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An Interview With…
        - Joan Barclay
        - Phyllis Coates
        - Virginia Mayo
        - Kay Hughes
        - Ursula Thiess
        - Lois January
        - Nell O'Day
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Joan Barclay.JOAN BARCLAY

When lists are complied of the most prolific and most popular…B-western heroines, Joan Barclay is on all the lists. From 1936-1943 Joan rode the range with no less than 16 cowboy heroes in 25 films  and co-starred in two 15 chapter cliffhangers. Only Jennifer Holt, Peggy Stewart, Iris Meredith and Dale Evans made more westerns than Joan. She was perfect for Saturday matinees—cute, feisty and a way above average actress for B-Westerns. The camera loved her red hair and stunning hazel eyes. At 84, the years have been good to Joan. Still most recognizable—with her winning smile and gorgeous eyes—she’s most content on the desert of Palm Springs. “I love the heat. I seldom run the air conditioner.”

Minneapolis, Minnesota, born in 1914 (no matter how much younger studio publicity tried to make her) she was well established as a model by the time she was 16. “I was on the cover of COSMOPOLITAN and many other magazines. I also did a big 24 sheet Budweiser beer billboard.”

As to how she got into movies, Joan recalls, “When I was a child, before I came to California…I think I came out here when I was 10…my mother took me to see Douglas Fairbanks in ‘The Thief of Baghdad’. My mother had a lady friend who was a script girl, and she said, ‘I think if you come out here,’—my real name is Mary Elizabeth, but I’ve changed it so many different times, now I’ve stuck to Joan and most of my friends call me Joan. So she said, ‘If you bring Mary out to Hollywood, I think I can get her in pictures.’ When I was 12…the biggest part I had was in a Douglas Fairbanks picture! I got to meet Fairbanks and it was quite a thrill. He wanted to make he his leading lady, at the age of 12!—I played the leading lady as a child in ‘The Gaucho’—but the publicity man said, ‘Doug, she’ll make you look like an old man.’ (Laughs)”

Joan crouches behind Tom Tyler as Tom struggles with Rex Lease in "Ridin' On" ('36 Reliable).

As Joan says, her name changed often while growing up. “When I was a child, my mother said to my father, ‘Mary Elizabeth is so common around here…I think we should name her something else.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ Mother said, ‘Well, I tell you what, the next little girl you see, ask her what her name is.’ So he did. He saw a little girl on a bicycle and he asked, ‘What’s your name?’ And she answered, Mary Elizabeth! At first, on screen I had another name, Geraine Greear which was used on ‘The Gaucho’. My last name was really Greear, so I said, how about Geraine Greear? My mother said, ‘I like that,’ so that’s what it became. Many, many agents came up with names. I’ve had lots of names. I picked Joan Barclay. I knew somebody by the name of Barclay. I liked that, so I said, how about Joan Barclay? I couldn’t tell you all the names I’ve had. Every time you’d get an agent, they wanted to change your name, but…Joan Barclay stuck.”

Growing up, Joan remembers, “My mother didn’t want me to go to public school, she was afraid I would catch diseases from the other children, so she had a tutor. Then when we came to California, she wanted to put me in the Vine Street School. I was excited, I wanted to go to public school but the Board of Education didn’t want any actresses or any professional children. So, I didn’t get to go to public school. I had my tutor and my mother was delighted, but I wasn’t. I graduated when I was about 14, from high school. I went right through…but it also went right through my mind and out the door because I was too young to assimilate all that. I went to school on the sets, with the other children I worked with in pictures.”

Joan smiled, reminded she was once under contract to Warner Bros., “Yeah. I had five years there. I might have been there yet but my cousin came out from Minnesota and she happened to talk to Hal Wallis…she was a little derogatory on Jewish people. I didn’t realize what she did. When my option was not picked up, somebody said, ‘Don’t you know why?’ and I said, ‘No. Why?’ She said, ‘Your cousin talked to Julie Wallis.’ I think that was her name; she was a great big Jewish woman. My cousin was just blabbing around, not thinking; she was from Minnesota and hadn’t been to California before and didn’t know anything about the motion picture industry. I had better sense than to do it, but I didn’t know she was doing it. So that was the end of my Warner Bros. Contract. Then I was under contract to RKO. I did westerns there with Tim Holt…”

Ken Maynard consoles Joan who seems to care for jailed Dave O'Brien in "Whirlwind Horseman" ('38 Grand National).

Joan’s contract at RKO from ‘42-‘44 came at the end of her career, after toiling for nearly six years at Colony, Victory, Ambassador, Monogram and PRC. “I didn’t do much at RKO. I remember…I played gin rummy with the head of RKO, Charles Kerner. There were some other people there and he said, ‘I want you all to listen to this man sing, he’s going to go places.’ It was Frank Sinatra. And he was right!”

In one picture at RKO, they even changed Joan’s name to Mary Douglas. “I had forgotten all about that…but it was just one picture. Then it went back to Joan Barclay. I always thought it was rather odd.”

Although Joan made more non-Westerns than she did shoot ‘em ups, it’s her B-westerns that are remembered today. Her popularity then—and her popularity today is mystifying to her and she doesn’t really understand why she receives so many requests for autographs. “Years ago, I remember I was doing some photography poses. And the photographer’s little boy came in and said, ‘Bob Steele is on the phone for you!’ He was all excited…he was at the age that went to westerns. Then he came back and said, ‘Now Tim Holt is on the phone! Now Rex Bell is on the phone!’ I had three phone calls. I don’t think I ever had that many in one day anywhere. He was just so excited.”

Who was Joan’s favorite leading man? She smiled, “They were all nice. I liked Rex Bell, just a wonderful man. I played bridge with his wife, Clara Bow. He used to come over and drop her off at my house. Then I went up to their house. They rented up at the end of Fairfax. I think he was in Nevada at the time. Apparently, he came out here when he made his pictures. Oh…he was the dreamboat…and a wonderful man. Just a wonderful man. I went to Rex’s funeral. Clara came out and she said, thank you all for coming. She was very sober at that time, but when she was over at my house, she poured a drink and stood in front of me and said, ‘Now when Rex comes in, that’s your drink’ (Laughs) so he wouldn’t know she was drinking. You know, she had quite a bad habit…but she was a nice person. Very beautiful and very nice.”

Unfortunately, over 60 years have passed and Tom Tyler, Kermit Maynard, Jack Luden and some of Joan’s other leading cowboy co-stars don’t hold a memory niche for her. “My memories are kind of vague.”

She does recall Hoot Gibson. “Hoot was a great one. He took me out and put me on one of his polo ponies, and you know, they stop on a dime…nearly went off that! (Laughs) They may be racing along and turn on a dime. He just put me on at the polo field at Will Rogers’ place, but he didn’t tell me anything about stopping on a dime. Scared the heck out of me. Hoot was a real nice guy. He really was.”

As for Bob Steele, “He wasn’t very handsome. Rambunctious, but…I gather from letters I’ve had that women say he’s been a paramour of so many. He didn’t (Laughs) get to me… His father directed some things I was in (“Kid Ranger”, “Prison Shadows”, “Trusted Outlaw”). Somebody wrote me and said…I think it was Lois January, said he was a great lover. I missed that. I had him over to the house but my mother kept an eye on him. She wouldn’t let any monkey business…(Laughs)”

Jack Luden and Joan rode Columbia's "Pioneer Trail" in '38. Tuffy is the dog.

Tim McCoy Joan recalls, “…was a colonel in the cavalry. The last time that I saw him was on Hollywood Blvd. He was all dressed up in his military outfit, walking down the boulevard. He had terrific posture.”

Joan says she, “Never got involved with any” of her leading men. “Errol Flynn tried to date me. I didn’t date him because he took a girl out and the next day she had a mink coat. So I said, I don’t think I better go out with him. (Laughs) Another one that called me is John Garfield. I hardly knew him, but he wanted to date me and I turned him down. And John Barrymore…I had a girlfriend, Linda Parker…Cecilia Parker’s sister…Linda and I were pals. John Barrymore called me and said, ‘Come over to RKO and come to my dressing room, six o’clock this evening.’ I got to thinking about it, so I called him back and I said, ‘Mr. Barrymore, I find I would have only about 15 minutes because I have something else I have to do!’ So he said, ‘All right.’ Then he called me back and said, ‘Miss Barclay, I find I have to change the date, you’d best make it so and so, and don’t make any appointments after!’ Hesitatingly I said, ‘Okay.’ (Laughs) I called Linda, I said, ‘Help!’ (Laughs) ‘You’ve got to go with me.’ You could go in studios, nobody ever stopped you. I had a little Ford convertible, we drove into the studio and went up to his dressing room. He was looking out and said, ‘I thought so!’ He knew Linda too! We went in and he would kiss one of us and then he’d kiss the other, but that was all there was to it and he was drinking and we were drinking and having a great time. He wanted me for a leading lady part but (Laughs)…I didn’t get it. Because that was all we did, was kiss. Marian Marsh got it. She did ‘Svengali’ with him. So apparently, she went up to his dressing room.

Who wouldn't fall for Joan's gorgeous green eyes as Tim McCoy does in "Two Gun Justice" ('38 Monogram).

Any casting couch problems? Joan laughed, “Sam Goldwyn chased me around a desk one day. Nothing came of it. I seemed to elude people. Maybe, if I’d gotten into the picture business deeper and gotten to be a big star, I would have had more problems.”

Like most leading ladies, Joan didn’t know how to ride when she started making westerns. “They put me on a horse and I was holding the reins up about here (indicating very loosely), giving the horse his head. A cowboy told me, if the horse ever stumbles, you’re going to go flying! He said, hold it up close and let your arm go out. The very next day the horse stumbled and I pulled him up. Otherwise, that would have been the end of me! I didn’t know which end of the horse to get on or anything.”

Joan often worked in poverty row Westerns for Sam and Sigmund Neufeld. Sam often directed under the pseudonyms of Sam Newfield, Peter Stewart and Sherman Scott. She laughed, “Two little Jewish men that were on Gower Gulch. They had a little tiny office and they’d stand in the doorway, looking out. (Laughs)”

Joan had a long relationship with Sam Katzman’s Victory Pictures (‘35-‘40) and worked with Sam again on East Side Kids films at Monogram. “He was a very nice man. He had a wife that…somebody called her a bitch on wheels…she had red hair and an awful temper, but she was nice to me. I did a lot of little pictures with Sam, including a couple of serials, ‘Blake of Scotland Yard’ and ‘Shadow of Chinatown’. I went on a couple of trips with the Katzmans; down to Caliente with them. Somebody got kind of fresh with me, so I told the little bitch on wheels. She said, ‘Well, you should expect that.’ So I got out, got on a bus and went home.”

“Shadow of Chinatown” (‘37) gave another B-Western heroine, Luana Walters, a chance to be evil, portraying Eurasian Sonya Rokoff. Joan remembers Luana as, “…quite attractive, but aggressive.”

The best of Joan's two serials was "Blake of Scotland Yard" ('37 Victory).

“Shadow of Chinatown” and Joan’s later “Black Dragons” and “Corpse Vanishes” starred Bela Lugosi. Joan laughed, “Very nice man but I met his wife and son and they both looked like they belonged in horror pictures. Big, tall, skinny…”

Of Bruce Bennett (aka Herman Brix), her co-star in “Shadow of Chinatown”, Joan says, “Bruce, the shot-put champion… He was teaching me to play golf. I don’t remember doing the picture but I remember still…teaching me golf. Very nice looking man. His wife went right along with him, wherever he went…kept an eye on him.”

After nearly 20 years in the business, Joan quit. “I got married to my second husband. His family was quite well to do and I just quit in 1945. My first husband, that didn’t last too long, only a year or so, because he didn’t want to work. He just let me work and everything was just fine with him. He’d just put his feet up on the desk and that was it. My second husband owned California Rent A Car, he and his partner. He was quite an alcoholic. Very bad for him and for my children and for me and for everybody. He was very smart but the alcohol kind of soddened his brain and he died when he was 53 years old. His partner went on, and it was kind of funny, kind of a reverse situation…his partner was on the garbage boat at Catalina and my husband was on his father’s 50-foot yacht…and he came around and got friendly with my husband and then they went into business together. When the partner died, he left a million dollars. Meanwhile, my husband remarried his first wife—and then he wanted to come back to me. When he remarried her, I said, ‘…go ahead, but just remember, if it didn’t work the first time, it won’t work the second.’ She just got everything she could get out of him…diamond rings and homes and everything else, then she dumped him. He came back to me and he wanted to marry me and I said, ‘Don’t you remember I told you, if it didn’t work the first time, it won’t the second. I had two children by my second husband and I think that was 22 years. Then, the third husband, George Sullivan, was 18 years. He also had a drinking habit, but he handled it much better than my second husband, he didn’t get so out of control. He died. That was the last one, and the last one I ever want…plenty. I love being alone. I really do. Some people are so unhappy and lonesome and I’m not a bit lonesome. I just enjoy my own company. My son was killed when he was 19 in an automobile accident and my daughter is in Texas, near Dallas.”

We asked Joan why she thinks her career never really progressed beyond B-films. “At Warner Bros., both Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien would talk like Dutch uncles to me. ‘Now you’ve got so much opportunity here, there isn’t any reason in the world why you’re not a star. Go out and get some experience, take dramatic lessons, do this and that.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, yes, yes Jimmy…’ Never did anything about it. That’s just me. I procrastinate. At that time, I was more interested in going out with boys…but I wish I had listened to them. Gee whiz, I regret I didn’t try to do something about it, listen to them.”

Joan’s Western Filmography


Movies: The Gaucho (‘28 United Artists)—Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ridin’ On (‘36 Reliable)—Tom Tyler, Feud of the West (‘36 Diversion)—Hoot Gibson, Kid Ranger (‘36 Supreme)—Bob Steele, Phantom Patrol (‘36 Ambassador)—Kermit Maynard, West of Nevada (‘36 Colony)—Rex Bell, Glory Trail (‘36 Crescent)—Tom Keene, Men of the Plains (‘36 Colony)—Rex Bell, Trusted Outlaw (‘37 Republic)—Bob Steele, Singing Outlaw (‘38 Universal)—Bob Baker, Purple Vigilantes (‘38 Republic)—3 Mesquiteers, Whirlwind Horseman (‘38 Grand National)—Ken Maynard, Two Gun Justice (‘38 Monogram)—Tim McCoy, Pioneer Trail (‘38 Columbia)—Jack Luden, Lightning Carson Rides Again (‘38 Victory)—Tim McCoy, Six Gun Rhythm (‘39 Grand National)—Tex Fletcher, Texas Wildcats (‘39 Victory)—Tim McCoy, Outlaw’s Paradise (‘39 Victory)—Tim McCoy, Gentlemen From Arizona (‘39 Monogram)—John King, Billy the Kid’s Range War (‘41 PRC)—Bob Steele, Billy the Kid’s Roundup (‘41 PRC)—Buster Crabbe, Billy the Kid’s Smoking Guns (‘42 PRC)—Buster Crabbe, Riding the Wind (‘42 RKO)—Tim Holt, Bandit Ranger (‘42 RKO)—Tim Holt, Sagebrush Law (‘43 RKO)—Tim Holt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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