No doubt about it, when it came to zany housewife antics, Lucille Ball wins hands down. She practically invented the genre with her radio show, “My Favorite Husband”, and went on to define the format with I Love Lucy in the early 1950’s.
Even into the 1960’s and 1970’s, Lucy retained her wacky ways, albeit without a husband in tow. Gale Gordon would take over has her ever-exasperated boss, Mr. Mooney.
But in the early 1950’s, Lucy had competition.
Joan Davis (I hear a collective `Who?’ from my audience)
Well, for those of you over the age of 50, Joan Davis is a familiar name. Many younger readers – those exposed to the `classics’ – like Abbott & Costello’s Hold That Ghost (1941) will remember Ms. Davis fondly or from the rerun-a-million-times-on-the-lateshow during the 1960’s The Travelling Saleslady (1950).
One of the best physical comediennes in the business, Joan Davis worked steadily in movies and radio throughout the 1940’s.
Her first film appearance was in movie short in 1935 called Way Up Thar (1935) with a then-unknown Roy Rogers. Bigger things were in store for her, although she primarily would appear in `B’ movies.
A partial listing of her movie appearances from the her IMDB page include:
... aka George White's Scandals of 1945 (USA: poster title)
During the 1940’s Joan worked in radio, and appeared on the Rudy Vallee Show. In 1943, when Rudy Vallee enlisted in the Coast Guard, Joan took over hosting duties for the show, and the name was changed to the The Sealtest Village Store.
She would leave that show, and star in her own radio show Joanies Tea Room, from 1945 to 1947, and that show would morph into Joan Davis Time, with Lionel Stander, Hans Conried, and Mary Jane Croft.
Tall and lanky, like Lucille Ball, but with sharper features – Joan Davis ventured into TV first in 1950, with a failed pilot called Let’s Join Joanie.
(click images to view)
TV was so new that it didn’t take much in the way of entertainment value to get put on the network’s schedule. Unfortunately, this show fell short of that mark!
So while not exactly the height of hilarity, this 33 minute pilot does have some nostalgic qualities.
Better things would come in 1952, when Joan would begin her 3-year run as Jim Backus’ wacky wife in I Married Joan.
I Love Lucy began in 1951, and would ultimately outlast the Joan Davis vehicle in episodes and the memory of the viewing public, but for a while Joan Davis was in their pitching.
Jim Backus, whom a whole new generation grew to know as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, played her harried municipal judge husband, and real-life daughter Beverly Wills played her sister on the show.
I Married Joan ran for three years, and after that Joan Davis pretty much retired.
She died in 1961, at the age of 53, of a heart attack. Tragically, two years later her mother, her daughter, and her grandchildren were killed in a house fire in Palm Springs.
The Internet Archive has a nice selection of episodes available to download or watch.
Fifties Television: ''Dreams'' - I Married Joan (1952)
Fifties Television: An episode called "Dreams" of the unpopular yet popular 1950's sitcom "I Married Joan". Starring Joan Davis & Jim Backus. This episode may be missing a few minutes, but is completely watchable. In this episode, Joan wonders what might of happened if she never got married. The fantasy sequences are fantastic.
Fifties Television: ''Home of the Week'' - I Married Joan (1954)
Fifties Television: An episode of the silly 1950's sitcom "I Married Joan" called ''Home of the Week''. This show was only a moderate success, but it's still pretty funny.