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THE DAME WHO GAVE GOLD DIGGERS A GOOD NAME


On screen, Joan Blondell always impressed me as direct, honest and totally without affectation. So I was very pleased in 1977, when I interviewed her for The New York Times, to find that she was exactly the same off screen. --GUY FLATLEY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m from the one-two-kick school of acting and this movie threw me for a loop at first,” says Joan Blondell, who one-two-kicked her way through a parade of punchy pictures in the 1930’s as the breezy, true-blue chorine with a tart tongue, saucer eyes and a sturdy shoulder to lean on. The titles of her films, hammered off the Warners assembly line at the rate of 9 or 10 a year, pretty much told the sassy story: “Sinner’s Holiday,” “Blonde Crazy,” “Broadway Bad,” “Gold Diggers of 1933,” “Havana Widows,” “Dames,” “Traveling Saleslady,” “We’re in the Money,” “Miss Pacific Fleet,” “Gold Diggers of 1937,” “Good Girls Go to Paris.”

The movie that is throwing the 67-year-old pro for a loop is John Cassavetes’s “Opening Night,” which also stars Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes, and which is now in production. “I’ve been in over 90 movies, but none of them has been like this,” says Blondell, her voice part croak, part caress. “You never know where the camera is; Cassavetes follows you around the corner, into the phone booth, under the bed, everywhere. I couldn’t tell when the actors were having a private conversation and when they were actually changing the lines of the script. They were always so natural. I must say, it’s lovely not having to stick to all the author’s ifs, ands and buts.”

Oddly enough, Blondell portrays a playwright in “Opening Night” who becomes apoplectic when a headstrong actress takes improvisational liberties with her prose. “The play I’ve written is on the serious side, but the girl is putting in her own words and making a comedy out of what is not meant to be funny. And that irks me,” she says. “But don’t ask me if ‘Opening Night’ is supposed to be a comedy or a drama, I’ll have to see it before I can tell.”

Not that Blondell knocks herself out scrutinizing her own work. “Some of my movies I haven’t even seen yet; I figure I’ll catch up with them on the late show. Mostly, I remember the movies I did by what was happening offscreen – who I was married to, what child I had, which house I was living in. I look back on a movie like ‘Nightmare Alley’ with fondness because of my affection for Ty Power. He was a darling guy. And I got to work with Clark Gable in ‘Adventure.’ You never heard anyone say a bad word about Gable. Hell, he was so damned nice to everybody.

“I’ve worked with such wonderful people,” Blondell continues, kindling memories of decades past. “It was fun working with directors like Mervyn LeRoy, Tay Garnett and even crazy Mike Curtiz. I’m so tickled that Bette Davis is getting that award from the American Film Institute; I just love that feisty gal – she fought her way up, a real Miss Gutsy. I miss Glenda Farrell so much; she was one gal I kept close to – she and Joanie Bennett. I do see Ruby Keeler once in a while, and Alice Faye and Patsy Kelly, and occasionally Jim Cagney [shown above with Blondell in "Blonde Crazy"] and I will talk on the phone. You don’t keep up all the old friendships, though; there are people you love and there’s nothing that’s going to shake that love, but that doesn’t mean you’re roommates.”