.uk, ibid.