Summer Reading List is JOAN BLONDELL: A LIFE BETWEEN TAKES by Matthew Kennedy.
Kennedy's biography was written with the complete cooperation of Blondell's family, including her children Norman and Ellen Powell. The extensive primary source research undertaken for this book is most impressive; this is not one of those biographies strung together with period news clippings -- though the author dug those up too -- but rather, it's a detailed portrait filled with original input from Blondell's colleagues and those who knew her best, her family. (Norman Powell's endorsement of the book can be found at Amazon.)
The dark shadows in Blondell's offscreen life included the fact that by the time she became pregnant with her son Norman in 1934, she had had seven abortions. Seven. Her first husband, cinematographer George Barnes, did not want children and was dismayed by Joan's refusal to have yet another abortion; he divorced her not long after the baby's birth. Norman, who was named for actor-director Norman Foster, was adopted by Blondell's second husband, Dick Powell.
Incidentally, years later, at the time of Powell's death, Joan would lament she should never have divorced him.
It was a long, hard road for Joan, including daughter Ellen's substance abuse and mental health issues, and Joan's own tough final battle with leukemia. Joan was a resilient woman, however, and she admirably kept on going for as long as she possibly could, including taking acting roles not long before her passing.
On one level, I enjoyed the peek at the real woman behind so many enjoyable film portrayals, and I especially appreciated the author's meticulous research and sourcing; on the other hand, just as with the Yvonne DeCarlo memoir I recently reviewed, the reader is left with a feeling of regret that an admired figure made some poor decisions and had such a tumultuous life.
(By contrast, stories about long-married, emotionally grounded Hollywood couples such as Joel and Frances Dee McCrea or Fred and June Haver MacMurray are inspiring; mixing Hollywood and a happy personal life was possible!)
This book was read as part of my participation in Raquel's 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge at her blog, Out of the Past. Five books down and one to go. Thanks again for the inspiration, Raquel!