Joan Tompkins

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Joan Tompkins
Cameron Prud'homme Charme Allen Joan Tompkins David Harum 1947.JPG
Tompkins (right) as Susan Price Wells with Cameron Prud'homme and Charme Allen in the radio serial David Harum, 1947.
Born (1915-07-09)July 9, 1915
New York, USA
Died January 29, 2005(2005-01-29) (aged 89)
Orange County
Occupation Actress
Spouse(s) Karl Swenson (widowed in 1978)
Children Four stepsons, including Steven Swenson

Joan Tompkins, legally known as Joan Swenson (July 9, 1915 – January 29, 2005)[1] was an American actress of television, film, radio, and stage, who co-founded with her husband, Karl Swenson, an acting company in Beverly Hills, California.[2] In the 1962-1963 television season, Tompkins played legal secretary Trudy Wagner in twenty-eight episodes of Edmond O'Brien's NBC legal drama Sam Benedict, co-starring Richard Rust. From 1967-1970, she guest starred nine times as Lorraine Miller in Fred MacMurray's CBS situation comedy, My Three Sons, with her last appearance in the episode "St. Louis Blues" on December 19, 1970.[3]

According to the Social Security Death Index, Tompkins, listed as Joan Swenson at death, was living in New York when she procured her Social Security number, probably in the late 1930s.[1] In 1938, at the age of twenty-three, she joined Henry Fonda in performing plays in White Plains, New York. Thereafter, she performed on radio in the soap opera role of Nora Drake on This Is Nora Drake, which ran on CBS radio until 1959. She appeared on Broadway in New York City in stage productions of Pride and Prejudice and My Sister Eileen. During her radio performances, she met Karl Swenson, who portrayed the Scandinavian Lars Hanson on Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie NBC television series. Tompkins herself guest starred twice on Little House. The couple married sometime after Swenson and his first wife, the former Virginia Hanscom (1908–2003),[1] divorced. They were living in southern California by 1957.[4]

Film roles[edit]

Tompkins's film roles included that of Aunt Thora from Denmark in The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970), who gives the world's first transexual, George Jorgensen, the name "Christine", after her deceased daughter and George's cousin.[5]

She appeared as Miss Musto in the comedy film Popi, starring Alan Arkin and Rita Moreno. In the story line, Popi, a poor Puerto Rican widower living in Harlem, New York, hatches a bizarre plot to get his two sons, who will claim to be Cuban shipwrecked off the Florida coast so that they will be adopted by wealthy parents who learn of their plight from the expected press coverage.[6]

Tompkins appeared as Judge Beth Weaver in Zigzag, an American film based on the British picture False Witness. George Kennedy plays an insurance investigator dying from a brain tumor. He confesses to a murder he did not commit to collect the reward money. During his murder trial, he collapses and is rushed to the hospital. After he undergoes surgery, he emerges healed. He then faces the task of denying he is a killer but merely a liar.[7]

Tompkins appeared as Grandma Dennison in the 1970 comedy I Love My Wife, about a bored adulterous surgeon starring Elliott Gould, with Brenda Vaccaro as his pregnant wife, based on a musical of the same name. Angel Tompkins appears in the film as Gould's mistress, with Dabney Coleman cast as her husband.[8]

Television appearances[edit]

Tompkins first appeared on television in 1954 at the age of thirty-nine in the segment “Guest in the House” of NBC's Kraft Television Theater. Four years later, she appeared as Sarah Sheldon in the 1958 episode “The Spy” of the Goodyear Theatre. That same year, she portrayed a woman named “Patience” in NBC's western series The Californians. Subsequent appearances were on the situation comedies, The Donna Reed Show, and Bachelor Father. In 1960, she played Martha in “The Twisted Root” of the syndicated series, The Brothers Brannagan.[3]

In 1960, she also appeared in three Warner Brothers/ABC series, Maverick, as Mary Burch in the episode “Bullet for the Teacher”; Hawaiian Eye, as a tourist in “Man in a Rage”, and The Roaring Twenties, as Celia Morton in “Layoff Charley”. In 1960-1961, she appeared twice on Boris Karloff's Thriller, starring Boris Karloff. Between 1962-1964, she made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the role of murderer Florence Holman in the 1962 episode, "The Case of the Poison Pen Pal," and Emily Green in "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" in 1963.[3] As Sadie Norman in the 1964 episode "The Case of the Sleepy Slayer," she appeared with husband Karl Swenson, who played her husband Charles Norman.

Tompkins appeared twice on David Janssen's The Fugitive. In the 1967 episode Dr. Richard Kimble, using the alias "Douglas Beckett", is hired as a chauffeur for a wealthy family, with Tompkins playing the mother, Madge Glenn. Her daughter Joanne Glenn, portrayed by Katherine Crawford, is involved with the pool maintenance man, Dan Holt, played by Mark Goddard, formerly of Lost in Space and Many Happy Returns. Madge tries to break up her daughter's romance, and then Holt discovers the identity of Dr. Kimble and blackmails him to provide cover so that Holt can continue to see Joanne without the family finding out about the ongoing relationship. Pete Duel, prior to Alias Smith and Jones, played a young socialite in the 1967 episode. [9] She also appeared in the 1967 episode "There goes the Ballgame" as Rose. She is also fondly remembered by fans of classic television as the mother to Don Grady's TV wife Tina Cole on My Three Sons playing the recurring role of Lorraine Miller. She played the part nine times during the period from 1967 to 1970.

Her other television roles include:

  • Adventures in Paradise as Cora Summers in "Assassins" (1961)
  • Hazel as Florence Gurney in "Hazel and the Gardener" (1962)
  • The New Breed as Mrs. Marsh in "How Proud the Guilty" (1962)
  • Bus Stop, as Sarah Jenkins in "The Runaways" (1961) and unknown role in "I Kiss Your Shadow" (1962)
  • The Danny Thomas Show, two episodes (1959 and 1962)
  • The Lieutenant, two episodes (1963–1964)
  • Route 66, as Mrs. Thomas in “Between Hello and Goodbye” (1962)
  • The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters as Martha Pollux in “The Day of the Wizard” (1964)
  • The Eleventh Hour, three episodes, including the two-parter, “Does My Mother Have to Know?”, in the role of Aggie Britt (1964)
  • Mr. Novak as Mrs. Douglas Morgan, Sr., in "The Private Life of Douglas Morgan, Jr." (1964)
  • Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. as Mrs. Harper in "A Date for the Colonel's Daughter" (1964)
  • Perry Mason, three episodes (1962–1964)
  • Dr. Kildare, three episodes (1962–1965)
  • Slattery's People, as Dorothy Ralston in “Question, What Time Is the Next Bandwagon?” (1965)
  • The Farmer's Daughter in "Katie's Castle" (1965)
  • Mannix as Mrs. Dover in “Turn Every Stone” (1967)
  • Mission: Impossible as Miss Putnam in "The Seal" (1967)
  • Occasional Wife as Mrs. Brahms in "Pilot" and "No Cookie for Dessert" (1966)[10]
  • I Dream of Jeannie as General's wife in "Invisible House for Sale" (1968)
  • Bewitched as Harriet Walters in "Once in a Vial" (1968)
  • The Brady Bunch as Mrs. Tyler in “The Honeymoon” (1969) which was that show's premiere episode
  • Lassie, in two episodes, including the role of Mrs. Davis in the 1964 episode “The Little Christmas Tree” and as Katherine in the 1971 segment entitled “The Awakening”
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as Mrs. Thorn, secretary to Lou Grant, episode "Who's in Charge Here?" (1972)
  • Griff, as Ruth in “Elephant in a Cage” (1973)
  • Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, three episodes, including two as a judge (1973–1974)
  • Barnaby Jones, three episodes, including role of Judge Edith Royce in “Voice in the Night” (1976)
  • The Waltons, as Mrs. Herbert in "The Achievement" (1977), the final appearance of Richard Thomas in the series and the episode in which John-Boy Walton he obtains publication of his first novel[11]
  • Emergency! as Maggie Trigg in “The Most Deadly Passage” (1978), made into a television movie the following year[3]

Last years[edit]

Tompkins's last roles were in 1980, as Grandma Gertie Wells in the episode “Generations” of ABC’s Eight Is Enough and as a woman physician in The Night the City Screamed, another television film.

After World War II, Tompkins became a foster parent for a war orphan, a handicapped Polish youth named Tomek Machcinski, who became a photographer, known as the “Man of a million faces”. In 1994, their story was portrayed in a documentary. After Karl Swenson's death in 1978, Tompkins organized a group to help prospective writers improve their narratives and to obtain publication of their works. She resided in Dana Point in Orange County, California, at the time of her death at the age of eighty-nine. She was survived by four stepsons from Swenson's first marriage. One is named "Steven".[2]


  1. ^ a b c "Social Security Death Index". Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Tim Dunleavy, Biography for Joan Tompkins". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Joan Tompkins". IMDB. Retrieved January 17, 2010. 
  4. ^ "In Memory of Karl Swenson (1908-1978)". Retrieved January 18, 2010. 
  5. ^ "The Christine Jorgensen Story". Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Popi". Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Zigzag". Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  8. ^ "I Love My Wife". IMDB. Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  9. ^ "The Fugitive: "Fun and Games and Party Favors"". Retrieved January 20, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Joan Tompkins". Retrieved January 21, 2010. 
  11. ^ "The Waltons: "The Achievement"". Retrieved January 17, 2010.