Joan Davis
Joan davis.JPG
Davis as she appeared in I Married Joan.
Born Madonna Josephine Davis
June 29, 1907 (1907-06-29) (age 110)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died May 22, 1961(1961-05-22) (aged 53)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress, Vaudevillian
Spouse Si Wills (1931–1948)
Children Beverly Wills

Joan Davis (June 29, 1907 – May 22, 1961) was an American comedic actress whose career spanned vaudeville, film, radio and television. Remembered best for the 1950s television comedy, I Married Joan, Davis had a successful earlier career as a B-movie actress and a leading star of 1940s radio comedy.


Born as Madonna Josephine Davis in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Davis was a performer since childhood. She appeared with her husband Si Wills in vaudeville.[1]



Davis' first film was a short subject for Educational Pictures called Way Up Thar (1935), featuring a then-unknown Roy Rogers. Educational's distribution company, Twentieth Century-Fox, signed Davis for feature films. Tall and lanky, with a comically flat speaking voice, she became known as one of the few female physical clowns of her time. Perhaps best known for her co-starring turn with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hold That Ghost (1941), she had a reputation for flawless physical comedy. Her pantomime sequence in Beautiful But Broke (1944) was a slapstick construction-site episode.

She co-starred with Eddie Cantor in two features, Show Business (1944) and If You Knew Susie (1948). Cantor and Davis were very close offscreen as well.

The Sealtest Village StoreEdit

Joan Davis entered radio with an August 28, 1941 appearance on The Rudy Vallee Show and became a regular on that show four months later.

Joan davis swan soap 1945

Swan soap ad featuring Davis' radio show, 1945.

Davis then began a series of shows that established her as a top star of radio situation comedy throughout the 1940s. When Vallee left for the Coast Guard in 1943, Davis became the host of his show. With a title change to The Sealtest Village Store, Davis was the owner-operator of the store from July 8, 1943 to June 28, 1945 when she left to do Joanie's Tea Room on CBS from September 3, 1945 to June 23, 1947. Sponsored by Lever Brothers on behalf of Swan Soap, the premise had Davis running a tea shop in the little community of Smallville. The supporting cast featured Verna Felton. Harry von Zell was the announcer, and her head writer was Abe Burrows, formerly the head writer (and co-creator) of Duffy's Tavern and eventually a legendary Broadway playwright.

The tea shop setting continued in Joan Davis Time, a CBS Saturday night series from October 11, 1947 to July 3, 1948. With Lionel Stander as the tea shop manager, the cast also included Hans Conried, Mary Jane Croft, the Choraliers quintet and John Rarig and his Orchestra.

Leave It to Joan ran from on July 4 to August 22, 1949 as a summer replacement for Lux Radio Theater and continued from September 9, 1949 to March 3, 1950. She was also heard on CBS July 3–August 28, 1950. She was a frequent and popular performer on Tallulah Bankhead's legendary radio variety show, The Big Show (1950–52).[1]

When I Love Lucy premiered in October 1951 on CBS Television and became a top-rated TV series, sponsors wanted more of the same with another actress who wasn't afraid of strenuous physical comedy. I Married Joan premiered in 1952 on NBC, casting Davis as the manic wife of a mild-mannered community judge (Jim Backus) who got her husband into wacky jams with or without the help of a younger sister, played by her real-life daughter, Beverly Wills. The series continued until 1955.[1]


On May 22, 1961, Davis died of a heart attack at the age of 53.[2] She was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery mausoleum in Culver City, California.

On October 24, 1963, Davis' mother, daughter Beverly Wills, and grandchildren were all killed in a house fire in Palm Springs, California.[3]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Joan Davis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street.

Award nominationsEdit

Year Award Category
1953 Emmy Awards Best Comedienne

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Ohmart, Ben. Hold That Joan — The Life, Laughs & Films of Joan Davis. Albany: BearManor Media, 2007. ISBN 1-59393-046-1
  • Rapp, Philip. The Television Scripts of Philip Rapp. Albany: BearManor Media, 2006. ISBN 1-59393-070-4.
  • Tucker, David C. The Women Who Made Television Funny (2007). ISBN 978-0-7864-2900-4.
  • Karol, Michael. Sitcom Queens: Divas of the Small Screen. iUniverse, 2006. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0-59-540251-8.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-507678-8.
  2. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. McNeilly, Donald. Routledge. p. 297. ISBN 0-415-93853-8. 
  3. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. McNeilly, Donald. Routledge. pp. 297, 298. ISBN 0-415-93853-8. 

Listen toEdit

External linksEdit

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