A Letter From Joan Rice

Joan Rice sadly passed away on January 1st 1997. This blog is dedicated to her memory. In Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood, Joan graced the silver screen as the best Maid Marian the movie world has ever seen.

So in tribute to ‘our Maid Marian’ I thought I would post this truly revealing article about Joan Rice’s trip to Hollywood, just before she began filming ‘His Majesty O’Keefe.’ It was sent in by Neil who says,” I came across this in Picturegoer Magazine of Sept 13th 1952, when I was looking to see if I could find the film that would have been shown along with the Story of Robin Hood on its original release in 1952.”

We have often discussed on here Joan’s ‘Cinderella like’ transformation from waitress to film star, and in this remarkably candid letter we read of her experiences of home-sickness, stage nerves, height problems, swimming, engagement, plans for marriage and preparations for film production.

Fiji-bound, Joan Rice stopped off at Hollywood..... and found time to write 'Picturegoer' a letter....

“It was 8 a.m. when the big B.O.A.C plane circled over Idlewild Airport. I was awake and well. I am usually very airsick, but I took plenty of ‘anti’ tablets.

It was my first sight of New York. I had no idea there was so much water round it. One doesn’t think of New York that way.

The Press photographer who came to meet the plane was a very tall man. In the corner of his mouth he had the longest cigar I had ever seen. He kept smoking it, even while taking pictures.

But he didn’t ask me to “hoist the hemline a few inches, kid.” As I am told they usually do. I don’t consider myself the pin-up type-even though I have to wear sarongs for my half-caste role with Burt Lancaster in ‘His Majesty O’Keefe,’ the film for which I am making this trip.

America amazes me. On the drive to Manhattan from the airport I was impressed by all the labour saving devices in this country-even to the machines that wash your car in sixty seconds. And the roads! The city is so well planned that I found my way around quite easily.

Armchair Travel

But I wouldn’t swap an English car for an American. The U.S. jobs are too big and over sprung. You have no sensation of travelling, and might as well stay in your armchair and have removal people move you.

I had nothing but £. s. d. In my bag, because this is a Fiji and Elstree film and I am being paid in pounds. But Warners gave me fifty pounds and I made straight for a drugstore. Haven’t you always wanted to go into a drugstore? They’re just as we see them in American films.

I asked for a cup of white coffee. Without uttering a word the man gave me a cup of black coffee. I said: “No, I want white coffee.” He went away and put it in a waxed container so I could carry it away. I said : “No, white coffee. I want to drink it here.” He just looked at me. We just couldn’t seem to understand each other.

I said: “This is the first time I have done this. In England we ask for black or white.”

He put some cream in my coffee and when I paid, the man at the cash desk sold me nearly everything in the store. I bought colour films and a travelling iron and asked for a British brand of milk chocolate. But they had only American chocs., and I bought a pound; but they were not so good as ours. They just didn’t taste the same. At home I eat my month’s ration the first week, but here I had some of that pound left a week later.

I hadn’t anything to do that evening in New York, so I went to bed and watched television. The hotel people apologized for my room as “only temporary, Miss Rice,” But really it was palatial – lamps and television and everything. More like a big living – room.

There was wrestling on television and it kept me awake. Finally I had to turn off the set, or I’d never got off to sleep.

Landing at Los Angeles at eight o’clock the next night was unforgettable. There was still daylight, but the lights were coming on all over the city. With its coloured houses and the miles of neon lighting in such delicate shades, the town looked like a gleaming model.

There was some difficulty at the Roosevelt as they had no room ready for me; so the photographer who met the plane took me dancing in the hotel’s Hawaiian night club.

At first they wouldn’t let me in. They said I was under age. I’m only five feet four in my stockinged feet- I know because Carl Schafer, head of Warner’s international office in Hollywood, measured me against a studio door. I initialled the mark.

Next day I spent by the hotel swimming pool. I had only six days’ notice to leave London, but my bathing suit was one thing I wouldn’t forget!

I can’t swim, so I didn’t go in the water until the evening, when I could be alone. Then I dunked myself in the shallow end and tried floating. For a few seconds I actually stayed up.

I reported to the studio on Monday, and the week became a whirl, with fittings, hairdressing, still pictures, make-up, interviews and more fittings.

Model Of My Figure

Fabulous is the word for the way Hollywood production is organized. They had a model of my figure already made, and much of the clothes-making was already done. (Their sending to London for my measurements was the first tip I had that they might take me.)

‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ is a period picture, and as well as sarongs I am going to wear two lovely gowns. One is lavender lace and velvet wedding dress with a bustle.

I hadn’t seen the script then, but I knew there’s an amusing scene where I try on the dress and then refuse to wear it, because I have got it on the wrong way round and I don’t like that “hump” (that is the bustle) in front.

The studio hairdressing department is like a Bond Street salon. Even in the waiting rooms the appointments are magnificent. Hollywood really tries to make its stars feel good.

And the clips they used for waving hair are better than ours. They give a softer wave without risk of breaking or making a “line” in the hair.

I Sat On Stars

They had to build me up on the chair because I am rather short in the body. I didn’t quite reach the dryer. They piled cinema magazines under me, so I really sat on the stars. I noticed the picture on top was of Ava Gardner.

Some of the Warners stars very kindly came to say “hallo” to me as I spent those long hours in the make-up and hairdressing chairs. I couldn’t talk to them (ever tried to talk with your head in a dryer, or while a man’s painting your lips?), but it was all very friendly. Steve Cochran was particularly charming.

Friendliness is one of the things about Hollywood. Leroy Prinz, the director, said I was to come back to Hollywood and he’d put me in musicals. I don’t know about that. I only know I’m booked for four months on this film, in Fijii with Burt Lancaster, whom I’ve met only once – at a Royal Film Performance. (I was very nervous-it was my first stage appearance. Afterwards he grinned and said: “Well, it wasn’t so bad, was it?”) I think the really surprising thing about Hollywood is that it’s just what you would expect. If you’ve seen it in the pictures-you’ve seen it. People do just the same things, in the same way, as on the screen. Of course, the sunshine is indescribable-there just aren’t the words. It’s sun, sun, sun. You almost expect it to blaze all night.

And remember I was there for only eight crowded, busy days. I went to a few night clubs-they’re rather like ours, but with more stars about. I tried Mexican food, made especially not-to-hot for me. Those beans of theirs-grand! Little brown beans in brown gravy. I couldn’t eat enough of them.

I tried driving a left-hand drive car- an English model, I’m glad to report!-and nearly rammed a big American thing on a turn. But in a couple of hours I got used to it, even on their eight-lane speed- highways.

I think it takes time to understand Hollywood. I want to go back-even though one can be hopelessly homesick there.

I was like that one evening that first week. It was so bad I just had to talk to somebody at home. I phoned Joan Rees, my friend and first agent who got me into films. It took until 3 am. to get through. The transatlantic circuits were always “out” or something. I told the hotel operator it didn’t matter how late it was, she was to connect me.

Just talking to somebody in England was a relief. I asked about my cat (A tabby) and things like that.

When I hung up, the operator rang back. She said: “Are you feeling better now, dear?” I know how it feels. I came out alone twenty-three years ago, I’m from Guildford.”

She sent me up a pot of tea. The waiter wouldn’t take my money. He said: “It’s on the house.”

Yes, I’d like to see Hollywood again-maybe on my honeymoon. Martin Boyce-he proposed to me over the phone just before I left Britain-and I plan to marry as soon as I get back, perhaps in the little old church at Denham.”

To read more about the life of Joan Rice, please click on the label below.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I would like to wish all my blog readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.  Thank you so much for your input and much valued support over the last four years!

Souvenir Programme

This is a very special Christmas treat for all my blogger buddies via Laurence. This is the original British souvenir programme from Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952). Enjoy!

would like to say a very big thank you to Laurence for sending in yet another gem, for us all to appreciate.

Picture Strip 17 : Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood

Part 17 of Laurence's fabulous picture strip of Walt Disney's original movie the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). To see previous pages of the picture strip, please click on the label below.

If you want to learn more about the making of this wonderful film or the legend that inspired it, please click on the relevant subjects in the sidebar.

Robin Hood's Death at Kirklees

In about 1138 Robert Le Fleming, Lord of the Manor of Wath and Clifton founded the Cistercian Nunnery of Kirklees (near Brighouse, West Yorkshire), within the western end of Wakefield Manor. It was a very small house; the church itself was only c.80 ft long, consisting of a nave and a chancel of about the same width, without aisles or transepts. It was said that Kirklees possessed a Holy Relic, a ‘Singalum’ reputed to be the girdle of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the Dissolution, Kirlees contained only seven nuns.

It was in this small nunnery, 20 miles from Barnsdale, that Robin Hood is said to have been murdered. In the Geste of Robyn Hode (C.1450), Feeling ill, Robin Hood visits Kirklees to be let blood by his relative, the Prioress.

Syr Roger of Donkestere,
By the pryoresse he lay,
And there they betrayed good Robyn Hode,
Through theyr false playe.

Cryst have mercy on his soule,
That dyed on the rode !
For he was a good outlawe,
And dyde pore men moch god.

Very little documentation survives of the early days of the nunnery, but in 1306 Archbishop Greenfield wrote to the house bidding them to take back Alice Raggid, who several times had been led astray by the temptations of the flesh, she, “deceived by the allurement of frail flesh, in great levity of mind hath gone forth from her house and hath wandered in great peril having long ago put off her religious habit.’

Professor John Bellamy discovered in 1985 that a Roger de Doncaster had been a chaplain in that area and was sent in 1306 by the Archbishop of York to be a priest of Ruddington church near Nottingham. It is about this time that we start to have evidence of the names of the Prioresses of Kirklees. About 1306 Margaret de Clayton was confirmed and from 1307-50 Alice de Scriven remained Prioress.

In 1315 the Archbishop of York wrote to the Prioress saying that public rumour had reached his ears, “that there are scandalous reports in circulation about the nuns at Kirlees and especially about Elizabeth de Hopton, Alice le Raggede and Joan de Heton, and that they admit both clergy and laymen too often into secret places of the monastery and have private talks with them, from which there is suspicion of sin, and great scandal arises; he commands the prioress to admonish the nuns and especially those above named that they are to admit no one, whether religious or secular, clerk or laymen, unless in a public place and in the presence of the Prioress or Sub Prioress or any two other of the ladies. He specially warns a certain Joan de Wakefield to give up the private room, where she persists in inhabiting by herself. He refers also to the fact that these and other nuns were disobedient to the Prioress, ‘like rebels refusing to accept her discipline and punishment.’’’

Joan de Heton was later convicted of incontinence with a Richard de Lathe and Sir Michael ‘called the Scot’ a priest. Alice le Raggede was also convicted of incontinence with a William de Heton of Mirthfield. Later in 1337 a letter from the Archbishop of York to the Prioress states that Margaret de Burton, a nun had sinned and would only be allowed to return to the priory if she would prostrate herself before the gates and undergo the prescribed penance.

At the Dissolution in 1539 Joan Kyppes (Kypac) the last prioress of Kirklees surrendered the nunnery at the value of £29.8s. 6d. Three years later the King’s Antiquary John Leland (1506-52) spent six years on a tour of England collecting material and visited Kirklees describing it thus :

‘Monastrium monialium ubi Ro. Hood nobillis ille exlex sepultus.’

'The monastery where the famous noble outlaw Robin Hood is buried.'

In 1565 the Armytage family took up residence in the Mansion House at Kirklees built from the stones of the plundered Nunnery and a local public house, nearby is named after three of the evicted nuns. The only remaining relic of Kirklees Nunnery is the Oat House, which was re-built on the original site in late medieval times. Although listed, it is in a derelict condition but has interesting ornamental foliated work carved into the beams, including a hound and stag.

The room in which Robin Hood is said to have died

It is in the upper room, which is reached by an outside staircase, where Robin Hood is thought to have breathed his last. Unfortunately the site of Robin’s grave is about 650 yards away, almost twice the longbow range of a skilled archer!
In the very damaged ballad ‘Robin Hoode his Death’ (which was rescued from being thrown on a fire by Thomas Percy) dated from about the mid seventeenth century, we can see more details of the mysterious death of the famous outlaw, which must have been known to the compiler of the ‘Geste’.

The ballad begins:

‘I will never eate nor drinke,’ Robin Hood said,
‘Nor meate will doo me noe good,
Till I have beene att merry Church Lees,
My vaines for to let blood.’

Eileen Power in her book ‘Medieval Nunneries’ notes that in all the ballad and folk song literature of England and Scotland this ballad has remarkably, the only reference to a nun!

Upon reaching Church Lees, (Kirklees) Robin gives the Prioress twenty pounds in gold and promises her more if she needs it.

And downe then came dame prioresse,
Downe she came in that ilke,
With a pair off blood irons [lancing knives] in her hands
Were wrapped all in silke.

‘Sett a chaffing-dish to the fyer,’ said dame prioresse,
‘And strpp thou up thy sleeve:’
I hold him but an unwise man
That wil noe warning leeve [believe].’

Shee laid the blood irons to Robin Hoods vaine,
Alacke, the more pitye!
And pearct the vaine, and let out the bloode,
That full red was to see.

And first it bled, the thicke, thicke bloode,
And afterwards the thinne,
And well then wist good Robin Hoode
Treason there was within.

The manuscript is badly damaged, but after a fight with ‘Red Roger’ Robin tries to escape from Kirklees, through a ‘shot window.’ Little John asks Robin’s permission to burn the nunnery to the ground but:

‘That I reade not,’ said Robin Hoode then,
'Litle John, for it may not be;
If I shold doe any widow hurt, at my latter end,
God,’ he said, ‘wold blame me;

‘But take me upon thy backe, Litle John,
And beare me to yonder streete,
And there make me a full fayre grave,
Of gravell and of greete [grit].

‘And sett my bright sword at my head,
Mine arrows at my feete,
And lay my vew-bow [yew-bow] by my side,
My met-yard [measuring rod] wi ………………………

(Half a page is missing)

Richard Grafton (1511-1572), King’s Printer to Edward VI wrote in his chronicle that, ‘the sayd Robert Hood, being afterwards troubled with siknesse came to a certain nunry in Yorkshire called Birklies [Kirklees] where desyryng to be let blood, he was betrayed and bled to death..........The prioress of the same place caused him to be buried by the highway side, where he had used to rob and spoyle those that paused that way. And Upon his grave the sayd prioress did lay a very fayre stone, where in the names of Robert Hood, William of Goldsborough and others were graven. And the cause why she buried him there was, for that the common passengers and travailers, knowing and seeing him there buryed, might more safely and without feare take their journeys that way, which they durst not do in the life of the sayd outlawes. And at either ende of the sayd tombe was erected a crosse of stone, which is to be seene at theis present.’

I will include more details of Robin’s tomb in a later post, but in 1706 the gravestone of a prioress of Kirklees was discovered. On the gravestone was carved the figure of a cross of Calvary and around the margin the following inscription in Norman-French in Lombardic letters:


'Sweet Jesus of Nazareth Son of God, take mercy on Elizabeth Stainton, Prioress of this house.'

Unfortunately there was no date on the stone. It lies about eighteen yards from the east end of the priory church. As it is the only grave discovered other than the traditional site of Robin’s, it probably led to the belief that she was the prioress who bled the outlaw to death.

From the style of the grave cross and its monastic lettering it has been dated to the fourteenth century and it is believed that Elizabeth was one of four daughters of a John de Staynton who lived at Woolley, near Wakefield in Yorkshire.

In about 1631, probably the greatest ballad-monger, Mathew Parker (c.1600-56) produced ‘The True Tale of Robin Hood.’ It was entered to Francis Grove at Stationers Hall on the 29th February 1632. Parker included at the end of the ballad:

‘the epitaph which the said Prioress of the monastery of Kirkes Lay in Yorkshire set over Robbin Hood, which, as is before mentioned, was to bee reade within these hundred years, though in old broken English, much to the same sence and meaning:

Decembris quarto die 1198 anno regni Richardi Primi 9
Robert Earle of Huntington
Lies under this stone
No archer was like him so good:
His wildnesse named him Robbin Hood
Full thirteen years, and something more,
These northerne parts he vexed sore
Such outlawes as he and his men
May England never know again.'

I will continue on the subject of Robin Hood’s Grave Stone very soon.

Waiting for Robin

I just had to share this masterpiece with you all. Mike never ceases to amaze me with his wonderful talent as an artist, and his painting entitled ‘Waiting for Robin,’ in my opinion is one of his best!
You can see more of his work here: Mike's Paintings