Joyfully Glancing at Joi Lansing

In the majestic hierarchy of blonde pin-up actresses of the 1950s, Joi Lansing (Joy Rae Brown, 1929-1972) runs fourth behind Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Mamie Van Doren, but only in public memory; there are ways in which some of her successes are comparable to the latter two’s and even exceed them. Lansing’s greatest success was on television, where she was a regular on The Bob Cummings Show (1956-59), and the short-lived The Klondike (1960-61), and had a recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies (1963-68) as Lester Flatt’s wife Gladys. She was also a muse to Orson Welles, who starred her in his 1956 TV production The Fountain of Youth (which premiered on Colgate Theatre in 1958) and featured her prominently in the historic opening tracking shot in Touch of Evil (1958 — she’s the girl who hears the “ticking” that will soon kill her). Unlike many with her physical attributes, Lansing could act, both in drama and comedy. She lacked only a large part in a classic film to make lasting fame stick.

Lansing was of Mormon stock from Salt Lake City. Notwithstanding, she developed at an early age and was already working as a sexy model during her teenage years. By 1947 (age 18) she was in Hollywood appearing in films in walk-on as models, mannequins, show girls and the like. You can see her in Easter Parade (1948), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), Neptune’s Daughter (1949), The Girl from Jones Beach (1949), In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), among numerous others. From 1954 through 1956 she was in a half dozen Joe McDoakes shorts. In 1956, her career started to break. In addition to the TV work mentioned above (and lots of guest shots on other programs; she has over 200 screen credits), she began to get decent parts in B movies like Hot Cars (1956, a distinctly Van Dorenesque vehicle) and the Bowery Boys’ Hot Shots (1956). In 1958 she had a memorable guest shot on The Adventures of Superman (1958) and was considered for a regular role on the series, but the series was cancelled. That same year, she had a decent part in The Queen of Outer Space (1958). She was also in the Rat Pack comedies A Hole in the Head (1959), Who Was That Lady? (1960) and Marriage on the Rocks (1965).

In the ’60s Lansing also launched a singing career, performing in nightclubs with the likes of Xavier Cugat and Les Paul, doing some recordings, and appearing on tv variety and talk shows such as those of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, and Georgie Jessel.

Lansing’s appearance in the 1967 horror film Hillbillys in a Haunted House (alongside John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr and Basil Rathbone) provides a clear demarcation for her downward trajectory. She guested on Petticoat Junction in 1968 and The Mothers-in-Law in 1969. Her appearance opposite Carradine in Bigfoot (1970) was her final screen appearance.

Given her talent, and her track record, Lansing might easily have gone on to many future triumphs and transcended the rough patch of the late 1960s, but in 1970 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died of it two years later.

Lansing was thrice married, although late in life she had a one 11th hour lesbian relationship, according to the 2015 biography Joe Lansing: A Body to Die For by Alexis Hunter.

To learn more about the history of variety entertainment, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,