Brenda Joyce 1917 – 2009

Jun 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

Brenda Joyce and Weissmuller

Brenda Joyce made her first appearance as Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan and the Amazons (1945). Photograph: SNAP/Rex Features/SNAP/Rex Features

When Maureen O’Sullivan left the Tarzan film series in 1942 after 14 appearances as Johnny Weissmuller’s jungle mate, MGM made two further pictures without Jane, explaining that she had taken a trip to England. But in 1945, at the RKO production company, Jane returned to Africa in the shape of Brenda Joyce, who has died aged 92.

The wholesome, athletic Joyce, who would always be known as “the second Jane”, made four Tarzan movies opposite Weissmuller. She was first introduced in Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), wearing fashionable London clothes before stripping down to the familiar jungle attire, a loin cloth.

Unlike the Irish-born O’Sullivan, Joyce had an American accent, despite the fact that Jane was supposed to be English. There were also slight differences in the character of the two Janes. Boy (Johnny Sheffield) always called O’Sullivan “Mother”, while he addressed Joyce as “Jane”, but the fictional relationships remained as warm as ever. However, Joyce disliked Weissmuller, who would continually make (unrequited) sexual advances. “How Johnny holds all that manhood tamed under his loincloths defies the laws of nature,” she once told a friend.

Brenda Joyce (the name given to her by 20th Century-Fox after Alice Joyce, one of the earliest film stars) was born Betty Leabo in Missouri and raised in Los Angeles. While attending college, she worked as a photographer’s model to help pay her tuition fees. A Fox talent scout noticed her photos and she was immediately offered a contract.

She made an instant impact in her screen debut in The Rains Came (1939), playing the flirtatious daughter of American missionaries in India who wants to create a sexual scandal to escape her sheltered life. According to the New York Times, which felt the film betrayed the Louis Bromfield novel, “Brenda Joyce alone among the principals fits the ingenuous Fern Simon role, probably because she is an ingénue herself.”

She went on to make three films in 1940: Little Old New York, a biopic of Robert Fulton (Richard Greene), inventor of the steamboat, in which she played the daughter of his patron; Maryland, one of Fox’s many Technicolored equine films, in which Joyce has to vie for the love of John Payne with a horse called Cavalier; and Public Deb No 1. The latter is a real curiosity, with Joyce playing a spoiled society girl who is given a public spanking by a red-blooded American waiter (George Murphy) for attending a communist rally. She refuses to abandon her ideology, which she considers fashionable, until becoming disillusioned by Russia’s invasion of Finland. Her rejection is symbolised by a dog lifting his leg on a communist pamphlet.

Because the studio promoted Joyce as a sexy, single girl, they were rather miffed when she married a soldier, Owen Ward, in 1941. It seems as though they punished her by casting her in B movies with titles such as Private Nurse and Marry the Boss’s Daughter (both 1941).

In 1942, both Whispering Ghosts, with an eye-popping cowardly Willie Best facing jokes about him being black, and Little Tokyo, USA, which had white actors yellowed-up to play traitorous Japanese Americans, would be deemed unacceptable today. Thankfully, Tarzan swung to Joyce’s rescue.

Tarzan and the Amazons was followed by Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948), although in all of them Joyce paled beside more exotic heroines. Nevertheless, she got into the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest hair in Hollywood, at 39 inches. After Weissmuller hung up his loin cloth, she played Jane for one last time, opposite Lex Barker in Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) – making her the only Jane to co-star with two different Tarzans – before quitting show business forever.

Between the Tarzan movies, Joyce made several B films for Universal, two with Lon Chaney Jr, Strange Confession and Pillow of Death (both 1945), based on episodes from the Inner Sanctum mystery radio series; The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), pitted against Gale Sondergaard in the title role; and Little Giant (1946), with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, playing it straighter than usual as a foil to the comedians.

After a painful divorce in 1949, she retired into obscurity, working for a decade (under her real name) in Washington for the department of immigration. She also concealed her cinematic past from staff at the nursing home in Santa Monica where she spent her last years. She is survived by her three children.


• Brenda Joyce (Betty Leabo), actor, born 25 February 1917; died 4 July 2009

Brenda Joyce (February 25, 1917[3] – July 4, 2009[4]) was an American film actress. She was born as Betty Graftina Leabo in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, although family and friends referred to her as Graftina.

Although she appeared in many B-movies of the 1940s, she had a prominent supporting role in the major 1939 film The Rains Came opposite George Brent and Myrna Loy, and was cast as Maris Hanover in the 1942 film, Little Tokyo, U.S.A.. She is best-remembered as the seventh actress to play Jane in the Tarzan series of films. She succeeded Maureen O’Sullivan in the series and appeared in the role five times.

Her first four appearances as Jane were opposite Johnny Weissmuller. However, her last performance as Jane, in Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949), was with Lex Barker as Tarzan. Joyce and Karla Schramm from the silent era were the only two actresses to play Jane opposite two different actors playing Tarzan.

She retired from acting in 1949.



[edit]Personal life

She was married to Owen Ward from 1941 until their divorce in 1949; they had three children, Pamela Ann, Timothy Owen and Beth Victoria.


Joyce died on July 4, 2009 in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California.[4]

[edit]Selected filmography


  1. ^ “Brenda Joyce Brenda Joyce, who died on July 4 aged 97, swung to fame opposite Johnny Weissmuller and then Lex Barker as the seventh actress to play Jane in the durable Tarzan series of films.”The Daily Telegraph. July 24, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Other sources indicate 1912 or 1915 as her year of birth. A friend of Joyce’s confirmed after her death that she was 92, making 1917 the most likely date of birth.
  4. a b Barnes, Mike (July 17, 2009). “‘Tarzan’ actress Brenda Joyce dies”Hollywood Reporter.

[edit]External links

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