Joanne Dru: A Star Eclipsed

Strange to contemplate a universe in which Peter Marshall is better remembered than his older sister Joanne Dru (Joan Letitia LaCock, 1922-1996), but that is the universe as we find it. Dru was a bona fide movie star in the ’40s and ’50s, and the entire reason Marshall was inspired to go into show business in the first place. Host of Hollywood Squares became Marshall’s claim to fame, eclipsing the popular memory that Dru had starred in several important pictures!

From rural West Virginia, Dru had started out as a model, getting her first break at age 18 when Al Jolson cast her in the chorus of the Broadway show Hold On To Your Hats (1940-1941). She married performer Dick Haymes in 1941 and accompanied him to Hollywood. Shortly after Haymes broke in such films as Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944) and State Fair (1945), Dru was cast as the title character in the 1946 remake of Abie’s Irish Rose.

Gorgeous though she was, her West Virginia origins gave Dru a tinge of authenticity for one particular genre: westerns. She started out at the very top of the game, in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948), followed by John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Wagon Master (1950). By 1949, Dru was a much bigger star than Haymes, and the pair divorced. That year she married John Ireland, with whom she had appeared in Red River and several subsequent films (and whose birthday was a day before hers). Dru’s other westerns included Vengeance Valley (1951), Return of the Texan (1952), Hannah Lee (1953, co-directed by Ireland), Southwest Passage (1954), Siege at Red River (1954), and Drango (1957). After a history of infidelity (and domestic violence) by Ireland, the pair divorced in 1957.

Movies in other genres included the political drama All the King’s Men (1949), Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1952) with Clifton Webb, the Dizzy Dean bio-pic The Pride of St. Louis (1952), 3 Ring Circus (1954) with Martin and Lewis, and lots of of noir crime thrillers. Dru’s time as a movie star ended around 1960, but by then she was working steadily in television. She co-starred with J. Carrol Naish in the short-lived sitcom Guestward, Ho! (1960-61), in which they played a couple who owned a dude ranch. She occasionally guest starred on various programs after this, the last of which was Marcus Welby, M.D. in 1975. Her last film was a 1980 Sergio Corbucci comedy called Super Fuzz with Terence Hill and Ernest Borgnine.