Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel
Date of Birth: January 26, 1925
Date of Death: October 12, 2015
Number of Films that Joan Leslie Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5
Born in Michigan, Joan Leslie jumped into show business early, joining her two older sisters in a family singing trio known as The Three Brodels. Leslie was two-and-a-half years old at the time, and would go on to perform around the country with her sisters on the vaudeville circuit to help her folks earn money during The Great Depression.
Discovered by MGM while performing with the trio in New York, Leslie made her way through more than a dozen films in bit parts and uncredited roles before landing a contract with Warner Brothers where she appeared with a high profile role in High Sierra next to an about-to-explode Humphrey Bogart.
Leslie would go on to receive great reviews in several more high profile films (Yankee Doodle Dandy and Sergeant York, notably) before finally being blacklisted by Warner Brothers after breaking her contract on religious and moral grounds. Leslie would eventually end up back with MGM, the studio that started it all for her, and finished out her career on the big screen and television before retiring in 1991.
I’ve always considered Joan Leslie to be a real joy to watch on screen. Mostly cast alongside of Bogart in the young and naive ingenue role, Leslie’s real life moral convictions played well on the big screen. And while she may have quit Warner Brothers to keep her convictions intact, Leslie was not afraid during her career to show a darker side to her characters if the script called for it in a sensible way.
I’m very happy to add Joan Leslie to the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!
High Sierra – 1941
Leslie plays Velma, the young and disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Raoul Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from showing us that Leslie has a bit of a darker side towards the end. Leslie does great in the role and holds herself up against Bogart very well. Perhaps the best and most nuanced of her roles with Bogart, the audience is left feeling both sad for Bogart at the loss of potential redemption through love, but also a bit relieved at the thought that this young child won’t end up with a much older gangster. You can read my original post on the film here.
The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941
Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Eddie Albert, Mary Coster. While she’s an even more innocent country kid than she was in High Sierra, Leslie doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Ray Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Eddie Albert. That’s all you need to know.” The role is almost identical to the one that Jane Bryan played in Kid Galahad as the younger sister who gets caught up in danger after falling for simpleton who’s making his way through showbiz. You can read my original post on the film here.
Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943
Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a bit underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in that film! Unfortunately, Leslie doesn’t appear in Bogart’s brief cameo, but it’s a fun film that you need to see regardless! You can read my original post on the film here.
I Am an American – 1944
Leslie plays herself in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with several other Hollywood celebs (including Bogart) during a rally to support the war effort. None of her lines are heard, and Leslie is shown for just seconds speaking to a crowd before it cuts to a speech by Dennis Morgan. You can read my original post on the film here.
Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946
Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince. And yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film. Again, no face time with Bogart during his small cameo, but the film is lots of fun and worth a watch. You can read my original post on the film here.
*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*