The Carole Lombard of the early 1930s still hadn't really found her niche as an actress, and as such both she and her home studio of Paramount were trying to uncover one for her. Simply from her lightened hairstyle, it was apparent that one of the people she was emulating was Jean Harlow (though it really wasn't until 1932 that Harlow became less of a "sensation" and more of an actress). Another popular star of the time probably provided some sort of inspiration to Carole, although she was at another studio, one with a drastically different style, and philosophy, than Paramount's.
We're referring to Joan Blondell, arguably the definitive pre-Code actress, at least where Warners films were concerned. Perpetually working (she appeared in 28 features between 1931 and 1933!), Joan did a balancing act between star and character player. She was likable, brassy and sexy, and connected with audiences better than just about any one of her contemporaries. And why not? In many ways, Blondell was one of them, especially those part of the urban poor during those Depression times.
You would think with that lustrous hair, Blondell was a stage name, but it wasn't -- she was born Rose Joan Blondell in New York on Aug. 30, 1906. (Nevertheless, when she got into pictures, Warners briefly toyed with changing her name to...Inez Holmes!) Her parents were active in vaudeville, and the greasepaint entered her blood; she regularly toured with them, and was part of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1929. She later appeared on Broadway with James Cagney in "Penny Arcade," and both were cast when Warners made it into a film called "Sinners' Holiday." (She had appeared in three shorts and one feature prior to this movie.) This would be the first of a half-dozen films Blondell would make with lifelong friend Cagney.
Joan's profile continued to rise during 1931, providing support to fine films such as "The Public Enemy" and "Night Nurse," but her breakout performance as a lead came in "Blonde Crazy," released that December. Playing accomplice to Cagney's con man, they electrify the screen, and it became a huge hit.
Two films later, Blondell appeared in a movie for Samuel Goldwyn in which Lombard could have co-starred but ultimately didn't due to illness, "The Greeks Had A Word For Them" (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/12097.html). Carole and Joan certainly knew each other, but I'm not aware of their relationship beyond that. (Blondell made two films with Clark Gable, "Night Nurse" and "Adventure," and always spoke well of him.)
There's Joan in two of her films from 1933 -- first, the Busby Berkeley classic "Gold Diggers Of 1933," and with Guy Kibbee in the notorious (and sadly lost) "Convention City." Blondell continued working, but Warners' post-Code sensibility really didn't have much of a place for her, so she left the studio in 1939. She excelled in a supporting role in 1945's "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," made the switch to character actress without missing a beat, and frequently worked on television. Joan's last appearance of note came in "Grease" in 1978, and she had a few more acting assignments before her death on Christmas Day 1979, not long after "Three On A Match" co-star Ann Dvorak. Like many of her cohorts, Blondell was buried at Forest Lawn Glendale -- outdoors in the Garden of Honor, Columbarium of the Evening Star.
We're focusing on Blondell today for a few reasons. First, she'll be featured Wednesday on TCM's "Summer Under The Stars"; 16 of her films are on the docket, about half of them pre-Codes. View the entire schedule at http://www.tcm.com/schedule/index.html?tz=est&sdate=2011-08-24, and see more on Joan at http://www.tcm.com/summer/#/day24.
There's another TCM tie-in. Its fine blog community, "Movie Morlocks," is doing a week-long Blondell blogathon. From last Thursday through this Wednesday, entries are being run focusing on Joan's marvelous career. To date, there have been entries on:
* One of her later films, 1968's "Kona Coast" (http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/08/18/joan-blondell-goes-hawaiian/).
* The 1931 pre-Code favorite, "Night Nurse" (http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/08/19/diagnosis-moxie-joan-blondell-in-night-nurse-1931/)
* Joan (shown above with Chester Morris) as an unlikely crime boss in "Blondie Johnson" (http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/08/20/blondie/)
* Cagney and Blondell in "Blonde Crazy" (http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/08/21/two-peas-in-a-pod-blondell-and-cagney-in-blonde-crazy/).
Three more entries are scheduled, so check http://moviemorlocks.com/ for more on this cinematic treasure.