biography

Born Madonna Josephine Davis in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 29, 1907, zany comedienne Joan Davis began her show business career in vaudeville as a child. Her comedy routines were a hit with audiences, but as Davis began to mature into a young woman, she was forced into retirement by audiences who were used to seeing her as preadolescent. After graduating from high school, she took a few menial jobs and, still longing for the stage, returned to vaudeville. But by the late 1920s, with the advent and acceptance of sound films, vaudeville was beginning to perish. In the summer of 1931, Davis married vaudeville veteran straight man Si Wills, with whom she had become a comedy act; two years later their daughter Beverly was born. By the mid 1930s, Davis made her way to California in an attempt to break into films. She was almost immediately successful, securing a role in the Mack Sennett short Way Up Thar in 1935. Upon the release of the short in 1935, RKO signed Davis to a contract, but Davis and RKO parted ways soon after. In 1937, 20th Century-Fox put her under contract with much greater success.

Joan DavisJoan DavisJoan Davis

LEFT: RKO still from 1936. CENTER: Late 1930s 20th Century-Fox still. RIGHT: Early 1950s photo of Davis, taken at about the time of the premiere of I Married Joan

Davis's contract at Fox lapsed in 1941, which allowed her to freelance at other studios. She also began building a radio following at this time, joining the cast of Rudy Vallee's radio show. When Vallee entered the service during World War II, Davis took over the program. In 1945, she went to CBS to star in her own radio show and was the highest paid female radio performer for a period of time. With the frantic pace of making films and doing radio, her marriage to Wills began to suffer, and the couple parted ways in 1947. Davis continued making movies through 1952, when her final film Harem Girl was released.

the films of joan davis

Life Begins in College (1937)

Joan Davis and Nat Pendleton

From the Ritz Brothers vehicle Life Begins in College with Nat Pendleton

Thin Ice (1937) Get It Here at Movies Unlimited

Joan Davis

As the orchestra leader in the Sonia Henie film Thin Ice

Time Out for Romance (1937)

Joan DavisJoan Davis

From Time Out for Romance. LEFT: 20th Century-Fox promotional photo. RIGHT: With Michael Whalen, Claire Trevor, and Chick Chandler

For Beauty's Sake (1941)

Cliff Clark, Joan Davis, Lotus Long, and Ned Sparks

From the 20th Century-Fox comedy For Beauty's Sake with Cliff Clark, Lotus Long, and Ned Sparks

Hold That Ghost (1941)

Richard Carlson, Bud Abbott, Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis, and Lou CostelloJoan Davis and Lou Costello

From the hilarious Universal comedy Hold That Ghost. LEFT: With Richard Carlson, Bud Abbott, Evelyn Ankers, and Lou Costello. RIGHT: With Lou Costello

Sweetheart of the Fleet (1942)

Jinx Falkenburg, Joan Woodbury, Joan Davis, and Irving BaconJinx Falkenburg, Joan Davis, and Joan WoodburyTim Ryan and Joan Davis

From the wartime comedy Sweetheart of the Fleet. LEFT: With Jinx Falkenburg, Joan Woodbury, and Irving Bacon. CENTER: With Jinx Falkenburg and Joan Woodbury. RIGHT: With veteran comedian Tim Ryan

He's My Guy (1943)

Fuzzy Knight, Joan Davis, and Dick Foran

With Fuzzy Knight and Dick Foran in He's My Guy

She Gets Her Man (1945)

Joan Davis and Charles Korvin

With veteran actor Charles Korvin on the set of She Gets Her Man

She Wrote the Book (1946)

Joan Davis

Universal promotional photo from She Wrote the Book

The Groom Wore Spurs (1951) Get It Here at Movies Unlimited

Joan Davis and Richard Whorf

A behind-the-scenes photo with director Richard Whorf on the set of The Groom Wore Spurs

later years

Jumping ship from radio to television, Davis started her own production company, which produced Davis's NBC comedy I Married Joan from 1952 through 1955. Somewhat surprising is that she hired ex-husband Si Wills to write for the series. Davis also cast her daughter Beverly Wills in the role of Joan's younger sister. After I Married Joan left the air in 1955, the wealthy Davis more or less retired. She shot a few pilots for proposed TV programs, but these were not successful in finding a network. On May 22, 1961, Davis suffered a heart attack and died in Palm Springs at the age of 53. Her daughter and ex-husband made headlines after her death, wrangling over the million-dollar estate of Joan Davis, which was eventually settled in favor of her daughter. Tragically, on October 24, 1963, Davis's daughter Beverly Wills fell asleep smoking a cigarette; her Palm Springs home caught fire, killing her, her two sons, and Davis's mother.

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TELEVISION
I Married Joan: Classic TV Collection #1 [DVD] DVD
This special collection includes the episodes "The Prizefighter," "Wall Safe," "Joan's Haircut," "Changing Houses," "Talent Scout," "Bad Boy," "Honeymoon," "Home Movies," "New House," "Neighbors," "Alienation," and "Sister Pat." 318 min. total on two discs. Standard; Soundtrack: English; biographies.
I Married Joan: Classic TV Collection #2 [DVD] DVD
This special collector's set includes the episodes "Home of the Week," "Acrobats," "Mabel's Dress," "Bev's Boyfriend," "Mountain Lodge," "Broken Toe," "Dreams," "The Jailbird," Clothes Budget," "Class Reunion," "Allergy," and "Jealousy." 6 hrs. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; biographies.
I Married Joan, Vol. 1 [DVD] DVD
Includes "Prize Fighter," "Wall Safe," "Joan's Haircut," "Changing Houses," "Talent Scout," and "Bad Boy." 150 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; biographies.
I Married Joan, Vol. 2 [DVD] DVD
Includes "Honeymoon," "Home Movies," "New House," "Neighbors," "Alienation," and "Sister Pat." 150 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; biographies.
I Married Joan, Vol. 3 [DVD] DVD
Includes "Home of the Week," "Acrobats," "Mabel's Dress," "Bev's Boyfriend," "Mountain Lodge," and "Broken Toe." 150 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; biographies.
I Married Joan, Vol. 4 [DVD] DVD
Includes "Dreams," "The Jailbird," "Clothes Budget," "Class Reunion," "The Allergy," and "Jealousy." 150 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; biographies.

FILM
Wake Up And Live [DVD](1937) DVD
The storied, if staged, broadcast sniping between columnist Walter Winchell and bandleader Ben Bernie served as the backdrop for this frothy yarn, as self-help expert Alice Faye tries to help aspiring singer Jack Haley conquer his mike fright. When his crooning inadvertently goes live on Bernie's show, a star is born--and a furious Winchell wants an expose. Patsy Kelly, Ned Sparks co-star; songs include "There's a Lull in My Life" and the title tune. 91 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
Thin Ice [DVD](1937) DVD
A Swiss hotel's ski instructor shares her time on the slopes with a handsome ski enthusiast reporter whom she later discovers is a prince. Romance blossoms, much to the chagrin of diplomats who don't want the prince to wed a commoner. Sonja Henie excels in the film's several skating scenes; Tyrone Power, Arthur Treacher, and Joan Davis co-star. 78 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
On The Avenue [DVD](1937) DVD
Frolicsome musical-comedy with Dick Powell as a Broadway impresario who produces a satirical musical starring Alice Faye as "The Richest Girl in the World." When the woman Faye plays appears at the theater outraged, Powell falls for her, setting in motion all sorts of wacky events. Madeleine Carroll and the Ritz Brothers co-star; among the Irving Berlin tunes is "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." 89 min. Standard; Soundtracks: English Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; audio commentary; featurettes; deleted scene; photo gallery.
The Alice Faye Collection [DVD] DVD
"On the Avenue" (1937) stars Dick Powell as a Broadway impresario who produces a satirical musical starring Alice Faye as "The Richest Girl in the World." When the woman Faye plays appears at the theater outraged, Powell falls for her, setting in motion all sorts of wacky events. Madeleine Carroll and the Ritz Brothers co-star; among the Irving Berlin tunes is "I've Got Love to Keep Me Warm." Four-disc set also includes "Lillian Russell," "The Gang's All Here" (1943) and "That Night in Rio." 6 3/4 hrs. total.
Sally, Irene, And Mary [DVD](1938) DVD
Alice Faye, Joan Davis, and Marjorie Weaver respectively inhabit the title roles as manicurist pals on the prowl for their big break as musical entertainers. After the efforts of agent Fred Allen repeatedly fall flat, they're ready to pack it in, but a surprise bequest to Weaver of an old ferryboat may just turn their fortunes around. Tony Martin, Jimmy Durante, Gypsy Rose Lee co-star; score includes "Got My Mind on Music," "Half Moon on the Hudson." 85 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
Josette [DVD](1938) DVD
Angry that their wealthy father has fallen under the spell of a gold-digging chanteuse, siblings Don Ameche and Robert Young seek the woman out for a confrontation. It gets bad when they mistakenly pursue understudy Simone Simone...and it gets worse when they each find themselves falling for her. Frothy comedy also stars Bert Lahr, Joan Davis, Lynn Bari, William Collier, Sr. 74 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
My Lucky Star [DVD](1938) DVD
After the son of a sporting goods store owner falls for a spunky sales clerk, he sends her to college to promote the shop's fashion wardrobe. Although her clothes cause jealousy among schoolmates and she gets involved with a teacher, she manages to skate in an ice show sponsored by the store. Sonja Henie, Richard Greene, and Cesar Romero star; songs include "I've Got a Date With a Dream." 84 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
Just Around The Corner (B&W/Color Versions) [DVD](1938) DVD
When her architect father loses his job, it's up to little Shirley Temple to talk a miserly tycoon into creating new jobs to help out Depression-riddled America. Winning musical tale also stars Bill Robinson, Charles Farrell, Bert Lahr; songs include "I'll Be Lucky with You," "I'm Not Myself Today." Includes both the original black-and-white and the newly colorized versions. 70 min. Standard; Soundtracks: English Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital mono, Spanish Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English, Spanish; newsreel footage; theatrical trailers.
Tail Spin [DVD](1939) DVD
The loves and perilous lives of lady pilots are the stuff of this unusual soaper, as sky-happy waitress Alice Faye scrimps and struggles to qualify for a cross-country air derby, only to face determined competition from in-it-for-a-lark debutante Constance Bennett. Joan Davis, Nancy Kelly, Jane Wyman, Charles Farrell co-star; scripted by Hollywood aviation fixture Frank "Spig" Wead. 84 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
Tyrone Power: Matinee Idol Collection [DVD] DVD
Tyrone Power's first film for 20th Century Fox, "Girls' Dormitory" (1936) tells the story of a young student (Simone Simon) who falls for the headmaster (Herbert Marshall) of a Swiss private school. "Love Is News" (1937) for reporter Power when financier's daughter Loretta Young lies about their engagement. A man (Power) romances a wealthy heiress (Young) in order to get out of debt, in "Cafe Metropole" (1937). A bored newlywed (Young) turns her attention back to her first husband (Power), in "Second Honeymoon" (1937). The wife (Linda Darnell) of an executive (Power) takes a job as a secretary for a playboy architect (Warren William), in "Day-Time Wife" (1939). A college grad (Power) reinvents himself as the gangster "Johnny Apollo" (1940). Power stars as a military deserter who starts dating an upper-crust girl (Joan Fontaine), in "This Above All" (1942). A New Yorker (Power) goes to Ireland where he meets a woman--and a leprechaun--in "The Luck of the Irish" (1948). Power teams with Gene Tierney in "That Wonderful Urge" (1948), an upbeat remake of "Love Is News." And, a scientist (Power) travels back in time and falls in love with a beautiful woman, in "I'll Never Forget You" (1951). 14 hrs. total. Five-disc set.
Show Business [DVD](1944) DVD
Eddie Cantor produced and stars in this spry musical tour through vaudeville history, loosely based on his own experiences. The film follows a group of aspiring performers (Cantor, Joan Davis, George Murphy, and Constance Moore) as they experience the ups and downs of life on the road to stardom. Features the songs "It Had to Be You," "Dinah," "Makin' Whoopee," "Alabamy Bound," and more. 92 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
George White's Scandals [DVD](1945) DVD
Loosely based on the hit Broadway revue, this musical comedy chronicles the backstage romance of two stage performers (Joan Davis and Jack Haley) and the trouble they face from Haley's disapproving sister (Haley's "The Wizard of Oz" co-star Margaret Hamilton). With Martha Holliday, Phillip Terry, Glenn Tyron, and Gene Krupa and His Band. Songs include "Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)," "Wishing (Will Make It So)," "How'd You Get Out of My Dreams?," and more. 95 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
If You Knew Susie [DVD](1948) DVD
A husband-and-wife vaudevillian duo (Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis) retires to a small New England town where they're shunned by the locals, most of whom can trace their family lines back to one Revolutionary War hero or another. But all that changes when a promissory note that proves George Washington owed one of Cantor's ancestors a large sum of money makes them celebrities. Allyn Joslyn, Charles Dingle co-star in this peppy musical comedy. Songs include the title tune, "What Do I Want with Money," and more. 90 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
Love That Brute [DVD](1950) DVD
At heart, '20s Chicago racketeer Paul Douglas is just a big teddy bear...and when he falls for parks-and-rec worker Jean Peters, he has his gang recruit some unlikely "kids" just so he can hire her as a caregiver! Can he keep up the ruse while also keeping up his turf war with rival Cesar Romero? Remake of 1941's "Tall, Dark and Handsome" (in which Romero was the "hero") co-stars Keenan Wynn, Joan Davis, Arthur Treacher. 86 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
The Traveling Saleswoman [DVD](1950) DVD
With the bank ready to call its loan on the family soap-manufacturing plant, harried heiress Joan Davis packs a grip and heads to the Wild West in order to drum up business. When she winds up in possession of evidence that'll tie some dirty desperadoes to rustling, will the ornery owlhoots hang her out to dry? Frontier fun with Andy Devine, Adele Jergens, Chief Thundercloud. 75 min. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.
The Groom Wore Spurs (1951)/Oklahoma Annie [DVD](1951) DVD
Jack Carson is a Hollywood cowpoke with a rough-and-tumble image onscreen, but who is a pushover in reality. After getting in trouble with gambling and gals in Las Vegas, he calls on lawyer Ginger Rogers, and sparks soon fly, in "The Groom Wore Spurs." Joan Davis also stars. Then, shopkeeper-turned-deputy Judy Canova helps sheriff beau John Russell clean up a crooked frontier town in the wild western/comedy "Oklahoma Annie." With Fuzzy Knight, Denver Pyle. 171 min. total. Standard; Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; newsreel footage.
Harem Girl [DVD](1952) DVD
In her final big-screen appearance, Joan Davis plays an American secretary hired as traveling companion to Arabian princess Peggie Castle, whose oil-rich lands are coveted by scheming sheik Arthur Blake. The wacky Davis makes sure the conspirators get their just desserts (or is that deserts?). Paul Marion, Henry Brandon, Minerva Urecal, John Dehner co-star. 71 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono.

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filmography

FILM
Harem Girl (1952) with Peggie Castle
The Groom Wore Spurs (1951) with Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson
The Traveling Saleswoman (1950) with Adele Jergens
Love That Brute (1950) with Jean Peters and Cesar Romero
Make Mine Laughs (1949) with Dennis Day
If You Knew Susie (1948) with Eddie Cantor
She Wrote the Book (1946) with Jack Oakie
George White's Scandals (1945) with Jack Haley and Phillip Terry
She Gets Her Man (1945) with Leon Errol
Show Business (1944) with Eddie Cantor and Nancy Kelly
Kansas City Kitty (1944) with Jane Frazee
Beautiful But Broke (1944) with Jane Frazee
Around the World (1943) with Mischa Auer and Kay Kyser
Two Senoritas From Chicago (1943) with Jinx Falkenburg and Ann Savage
He's My Guy (1943) with Dick Foran
Sweetheart of the Fleet (1942) with Jinx Falkenburg and Lloyd Bridges
Yokel Boy (1942) with Albert Dekker
Two Latins from Manhattan (1941) with Jinx Falkenburg and Lloyd Bridges
Sun Valley Serenade (1941) with John Payne, Sonja Henie, and Milton Berle
Hold That Ghost (1941) with Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Richard Carlson, Evelyn Ankers, and Shemp Howard
For Beauty's Sake (1941) with Marjorie Weaver
Manhattan Heartbeat (1940) with Robert Sterling
Sailor's Lady (1940) with Jon Hall, Buster Crabbe, Nancy Kelly, and Dana Andrews
Free, Blonde and 21 (1940) with Mary Beth Hughes, Lynn Bari, and Elyse Knox
Too Busy to Work (1939) with Spring Byington
Day-Time Wife (1939) with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell
Tail Spin (1939) with Alice Faye, Constance Bennett, Kane Richmond, and Nancy Kelly
Hold That Co-ed (1938) with John Barrymore, Jack Haley, Ruth Terry, and Glenn Morris
My Lucky Star (1938) with Sonja Henie and Cesar Romero
Just Around the Corner (1938) with Shirley Temple and Charles Farrell
Josette (1938) with Don Ameche, Robert Young, and Simone Simon
Sally, Irene and Mary (1938) with Alice Faye, Fred Allen, and Tony Martin
Angel's Holiday (1937) with Jane Withers, Sally Blane, and Lon Chaney Jr.
Life Begins in College (1937) with the Ritz Brothers, Nat Pendleton, and Tony Martin
Love and Hisses (1937) with Simone Simon and Ruth Terry
Thin Ice (1937) with Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power
Wake Up and Live (1937) with Alice Faye, Patsy Kelly, and Jack Haley
Sing and Be Happy (1937) with Tony Martin
The Great Hospital Mystery (1937) with Sally Blane, William Demarest, and Jane Darwell
On the Avenue (1937) with Dick Powell, Alice Faye, and the Ritz Brothers
Time Out for Romance (1937) with Claire Trevor
The Holy Terror (1937) with Jane Withers, Tony Martin, and Joe E. Lewis
Millions in the Air (1935) with John Howard and Robert Cummings

TELEVISION SERIES
I Married Joan, 1952-1955 NBC TV series. Davis portrayed Joan Stevens. Davis's daughter Beverly Wills also made frequent appearances on the show, cast in the role of Joan's younger sister Beverly

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Watch Joan Davis in the 1951 Universal comedy The Groom Wore Spurs
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This page premiered October 24, 2002.
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