This summer marks the 100th birthday of the late Hollywood actress and North Texas alumna Joan Blondell, who was born in New York City on Aug. 30, 1906.
Rosebud, as she was known, began acting onstage at age 3 with her family and performed in Dallas theater before attending North Texas from 1926 to 1927. In 1926 she was crowned Miss Dallas and placed fourth at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.
It was no surprise when Blondell was accepted into North Texas’ Lillie Bruce Dramatic Club in October 1926. By January she was playing the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida at the college auditorium, for what was described as one of the largest crowds in the drama club’s history.
A Campus Chat article reports that Blondell left Denton to return to New York, where she appeared in four editions of the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1930 a talent scout spotted her on Broadway and signed her to a contract. Studio bosses wanted her to change her name, but she refused, dropping “Rosebud” but keeping “Joan Blondell.”
Her big break came that year with two consecutive hit films: Sinner’s Holiday and The Office Wife, a film that shocked audiences with a scene showing her character as she dressed for work — tame today but considered risqué for that period.
Blondell appeared in more Warner Brothers films than any other actress. In 1937, her celebrity was cemented with handprints and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Appearing in as many as 80 movies, she often played the part of the wisecracking blonde — her trademark. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in The Blue Veil (1951). She also starred in several TV series and landed dozens of guest roles. In 1972, she penned a semi-autobiographical novel titled Center Door Fancy.
A new generation of moviegoers discovered Blondell in one of her last performances, the 1978 musical Grease. She played restaurant waitress Vi who, after an accident at a table, races to clean the mess and cracks, “No use crying over spilled milkshake.”
Just shy of her 50th anniversary in Hollywood, Blondell died of leukemia on Dec. 25, 1979, in Santa Monica, Calif.
Only a decade later another North Texas alumna, Ann Sheridan, followed in Rosebud’s footsteps to Hollywood success.
But it was a century ago that North Texas’ first famous star was born, and she quickly blossomed into a legend.