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Glenda Farrell was born in Enid, Oklahoma on 30th June 1901, to Charles and Wilhelmina Farrell.
(The year of her birth is often given as 1904 but census records suggest otherwise.)
When Glenda was still very young, the Farrells moved to Wichita, Kansas, where she made her stage debut as Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and received a formal education at the Mount Carmel Catholic Academy.
The family later moved to San Diego, California and it was there that Glenda joined the Virginia Brissac theatrical company.
In 1920 Glenda was paired with Thomas Richards at a Navy benefit ball in San Diego. They married a few weeks later and tried to make ends meet with a vaudeville dance act.
In 1921 the couple had a son, Tommy (who also had a successful show business career, particularly sidekick roles in B – Westerns of the 1950s.)
Glenda recalled, "We were so poor that I was forced to make my baby's diapers out of old flour sacks ... But I hemmed them all by hand tenderly as if they had been of the finest materials, for my Tommy was the most welcome and looked-forward-to baby in the world ..."
Glenda and son, Tommy
Richards became depressed and turned to alcohol - the marriage deteriorated, ending in divorce in 1929.
In 1928, Glenda went to New York (leaving Tommy with her mother) and began her Broadway career. Due to her critically-praised performance in the play On the Spot, Warner Brothers hired her to act in Little Caesar. Afterwards, she returned to Broadway.
An engagement to vaudeville comedian, Jack Durant, was announced in 1931, but accounts vary as to whether the marriage took place.
In 1932, she signed a five-year Warner Brothers contract. Jack Warner quickly put her to work, often in as many as three movies at once. Her work paid off, and she quickly acquired much popularity; before long she had earned enough money to buy a house for herself and Tommy in the San Fernando Valley, and another nearby house for her father.
Glenda with her fan mail
Among Glenda Farrell's early 1930s Warner Brothers movies were a number of movies in which she and Joan Blondell co-starred, usually as a pair of gold-diggers. They were friends off-screen as well, with Blondell writing a tribute called My Friend Glenda. She said:
"No one would be able to enjoy a case of the blues with Glenda around. She would start to console you and before you realized it, you'd be laughing ... She just can't help but be funny ... Glenda is forever doing thoughtful things for others and seems instinctively to know just what to do and when to do it ... God bless Glenda."
In 1936, Warner Brothers began to develop an adaption of the MacBride and Kennedy stories by Frederick Nebel. For the movie version, the male reporter Kennedy was altered to a female reporter named Torchy Blane.
Director Frank MacDonald immediately knew who he wanted for the role of Torchy Blane; Glenda Farrell. She was cast in Smart Blonde, the first Torchy Blane movie. Glenda said of the role:
"They were caricatures of newspaperwomen as I knew them. So before I undertook to do the first Torchy, I determined
to create a real human being - and not an exaggerated comedy type. I met those who visited Hollywood, and watched them work on visits to New York City. They were generally young, intelligent, refined and attractive. Until Torchy arrived on the scene, most women reporters were portrayed as either sour old maids, masculine-looking feminists or twittery young girls who couldn’t wait to be rescued from tabloid drudgery by some bright young man. But Torchy Blane was a real girl. I made her bright, attractive, intelligent, daring and single-minded, able to hold her own. Sure, she loved McBride, but she had her own career and wasn’t about to settle for keeping house and raising kids while he brought home the bacon. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies.”
Among the many fans of the Torchy Blane movies was Jerry Siegel, a young comic book writer, who along with Joe Shuster, created Superman. He liked Glenda's portrayal of Torchy Blane so much that he based the character of Lois Lane on her.
Glenda preferred the stage, saying, "There's something more satisfying about working in a play. You get that immediate response from the audience, and you feel that your performance is your own. In pictures you get frustrated because you feel you have no power over what you're doing."
During the run of the play Separate Rooms, Glenda met Dr. Henry Ross, a West Point graduate and Army physician who had served on General Eisenhower's staff. The couple wed on January 19, 1941 and remained married until her death thirty years later.
Glenda and Dr Ross
In the 1950s and 1960s, Glenda Farrell appeared in a few movies, and a number of television shows. On May 26, 1963, she won an Emmy for her performance in the Ben Casey two-parter A Cardinal Act of Mercy. She also appeared in the Elvis Presley movie Kissin' Cousins (1964)
The same year, she appeared in Bonanza episode ‘The Pure Truth’ as Miss Lulabelle ‘Looney’ Watkins, the prospector who assists Hoss.
Miss 'Looney' and Hoss in 'The Pure Truth'
In the late 1960s, she decided to try retiring and spending more time at home, but grew bored. She returned to the stage in the play 40 Carats, and received rave reviews for her performance. Unfortunately, she became ill after only a few weeks, and was diagnosed with lung cancer.
She died on May 1, 1971 in her Manhattan apartment and is buried at West Point Cemetery, New York. When Dr Ross died in 1991, he was buried alongside her.
Glenda Farrell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures, at 6524 Hollywood Boulevard.
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