It has been my main purpose on this web site, to raise awareness of the largely forgotten film ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ and its wonderful array of talented actors and actresses. Joan Rice is a prime example. In most cinema biographies, Joan Rice is rarely credited with little more than a few lines of text. Normally they basically state that she was a ‘pert British actress who enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity in the 1950’s’. But in my opinion and that of a growing amount of experts, she was the most innovative Maid Marian of all time and deserves far more credit. So after various visits to local libraries and the help of her friend Maria Steyn I began, about a year ago to try to piece together the life of this largely forgotten English rose.
In July 2007 I posted what I had managed to accumulate. It wasn’t a great deal, but what I hoped it would do, would lead to some more information and raise interest in her and of course the role that had catapulted her to stardom-Maid Marian.
This blog is read by people from all over the globe and as my visitors began to grow in those early days, so did my hope of some positive feedback. I was in luck and gradually over time, some more details of Joan’s life began to appear. So this is an update on information that I have gratefully received over the past year, although I must stress it is unofficial.
Dorothy Joan Rice was born at the City Hospital, Derby on 3rd February 1930. She was one of the four daughters of Hilda and Harold Rice. But life in 314 Abbey Street, Derby, became filled with trauma for Joan, Barbara, Roma and Gill, when their father was later imprisoned for child abuse. It was then that young Joan was sent to an orphanage in Nottingham, where it is said she used to play as ‘Maid Marian’ in Sherwood Forest.
As a teenager Joan moved to London where she started work as a Lyon’s tea House ‘Nippy.’ In 1949 she won the ‘Miss Lyons’ beauty competition and this led to her meeting the actor and producer Harold Huth and a screen test for the Rank Corporation. She secured a seven year film contract with them and in her early days went on to appear in ‘Blackmailed’ (pictured above in 1951) alongside Dirk Bogarde.
It was Walt Disney himself, who was keen for Joan to play the part of Maid Marian, in his second real-life adventure film in England. Although there was some reservations. Joan did not let him down. Her portrayal as the lively and independent-minded girl friend of Robin Hood, is now recognised by many film critics, as an innovative step away from the past celluloid Marians, who tended to be little more than a ‘beautiful plot device’.
So after her success as Lady Marian, in Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’ (1952) Joan was offered many film roles. But apart from a major part as the dusky Polynesian, Dalabo aki Dali, alongside Burt Lancaster, in the lavish ‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ (1954), a long notable film career eluded her.
In 1953 Joan married the writer and producer David Greene (1921-2003) but they divorced ten years later and she moved to Cookham in Berkshire. Sadly, according to Joan’s niece, their son Michael, recently committed suicide.
During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Joan’s movie career faded, so she turned to working in repertory theatre and television, including appearing in series such as ‘Zero One’, ‘The New Adventures of Charlie Chan’ and ‘Ivanhoe’ with Roger Moore.
It was about this time that Maureen Bell met Joan Rice. She writes:
“I met Joan when I lived in Windsor. It was 1962/3 if my memory serves me well. Joan lived in the flat next door to mine. At that time she worked at the Tax office in Slough. I think it was Slough. We had many talks and I found her to be a wonderfully warm person. She kept stills of the films she had made, plus a guitar which she played. I accompanied her to Maidenhead one day. I recall it was a mini. We were travelling flat out on the Maidenhead bye pass. I had never travelled so fast in a car before, I was petrified. But not Joan, who handled the car like a professional.”
Joan Rice’s final appearance on the silver screen, was as a grave robbers wife in the 1970 Hammer film ‘The Horror of Frankenstein.’ She then set up her own property and letting agency in Maidenhead, known as the Joan Rice Bureau.
Joan’s friend Maria Steyn writes:
“Joan and I met during 1978 when I rented an apartment through her property office, the Joan Rice Bureau, in Maidenhead.I was immediately fascinated by her person, not knowing anything of her film career at the time. We befriended and I met her several times in her Maidenhead apartment. She kept a lovely dog Jessy, a golden retriever who sadly died, as did her mother, during 1979.
Being a very extravert and lively person, she mentioned many of her lovers and an ex-husband, a Mr. David (?) Green(e) ?, who was taking care of her financially. Also she mentioned a son named Jim (?) Green(e), at the time playing in a band called Jam. I never met the son nor ex-husband.After moving from Maidenhead Joan and I kept in touch and I remember seeing her once a year during the mid-eighties.At the time she was living with a gentleman Mr Ken(neth) McKenzie from Stornoway, Isle of Lewis . They had acquired various properties which they let and lived in Cookham (nr. Maidenhead) at the time.
Ken was in advertising sales [also a former journalist with the Daily Sketch] and, being optimistic and energetic, kept Joan going. Joan since 1981 or so had become rather depressed and given to drinking and heavy smoking. She looked rather pale and unhealthy by 1986 and had repeated, severe and extended coughing fits. Later, around the late eighties, it became increasingly difficult to communicate with her and we lost touch.It was by checking IMDB I found out she had died January 1st, 1997.I then tried to trace Ken McKenzie but to no avail. The Cookham address did not respond, nor did other links I had. From the Norman Wisdom movie in which Joan played, I keep some good original still photos. I do have the 'The Story of Robin Hood ' on VHS, which I cherish.”
This was recently posted by Joan’s niece:
“It was nice to find something on the internet about my Aunt Joan. I miss her a lot. There is some incorrect facts such as her son's name was Michael Green whom she had with her union with David Green. Sadly Michael committed suicide several years ago. She and I wrote each other up until her death and I still have her letters. My Mum and I went to see her grave shortly after she died... it was a sad trip. Of the four sisters Joan, Roma, Barbara (my Mum) and Gill, only Gill is still alive and living in England.”
I would like to send out a very big thank you to Maureen Bell, Maria Steyn and Joan’s niece for getting in touch. It makes working on this web site so worthwhile. Please, if anyone has any more information on Joan Rice, ever met her, or have any anecdotes they would like to share, please post a message on the blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(To read more about Joan Rice please click on the label 'Joan Rice' either in the panel opposite or below.)