Dorothy Joan Rice was born in Derby, in England on the 3rd February 1930. The early years of her life were apparently spent in Abbey Street, Derby and at a school/convent in Nottingham, where according to Life magazine, she might have been training for her role as Maid Marian, playing in Sherwood Forest.
After finishing her education, the beautiful green-eyed brunette, took various jobs in London and eventually began working as a waitress in the smart uniform of a ‘corner house girl’ or Nippie, in a Lyon’s Corner House in London (possibly Marble Arch). It was while working there, that she entered a Beach Beauty competition and won the title Miss Lyons in 1949. This led to her being introduced, by a film extra, to actor and director, Harold Huth, and eventually a seven year film contract with J. Arthur Rank.
Joan’s first film role was as the character Alma, in Huth’s own production, Blackmailed (1951) alongside Dirk Bogarde, James Robertson Justice and Mai Zetterling. She then went on to play a maid called Annie, in the clever farce, One Wild Oat (1951) which also included the first screen appearance of Audrey Hepburn, another future Maid Marian.
According to Ken Annakin, Walt Disney’s only Achilles heel, during the making of Robin Hood was the casting of Joan Rice as Maid Marian. Annakin described her as an attractive brunette with a determined face and good figure, but no acting experience. Her acting ability was also criticised by the star of the film, Richard Todd in a recent radio interview. But although six other young actresses had also been screen tested, Walt Disney, would not change his mind, he said that he saw Joan as a great little ‘emoter’.
The other girls may be easier to work with, Disney said, but Joan has a quality. The camera loves her. She gets my vote. With your documentary experience it shouldn’t be beyond your skill to get a performance out of her. Treat her like a child. Spend time with her. So for Ken Annakin, the choice was made and Joan Rice was a cross, he said, he had to bear.
In April 1951 shooting began on Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952) and soon things became fraught between Joan Rice and Ken Annakin. In his book, So You Wanna Be A Director, Annakin describes how accident prone she was. During filming she used to ride to and from the local hotel at Denham on a bicycle and fall off nearly every single day. One evening, Annakin saw her standing forlornly by the studio door. He stopped and asked her what was wrong. Joan had smashed up her bike yet again. He offered her a lift, so she climbed in his MG Midget but during the journey she accidently dropped some ash from her cigarette and burnt a hole in one of the red leather rumble seats. The car was Annakin’s pride of his life and this incident reduced poor Joan to tears!
If there was a batten lying on the floor, she’d trip over it, and the funny thing is that nobody on the crew fancied her! Annakin said.
I had to go over dialogue with her word by word and guide her with chalk numbers on the floor, for her moves. The crew would often, shake their head and sigh audibly. One day an electrician sidled past while, while Joan was struggling with her lines and said to Ken Annakin, she’s nowt but a big, soft milk tart, Governor! Big tits and no drawers! This sent Joan off crying again and informing Annakin’s assistant, that that if he didn’t want her, she could always go back to being a waitress! But Disney had chosen her, so Ken Annakin and Joan Rice were chained irrevocably together for the rest of the show!
Despite this cruel criticism, the film, and Joan’s role as a spirited Maid Marian was a success. In fact for many, including myself, she was certainly one of the best, if not the best Maid Marian that ever graced the silver screen. So perhaps Uncle Walt was right!
Her film career took-off, and from story-book history, Joan Rice moved on to a WWII Navy drama, in her next movie, Gift Horse (1952) with Trevor Howard and Richard Attenborough, as June Mallory a Wren cipher clerk. Christmas 1952 saw Joan’s first television appearance as a guest on the BBC’s Current Release: Party Edition, transmitted on the 17th December with a whole host of top celebrities of the time, including Richard Todd, Dirk Bogarde, Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins and Petula Clark.
Joan then teamed up again with James Hayter and Bill Owen, from those Disney days, in the rather poor B movie, A Day To Remember released on 29th March 1953. Her next role was as Avis in the typical British farce Curtain Up (1953) alongside such great British talents as Margaret Rutherford and Robert Morley. The movie about a megalomaniac producer, who has to have a new play, ‘Tarnished Gold,’ ready in one week, was directed by Ralph Smart, who later worked on 18 episodes of TV’s hugely successful The Adventures of Robin Hood between 1955-1956.
It was in 1953 that Joan married film producer David Green, son of Harry Green who owned a top London club, frequented by film celebrities in the 1950’s, called Kiss Corner. Joan and Harry later had a son, Jim, but their marriage only lasted up until 1964.
Her last film of 1953 was The Steel Key, a melodrama which has Joan as the love interest, Doreen Wilson, alongside Terence Morgan as attractive rogue, Johnny O’Flynn. Between them they investigate the theft of a secret formula for hardened steel and get involved in international espionage. The movie is often described as a prototype for The Saint and was directed by Robert Baker, who later worked on that successful television series.
It was in the first movie to be filmed in Fiji, His Majesty O’Keefe, released in America on the 16th January 1954, that Joan Rice reached the pinnacle of her brief movie career. This lavish Technicolor adventure in the South Seas, featured Joan as a beautiful island girl who eventually marries Irish American, Captain David O’Keefe, a fortune hunter, played by Burt Lancaster.
After being washed up on the tiny island of Yap in the Solomon Islands, O’Keefe teaches the local islanders modern agriculture and eventually manages to establish a group of trading posts selling Copra, an oil yielding coconut pulp, across the South Seas. But not before he takes as his bride, a dusky Polynesian maiden, Dalabo aki Dali, played by Joan Rice and has a series of battles, not only with local superstitions, but with the native farmers, pirates and white Europeans.
In October 1954 Joan’s ninth movie was released, a comedy drama, The Crowded Day. In this she played Peggy Woman alongside John Gregson, Freda Jackson, and Rachael Roberts, in the five individual stories of a group of salesgirls and their boyfriends at a department store during Christmas week. A colleague from Disney’s Robin Hood, Hal Osmond, also appeared.
Sadly, Joan’s movie career was starting to fade, when she appeared as Iris, alongside much loved funny man Norman Wisdom’s second film appearance, One Good Turn(1955). Following this, Joan worked once again with Harold Huth in his ‘B Film’ as Pat Lewis in Police Dog. In 1956 she appeared in her first Hammer production, Women Without Men also known as Blonde Bait. A prison drama about three women who for various reasons decide to arrange an escape to settle things on the outside, then give themselves back up to the authorities. Joan played Cleo Thompson.
After a couple of years, Joan moved into the world of television with appearances in The New Adventures of Charlie Chan as Sybil Adams. Meanwhile in August 1958 The Long Knife was released. A melodrama about a nurse, Jill Holden, played by Joan, working in a convalescent home wrongly accused of killing several of her patients. As the story unravels, she begins her own investigation to prove her innocence and discovers that the victims were all being blackmailed. But the movie failed to have much of an impact and by November 1958 Joan moved back to the small screen, appearing alongside debonair Roger Moore in an episode of the series Ivanhoe.
June 1959 saw Joan’s appearance in the comedy film Operation Bullshine as Private Finch, with Donald Sinden and Barbara Murray. Set along the English coast at an anti aircraft station, the movie follows the mayhem caused at the base by a group of new female recruits.
After a role in an episode of the TV series The Pursuers in 1961 Joan made her last major screen appearance before her retirement from the film industry. This was in the highly rated heist movie, Payroll released in 1961. With a particularly good performances from Billie Whitelaw and Kenneth Griffith, the gritty story involves a gang of working class criminals in Newcastle, whose payroll robbery ends up with an unplanned fatality. The deceased's wife then decides to set off and track down the villains.
Joan appeared in one more television series, Zero One, aired on British television on the 9th January 1963. Then she retired from acting for nine years. She came out of retirement for a brief character role, as a grave robbers wife, in her second Hammer film, The Horror of Frankenstein in 1970.
She then set up The Joan Rice Bureau in Maidenhead, Berkshire, during the 1970’s and it was here that her office dealt with real estate and property. Joan was being cared for financially at this time by David Green and she lived in a local apartment with her much loved golden retriever called ‘Jessy’. It was in Maidenhead during 1978 that Maria Steyn met Joan Rice and Maria and has kindly informed me of Joan’s later years. They became close friends after Maria had arranged to rent an apartment through Joan’s bureau and they later met several times at Joan’s apartment. Sadly both Joan’s mother and her golden retriever passed away in 1979.
In 1984 Joan married Ken McKenzie a Salesman from Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis and they both moved to Cookham near Maidenhead. But by the start of the 1980’s Joan had been suffering with depression, which led to her drinking and smoking heavily. During this period, Maria describes Joan as looking very pale and unhealthy, with regular severe coughing fits. As time went on, Maria began to find it hard to communicate with her. Soon they lost touch.
Joan died aged 67on January 1st 1997 in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
We all have our favourite characters in the world of television and film. For me Joan Rice will always be Maid Marian.
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007
(To read more about Joan Rice please click on the label 'Joan Rice' in the panel opposite or below).