Actress Joan Leslie, greatly loved by many classic film fans, has died at the age of 90.
Joan passed away on October 12, 2015.
Joan always had a beautiful smile, on and off the screen, and seems to have been a lovely person. In THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), Fred Astaire says of Leslie's character that she's "the sweetest thing I ever hope to meet on this Earth," a description which seems an appropriate tribute to the actress herself.
Leslie's kind and sunny disposition belies what must have been a very strong backbone, confidently starring opposite Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and Fred Astaire when she was just a teenager! She was about 16 in the films SERGEANT YORK (1941) and HIGH SIERRA (1941), 17 in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), and she celebrated her 18th birthday on the set of THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943).
Leslie's early work also included a difficult role opposite Ida Lupino in the melodrama THE HARD WAY (1943). Leslie plays a young girl pushed to stardom by her older sister, taking her character from gum-snapping teen to a mature woman who has weathered tragedy and begun to reset her priorities.
As good as her early work is, it's some of her later films I appreciate the most, starting with the very special REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). Leslie plays Sheila, a Broadway actress who shoots her vile husband (Louis Hayward) and then is magically given the chance to relive the past year until she gets it right. She gives such an assured and mature peformance, it blows my mind she was only 21 or 22 when she filmed it! I loved it so much I saw it twice in a month's time. It's a film which desperately needs a DVD release so that more people can enjoy it.
I also especially loved her spunky performance in the title role of FLIGHT NURSE (1953). Her sincerity, along with that of costars Forrest Tucker and Jeff Donnell, makes the film believable and moving despite its low production values.
She also did very nice work in Nicholas Ray's wonderfully soapy BORN TO BE BAD (1950) and in Republic Westerns such as WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953), seen below with John Lund, and JUBILEE TRAIL (1954). Her presence automatically makes any movie in which she appears better.
Joan was married for 50 years to Dr. William G. Caldwell, from 1950 until his passing in 2000. After Dr. Caldwell's death, Joan founded the Dr. William G. and Joan L. Caldwell Chair in Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Louisville, her husband's alma mater.
Joan scaled back her career to raise twin daughters, who are both English professors. Ellen teaches at California State University, Fullerton and Patrice at Eastern New Mexico University.
Joan's funeral Mass will be celebrated on Monday, October 19th, at Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
There is a paid obituary in the Los Angeles Times and a story at The Hollywood Reporter. I'll be adding more links to this post as they become available. Update: Here are the obituaries from Variety, Deadline, People, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.
Update: An obituary has now been published by The New York Times.
Update: A remembrance by Leonard Maltin.
God bless you, Joan, and thank you for everything.
Previously: 2010 and 2011 birthday tributes.
Joan Leslie films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: SUSAN AND GOD (1940), FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), NINE LIVES ARE NOT ENOUGH (1941), THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), THE HARD WAY (1943), THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943), THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? (1945), TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE (1946), REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), BORN TO BE BAD (1950), MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951), WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953), FLIGHT NURSE (1953), and JUBILEE TRAIL (1954).