Joan Woodbury

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Joan Woodbury
Joan Woodbury in Rogue's Tavern cropped.jpg
Born Joanne Elma Woodbury
(1915-12-17)December 17, 1915
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died February 22, 1989(1989-02-22) (aged 73)
Desert Hot Springs, California, U.S.
Other names Nana Martínez
Years active 1934–1964

Henry Wilcoxon (1938–69; divorced); 3 children

Ray Mitchell (1971–1989; her death)

Joan Woodbury (December 17, 1915 – February 22, 1989) was an American actress beginning in the 1930s and continuing well into the 1960s.

Early life[edit]

She was born Joanne Elma Woodbury in Los Angeles, California, of an English father (Elmer M. Woodbury) and Danish mother (nee Joan Hedenfeldt). Her father owned the Hotel Richelieu in downtown Los Angeles, and her mother had been in vaudeville.[1] She first studied for seven years in a convent, later trained in dance, and eventually graduated from Hollywood High School. Woodbury began dancing for the Agua Caliente dance company, and at 19 decided to attempt a career in acting.

In 1922, when she was six years old, she was selected for the leading role in a series of children's fairy story films. An article about this in the San Francisco Chronicle commented "Joan Woodbury has been known for some time as America's 100 Per Cent Child, and has been photographed, sketched and painted by many artists."[2]

She moved to Hollywood and that same year received her first acting role in the 1934 film Eight Girls in a Boat, which was uncredited. Another uncredited role followed, with her first credited role being in the 1934 film One Exciting Adventure, which starred Binnie Barnes. Woodbury appeared in fifteen films from 1934 through 1935, of which ten were uncredited.

Career rise[edit]

In 1936, her career began to become more successful, with appearances in eight films that year, of which five were uncredited. However, of the three roles that were credited, Woodbury made an impact, and caught the attention of studios. Her mixture of Danish, British and Native American heritage gave her an exotic appearance, and allowed her to be cast in many different ethnicities, from Hispanic to French and Asian. By 1937 her career had taken off, mostly in B-movies such as Living on Love and Bulldog Courage, but also with her receiving many credited roles.

In 1937, Woodbury starred in her first of several credited Charlie Chan films, titled Charlie Chan on Broadway. She also began appearing in numerous westerns, portraying the heroine opposite some of the 1930s biggest cowboy actors, to include William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame, Roy Rogers, and Johnny Mack Brown. Woodbury would appear in fifty films from 1937 to 1945, almost all of which were credited. Her most memorable of that period was her lead role in the serial Brenda Starr, Reporter, in 1945.

Personal life[edit]

On December 17, 1938, Woodbury married actor and producer Henry Wilcoxon, with whom she had three daughters: Wendy Joan, Heather Ann and Cecilia Dawn "CiCi".[3] They divorced in 1969.[4] After the marriage, according to film critic Don Daynard, she "continued her career but never graduated from the minors", featuring in such films as Barnyard Follies, In Old Cheyenne and Brenda Starr, Reporter.[5]

Founding of Valley Players Guild and retirement[edit]

From 1946 her career declined, more due to her desire to spend more time with her family than her not having acting offers. After her marriage to Wilcoxon ended in divorce, she married actor Ray Mitchell, with whom she founded the company Valley Players Guild in Palm Springs. The Valley Players Guild staged plays featuring other veteran actors and actresses.[citation needed]

In addition to managing their company, she continued to act on occasion, with her biggest role after 1946 being a minor credited part in the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter. Her last film appearance was a supporting role in the movie The Time Travelers (1964).

In 1963-1964, Woodbury had a television program, Adventure in Art on KCHU-TV,[6] a UHF station in San Bernardino, California.[7] The program consisted of "26 dramatized and illustrated series of exciting adventures in the world of art."[6]

When Woodbury retired, she had appeared in 81 films. (A newspaper article published September 23, 1963, reported that Woodbury "appeared in more than 300 films.")[6] Woodbury eventually settled in Desert Hot Springs, California, where she was residing at the time of her death at the age of 73.[8]

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ Wagner, Laura (Spring 2015). "Joan Woodbury: Queen of the B's". Films of the Golden Age (80): 62–63. 
  2. ^ "S.F. Child Is Selected for Lead in Fairy Story Films". San Francisco Chronicle. California, San Francisco. October 22, 1922. p. 7. Retrieved August 11, 2016 – via  open access publication - free to read
  3. ^ Daynard, Don Henry Wilcoxon in Peter Harris (ed.) The New Captain George's Whizzbang #13 (1971), pp. 4, 7
  4. ^ Henry Wilcoxon and Katherine Orrison, Lionheart in Hollywood, p.351
  5. ^ Daynard, Don Henry Wilcoxon in Peter Harris (ed.) The New Captain George's Whizzbang #13 (1971), pp. 2-7
  6. ^ a b c "KCHU to Present Versatile Star in Art Adventure Series". The San Bernardino County Sun. California, San Bernardino. September 23, 1963. p. 16. Retrieved August 11, 2016 – via  open access publication - free to read
  7. ^ "KCHU/18, San Bernardino CA". The History of UHF Television. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  8. ^ "Woodbury, Joan (1915–1989)", Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages. Gale. 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2013 from HighBeam Research


  • Wilcoxon, Henry; Orrison, Katherine (1991). Lionheart in Hollywood: the autobiography of Henry Wilcoxon. Metuchen, NJ and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-2476-0. 

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