Thursday, October 15, 2015

Actress Joan Leslie Dies at 90

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.


Update: I've now also reviewed SERGEANT YORK (1941) and JANIE GETS MARRIED (1946).


Blogger KC said...

Oh no! I used to dismiss her work as lightweight, but I really came to respect her over the years. An overlooked talent I think. RIP

10:31 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

She left us with many happy memories.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your lovely tribute is helping me mourn a wonderful actress who never quite got the recognition she deserved. I totally agree that Leslie is "assured and mature" beyond her years in REPEAT PERFORMANCE; I confess I had no idea she was so young when it was made! Astonishing. Thank you for giving me a few movies to seek out soon (SKY'S THE LIMIT and FLIGHT NURSE), as well.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Lovely tribute, Laura. I especially like her in 'High Sierra', but she was so good in general.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Such a versatile and refreshing talent who left us wonderful memories.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

A heartfelt tribute, Laura, to an underrated actress. I saw her only recently in both 'BORN TO BE BAD' and 'WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED' and she was very good in both.
Her niceness comes across on screen, I feel.
Never seen 'REPEAT PERFORMANCE' but it sounds like my kind of movie.

2:32 PM  
Blogger John G. said...

I win the "creepiest coincidence" award because I just watched "Repeat Performance" THIS morning (stayed home, wasn't feeling well) and now I find out that Ms. Leslie has passed away. Rest in peace.

FYI, Laura, there IS a DVD of this movie put out by Mr. FAT-W Video. Not the greatest print--very dark. But it's worth the $15 Amazon is charging if you're a fan of the movie.

3:22 PM  
Blogger rosspacker said...

Joan Leslie was one of my favorite Actress from the Golden age.
She held her own with Cooper Bogart and Cagney.She was both beautiful and had great talent.
RIP lovely lady

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely tribute and photos. I too wish Repeat Peformance would get a DVD release.

12:15 AM  
Blogger John G. said...

vienna, "Repeat Performance" IS on DVD (albeit not the greatest-quality DVD). See my comment two posts above yours.

6:36 AM  
Blogger john k said...

A stellar tribute,Laura to a much loved star.
Good to see so much admiration for REPEAT PERFORMANCE which really needs a "proper"
Actually I thought the production values on FLIGHT NURSE were pretty good,I guess we
all see films from different points of view.
I would love to see some of her Republic Westerns get released especially JUBILEE TRAIL;
also HELL'S OUTPOST and THE TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA. The latter two are both strong
adult themed Westerns with very strong supporting casts.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. I also did not realize she was so young in many of her roles.

I have never seen REPEAT PERFORMANCE, even though I own a copy. I will have to rectify that oversight soon.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have always loved Joan Leslie. So sad to hear of her death. As always you did a fine job at celebrating her career. I hope she receives some kind of TCM day.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Very nice tribute Laura! I can tell it's heartfelt. Will you be going to the memorial?

10:25 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I appreciate each and every one of you sharing your love and appreciation of Joan Leslie very much, as well as the kind words for this post. Joan meant a lot to me, and I'm very glad I have a platform to share that appreciation with others.

I especially love hearing all the praise for the wonderful REPEAT PERFORMANCE. (John, thank you for the DVD info. Of course, what I think we're all hoping for is UCLA's beautiful restoration to come out on DVD...)

I hope Joan's family knows how many fans she still has and how admired she is. A really special lady.

Best wishes,

7:38 PM  

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