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(Image courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Joan Woodbury

Full name:
Joan Elmer Woodbury

1915 - 1989



Above are screen captures of Woodbury as "Lolita Maria Dolores Del Valle" in SONG OF THE GRINGO (Grand National, 1936) which starred Tex Ritter.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above - Joan and Allan Lane in a pressbook ad from NIGHT SPOT (RKO, 1938).
Joan Elmer Woodbury was born December 17, 1915 in Los Angeles to hotel manager / owner Elmer Woodbury and stage / vaudeville actress Joan Meta Hadenfeldt Woodbury. Circa 1910, father Elmer was part owner of the La Casa Grande and Maryland Hotels in Pasadena, California. Later, he managed the Richelieu Hotel in San Francisco. Mother Joan Hadenfeldt was the 1907 Pasadena Rose Bowl Queen.

The Woodburys were members of "high society" in Los Angeles, Pasadena and San Francisco. And the Library of Congress newspaper website has several dozen papers from 1900 - 1922 with articles on the Woodbury family entertaining guests, arranging parties, etc.

As a youngster and teenager, Joan danced at various Hollywood events. Her first movie job was at age six - from the September 4, 1921 New York Tribune newspaper (from the Library of Congress newspapers website):

"The Oliver Morosco production 'The Half Breed' will be released through First National. In the cast are Wheeler Oakman ... (then lots of names in the cast) ... Joan Elmer Woodbury ... "

Her parents divorced in 1925 and Joan became a live-in student at the Notre Dame Convent school in San Francisco. She later attended and graduated from Hollywood High School.

The Agua Caliente Casino and Resort in Tijuana, Mexico opened in the late 1920s and was a playground for Hollywood elite. Among the dancers working at Agua Caliente shows in the 1930s were Rita Hayworth and Joan Woodbury. Joan was also selected as the premier ballerina for the Corps de Ballet at the "Opera Under the Stars" at the Grand Opera Festival in June, 1936 at the Hollywood Bowl.

With her sultry look and Spanish dancing specialty, Joan was spotted by a talent scout and her first major screen role - billed as "Nana Martinez" - was in the second Hopalong Cassidy film, THE EAGLE'S BROOD (Paramount, 1936). Alas - brains heavy Addison Richards shoots and kills her at about the half way mark.

More western leading lady roles followed - she was the heroine in Tex Ritter's first starrer, SONG OF THE GRINGO (Grand National, 1936) and two with Tim McCoy, BULLDOG COURAGE (Puritan, 1935) and THE LION'S DEN (Puritan, 1936).

In the 1920s through early 1930s, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected promising starlets in their annual WAMPAS Baby Stars competition. After WAMPAS was discontinued, a few similar contests were held by other organizations. In 1938, movie studios selected their "Lucky 13" starlets and the actresses were: Joan Woodbury, Mary Maguire, Jane Bryan, Mary Russell, Jacqueline Wells (later, Julie Bishop), Phyllis Brooks, Betty Jaynes, Helen Troy, Olympe Branda, Barbara Read, Sigrid Gurie, Franciska Gaal, and Margaret Tallichet.

She and actor Henry Wilcoxon met in late 1938 while both were working on CHASING DANGER (20th C Fox, 1939). A whirlwind courtship followed and they tied the knot on December 17, 1938, Joan's twenty third birthday. Their marriage lasted 30+ years and they had three daughters - Wendy Joan, born December 28, 1939; Heather Mary, born May 8, 1947; and Cecelia Dawn, born May 25, 1950.

Joan concentrated on raising a family and by the late 1940s, was only doing an occasional film. She was a founder of the Wilcoxon Group Players in Santa Monica, California circa 1950. A highlight of the Wilcoxon Players was their annual Christmas Nativity play which was a fund raiser for charities. And circa 1963, Joan formed the Valley Players Guild in Palm Springs and over the next 20+ years, she produced, directed and acted in many plays.

The Desert Theater League (DTL) is headquartered in Palm Springs, California and mission is to support local theater. They have a Joan Woodbury Mitchell Award, which was "named for a woman who founded and 'did it all' for the old Valley Players Guild."

The January, 1983 issue #8 of Favorite Westerns magazine had an interview with Woodbury by Bob Pontes. A few Woodbury quotes follow:

Family Trees on Ancestry.com note that Wilcoxon and Woodbury divorced in 1969. In 1971, Joan married actor and radio personality Ray Mitchell, and he became involved in Valley Players Guild productions.

Joan's movie career spanned about 30 years and 80 films. However, the bulk of her work occurred during 1935 - 1946. She was a frequent B movie leading lady ... and sometimes the second or third woman in A grade features. Her most remembered role is starring in the 13 episode cliffhanger BRENDA STARR, REPORTER (Columbia, 1945). Other movies included four Charlie Chans, one Whistler with Richard Dix, and the last of the Chester Morris / Boston Blackie series.

Joan did about a dozen westerns with William Boyd/Hoppy, Johnny Mack Brown, Randolph Scott, Tex Ritter, Bob Steele, Cesar Romero (Cisco Kid), Roy Rogers, and Tim McCoy. She also did several comedies with wild west backdrops: the Marx Brothers GO WEST (MGM, 1940) and SHUT MY BIG MOUTH (Columbia, 1942) with Joe E. Brown.

She was a good rider and demonstrates that skill in NORTHWEST TRAIL (Action Pictures/Lippert, 1945), a Cinecolor flick with Bob Steele as a Royal Canadian mountie. Joan spends a good deal of time on horseback, and in medium and closeup shots, you can see her riding at full speed. The opening of this northwoods adventure reminds me of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers Republic oaters in which they encounter a strong-willed and / or cantankerous leading lady. In NORTHWEST TRAIL, Steele finds Joan napping in her stalled convertible. Then comes a verbal sparring match between the two, and Joan is the winner with lots of barbs aimed at Steele (about mounties always getting their man ... is he capable of fixing her car ... how about tieing his horse to the car and pulling her to a repair shop, etc.).

In the Johnny Mack Brown FLAME OF THE WEST (Monogram, 1945), Joan shows off her considerable acting skills - including a comedic touch and lots of swagger - as bad / good dance hall queen "Poppy Rand".

First husband Henry Wilcoxon was a close friend of Cecil B. DeMille. I'm guessing that he coaxed Joan to return to Tinseltown for her unbilled role in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Paramount, 1956). That was a DeMille production ... Wilcoxon had an acting part and he was also the associate producer. Years later, Joan came out of retirement for a minor role in the Sci-Fi THE TIME TRAVELERS (American-International, 1964) for producer Samuel Z. Arkoff.

Joan passed away from respiratory failure at her home in Desert Hot Springs, California on February 22, 1989.

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on:
          Joan Woodbury: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940199/
          Henry Wilcoxon (1905 - 1984): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0928295/

The Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen website includes extensive timelines and details on the Hollywood career and personal life of Joan Woodbury: http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/631/Joan+Woodbury/index.html

Several films with Woodbury can be streamed / downloaded from the Internet Archive. Included are NORTHWEST TRAIL with Steele, KING OF THE ZOMBIES with Dick Purcell, BULLDOG COURAGE with McCoy, SONG OF THE GRINGO with Ritter, and GANGS, INC. which has a small role for a young Alan Ladd: http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=joan%20woodbury

Joan's mother, Joan Hadenfeldt Woodbury, was the 1907 Pasadena Rose Bowl Queen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queens_of_the_Rose_Parade

There's photos and memorabilia of Joan's mother and father on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/140894532@N07/

Desert Theater League website: http://deserttheatreleague.org/
Article about the Desert Theater League and their Joan Woodbury Mitchell Award, which was "named for a woman who founded and 'did it all' for the old Valley Players Guild.": https://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/life/entertainment/people/brucefessierentertainment/2016/10/24/best-theater-desert-dtl-awards-offers-readers-guide/92697048/


On the trail of Joan Woodbury.
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and newspapers provide more on Joan Woodbury and family.



Above from an April, 1922 newspaper at the Library of Congress newspapers website:
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042303/1922-04-23/ed-1/seq-6/



(From Old Corral collection)

Above are William Boyd and Joan Woodbury (here billed as "Nana Martinez") in a lobby card from the second Hopalong Cassidy film, THE EAGLE'S BROOD (Paramount, 1936).



(From Old Corral collection)

Above - Tim McCoy and Joan Woodbury in a scene from BULLDOG COURAGE (Puritan, 1935), which is generally regarded as one of McCoy's better westerns from his post-Columbia period.

Below - Tim McCoy is protecting Joan in this lobby card from her second film with Tim, THE LION'S DEN (Puritan, 1936).



(Courtesy of Les Adams)




"Millions are waiting to see this nationally syndicated comic strip on the screen!" according to this 1945 tradepaper ad touting Joan as "Brenda Starr, Reporter".


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