Joan Rice – Film Star

On January 1, 1997, Derby’s Joan Rice died. Her name may  eluded many but to film fans like me she needs no introduction.

Her natural, dark-haired beauty lent itself just as easily to exotic island beauties as it did to perfect English roses.

As well as being a talented actress, she had added a welcome note of glamour to her roles.

Many Derby residents  might have been surprised to learn that she was originally one of their own, born here almost 67 years earlier, one of four daughters of Hilda and Harold Rice of 314 Abbey Street.

Dorothy Joan Rice was born at the City Hospital on February 3, 1930.

Her early life had been troubled. Her labourer father was imprisoned for child abuse and, subsequently, she spent eight years in a convent orphanage in Nottingham.

She took work as a lady’s maid and as a housemaid before leaving for a new life in London with just half-a-crown (12.5p) in her purse.

She took a job as a Lyon’s Corner House waitress, or “nippy” as they were popularly known, earning the princely sum of £3 per week.

In 1949 her pretty looks and natural poise helped her to win the “Miss Nippy” competition.

The prize was a week-long promotional tour to Torquay,  but more importantly, it lead to an introduction to a theatrical agent who arranged for her a screen test.

From this came a contract with the Rank Corporation who sent the previously untrained actress to the Company of Youth, otherwise known as the “Rank Charm School”.

In reality it was a training institution for young film actors that occupied a disused church hall - the  Highbury Studio.

There, youngsters were trained in all manner of useful skills, like voice production and fencing.

Other stars who trained there included Honor Blackman, Kay Kendall, Shirley Eaton, Joan Collins, Diana Dors, Christopher Lee, Donald Sinden, Patrick McGoohan and Dirk Bogarde.

It was with the last of these with whom she appeared in her first notable film role – the feature Blackmailed (1950).

Another role, in the Robertson Hare and Stanley Holloway film One Wild Oat (1951) soon followed.

Unfortunately, the Rank organisation never saw her potential as a lead actress and instead she was given numerous supporting roles.

Joan Rice

 

Finally none other than Walt Disney saw her star potential, in 1952, when he cast her kin the leading role as Maid Marian  in his live action film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) made in England at Denham Film Studios.

 

Joan Rice The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men 1952

Joan played opposite Richard Todd and was declared “the new Jean Simmons”.

Very quickly afterwards she again took one of the starring roles in  His Majesty O’Keefe (1954) where she played Dalabo, the Polynesian girl who marries Burt Lancaster’s daring sea captain. For this she flew out to Fiji to make the film.

So she had just completed two major films and everything looked good.

For whatever reason – we have speculated for years as to why - lead roles in major films remained hard to come by which is unbelievable after these two very good films so she took roles  in ‘B’ movies like A Day to Remember (1953) with Stanley Holloway and Donald Sinden, as were smaller roles in feature films like Curtain Up with Robert Morley, Margaret Rutherford and Kay Kendall.

In 1954, Joan Rice appeared as Iris in Norman Wisdom’s film, One Good Turn, in which the residents and staff of an orphanage, including Thora Hird and Shirley Abicair, fight to save it from closure.

Joan Rice in Plymouth

 

ABOVE – Joan Rice in Plymouth attending the cinema showing The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men – one of the mots successful films of 1952

However, changing fashions – in the minds of casting directors at least – and the arrival of the Hitchcockesque blonde, meant that she was unable to land many more lead roles.

Instead she took the supporting roles of Pat Lewis in Police Dog (1955),  a prisoner Cleo Thompson in the prison drama Women Without Men (1956), also known as Blonde Bait, and the part of a young ATS private in the wartime comedy Operation Bullshine, which starred Donald Sinden and Barbara Murray.

What would be her last film role for more than a decade came in 1960, in the crime drama, Payroll.

There were roles in television series like Zero One, The Pursuers, Ivanhoe (starring a young Roger Moore), and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan.

Eventually, Derby’s Joan Rice left the film business and, after her ten-year marriage to David Green ended in divorce, she built a successful career in repertory theatre with a role, among many others, as Catherine in Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, and John Mortimer’s Voyage Around My Father.

In 1970, she did return to the big screen with a small role in The Horror of Frankenstein.

She then left the business and set up her own Estate / Letting Agency from an office in Maidenhead and she carried this on until she died.

She was a very memorable actress and somehow fitted the era of the early 50′s so well.  No one could have looked lovelier than her dashing around in Sherwood Forest opposite Richard Todd – and that is how will I remember her.

Joan Rice and Richard Todd 1952

 

 

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