Born on June 30, 1904 in Enid, Oklahoma, Glenda Farrell made a career of playing wise-cracking dames with hearts of brass. Trained in stock, Farrell landed on Broadway in the late 1920s. Her hard-boiled style caught the tenor of the times, and after a bit in Tiffany's Lucky Boy (1929), she was signed by Warner Bros. A gangster's moll in Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1930), a gold-digging wife in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), Farrell was a bit too strident to be a romantic lead or sob-sister.
She was paired with other actresses (especially Joan Blonell) in countless variations on the gold-digger theme; the Blondell-Farrell vehicle Havana Windows (1933) shows both women at their naughty, pre-Code best. She played a tough city reporter for director Michael Curtiz in The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), which set the pattern for the rest of Farrell's career--character work in A pictures and leads in B's. She returned to the newsroom for the Torchy Blane series, beginning with Smart Blonde in 1936, based on stores by Frederick nebel, with the reporter's gender changed to accommodate Farrell; she appeared in seven of the nine series entries over the next three years, costarred with Barton MacLane.
As the 1930s came to a close, Farrell's "type" was no longer in vogue and film roles began t dry up. She continued to work in occasional films (1942's The Talk of the Town with Cary Grant and Johnny Eager with Robert Taylor, a handful of B's for Columbia and PRC), in the theater and on television. She won a supporting actress Emmy for "A Cardinal Act of Mercy," a 1962 entry in the Ben Casey series. In 1964 she worked with Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly, and appeared as Elvis Presley's mother in Kissin' Cousins. In 1969, Farrell was appearing on Broadway in 40 Carats when she learned she had lung cancer. She passed away on May 1, 1971.
--LEONARD MALTIN, from
Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia.
A selection of Glenda Farrell films.
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A selection of Glenda Farrell in books.
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