Joan Blondell Goes Hawaiian

During the month of August TCM highlights the work of a select group of talented performers as part of their annual Summer Under the Stars festival. The Movie Morlocks were asked to select one overlooked star from the Summer Under the Stars line-up to spotlight during a weeklong celebration of their work. Last year the Morlocks highlighted the accomplishments of Woody Strode and before that, Gloria Grahame and Fred MacMurray. This year the Morlocks are setting their sights on Joan Blondell with a blogathon that takes place August 18th – 24th.

I’ve never really considered the Oscar nominated Blondell to be an overlooked star. With her bright blond hair, big blue eyes and winning smile she seemed larger than life and many of her signature roles have a timeless quality that’s extremely enduring. She was sexy, sassy, smart and incredibly funny but she never achieved the same kind of success that many of her contemporaries did. Hopefully Joan Blondell will gain a few more fans and admirers during the coming week as the Morlocks take a look at her lengthy career in front of the camera.

Joan Blondell won a lot of critical acclaim while appearing on television shows late in life. She was nominated for two Emmys thanks to her recurring role on HERE COME THE BRIDES (1968-1970) and before that she guest starred on many popular television series including THE TWILIGHT ZONE and BONANZA. Prior to working on HERE COME THE BRIDES, Blondell shot a TV pilot on the Hawaiian coast that seemed destined to be a hit. KONA COAST was the brainchild of actor Richard Boone who is probably best known as the star of the successful series HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL (1957-1963) and he appeared in many westerns including THE TALL T (1957), THE ALAMO (1960), HOMBRE (1967), BIG JAKE (1971) and THE SHOOTIST (1976). After HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL was cancelled, Richard Boone moved to Hawaii and fell in love with the tropical islands. While he was living there he came up with the idea of producing and starring in another action-packed drama series for television called KONA COAST, which would feature many local sites and a cast of island natives. Veteran television actors such as Steve Ihnat, Chips Rafferty and Kent Smith were offered roles in the pilot. And Joan Blondell received top-billing alongside, Richard Boone and actress Vera Miles who was cast as Boone’s love interest. The show also gave celebrated guitarist Duane Eddy one of his few acting roles.

When Richard Boone showed executives the pilot they were mildly impressed but not enough to green-light further episodes. Instead they offered Boone the starring role in another TV show that was in development called HAWAII FIVE-0. Boone declined because he was angry about their rejection of KONA COAST and turned his attention towards scraping together some extra footage so he could turn his TV pilot into a full-length motion picture. But when KONA COAST was finally released with the tagline, “IT’S WHERE IT’S AT… The action, the adventure, the excitement of a turned-on world that can’t turn itself off!” it failed to capture moviegoer’s attention. KONA COAST didn’t have the production values of a feature length film and the choppy editing and thin script didn’t do the film any favors. Although the beautiful location was undoubtedly appealing, audiences in 1968 weren’t particularly interested in seeing a bunch of middle-aged actors solving crimes and hosting luaus while sorting out their romantic entanglements. But I think the film holds some appeal for potential viewers, including an incredibly groovy 7-minute opening that features the beautiful Gloria Nakea suffering a drug induced hallucination as well as a genuinely terrific score by composer Jack Marshall. Steve Ihnat (THE OUTER LIMITS, STAR TREK, etc.) is also memorable as a drug kingpin. KONA COAST plays like a vintage ‘60s travelogue that will make you want to hop on a plane and head to the Hawaiian Islands immediately.

Joan Blondell has very little screen time in KONA COAST but she’s extremely appealing as the aging Kittibelle Lightfoot, a tough talking Aussie dame (sans accent) who runs a recovery home for alcoholics and hosts luaus for visiting tourists. Kittibelle was once a heavy drinker herself but she managed to “crawl out of the bottle.” Now she struggles to stay sober while making enough money to keep her home open and available to others who are hurting with help from her nephew, Tiger Cat (Duane Eddy). She meets up with Richard Boone’s character named Sam ‘The Man’ Moran after her brother dies trying to stop some thugs from setting fire to Moran’s boat. You see, Moran blames local drug pushers for the death of his daughter (Gloria Nakea) and he’s trying to track them down and bring them to justice. The film follows Moran on his vigilante mission while he occasionally breaks to fondle hula girls and befriend surfer boys. During filming Blondell told her daughter, Ellen Powell (from her marriage to actor Dick Powell) that she thought Richard Boone was, “Crude, impolite and cruel.” Apparently there was no love lost between them but the animosity she felt towards Boone may have worked in her favor. The two actors play characters that are continually butting heads so Blondell’s genuine anger towards her costar and producer was put to good use.

It’s worth pointing out that Joan Blondell had a rough life and suffered some incredible hardships, including a brutal rape at the hands of a uniformed police officer in 1927. While watching KONA COAST I spotted a strange sign hanging in one of the tropical bars that caught my eye, which listed “fines” for particular crimes including rape. On the sign it lists the rape of a local as being worthy of a $2.50 fine but the rape of a tourist will only cost you 25 cents. I realize that this was considered crude humor back in 1968 but KONA COAST isn’t a comedy and one has to wonder what Blondell thought of the sign? It might explain why she thought Richard Boone was, “Mean and degrading.”

Although Joan Blondell went on to play Lottie Hattfield in the award nominated HERE COME THE BRIDES, I can’t help but wonder how she would have developed her character in KONA COAST if the original pilot had been turned into a weekly series. I tend to prefer Blondell in more modern roles where she’s playing a woman of her day. I think her bold personality and sassy attitude occasionally seemed out of place in costume dramas but she’s perfect for the role of Kittibelle Lightfoot and KONA COAST would have been an interesting predecessor to HAWAII FIVE-O if it had been given half a chance. The role of Kittibelle was a bold role for a woman of Blondell’s age to tackle. Playing a recovering alcoholic isn’t glamorous or particularly charming but the part could have provided the 62-year-old actress with the opportunity to really show of her acting chops. KONA COAST offers Blondell fans the chance to see the actress in a postcard perfect setting but she’s not given enough to do in the movie’s 93-minute running time. The Warner Archives recently made KONA COAST available on DVD and it makes for some entertaining late night summer viewing, especially if you have a few Mai Tai’s on hand. You can also catch it playing during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars festival celebrating Joan Blondell on August 24th.

Recommended Reading:
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land by David Rothel
KONA COAST reviewed by Jay S. Steinberg for TCM

48 Responses Joan Blondell Goes Hawaiian
Posted By JeffH : August 18, 2011 4:05 am

I have always thought that the Joan Blondell of the 30s and 40s was one of the loveliest women in the world, not just in the movies. Gorgeous figure, beautiful face and she could keep up with any co-star who dared to be with her. How I wish a print of CONVENTION CITY existed-that publicity still of her behind the sign for the movie is one of the sexiest ever, especially with that enticing smile-zowie!

Posted By JeffH : August 18, 2011 4:05 am

I have always thought that the Joan Blondell of the 30s and 40s was one of the loveliest women in the world, not just in the movies. Gorgeous figure, beautiful face and she could keep up with any co-star who dared to be with her. How I wish a print of CONVENTION CITY existed-that publicity still of her behind the sign for the movie is one of the sexiest ever, especially with that enticing smile-zowie!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 7:53 am

Although the beautiful location was undoubtedly appealing, audiences in 1968 weren’t particularly interested in seeing a bunch of middle-aged actors solving crimes and hosting luaus while sorting out their romantic entanglements.

Jesus, what’s wrong with people?! I love watching movies like Kona Coast. This may be low-budget and suffering from being a tv pilot presented as a feature film but I enjoy it very much. I love so many movies from the sixties that take place in beautiful locales like this one. I watched them all the time as a kid and, I admit, a lot of it has to do with reliving the cinematic comfort food of my childhood. Still, you could do a lot worse.

And it had Joan Blondell! And her character’s name is Kittibelle Lightfoot! What a great name! And you pegged it, Kimberly. Joan played a woman of her day, never a period piece or some far removed refined lady of the court. She was perfectly suited to sass.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 7:53 am

Although the beautiful location was undoubtedly appealing, audiences in 1968 weren’t particularly interested in seeing a bunch of middle-aged actors solving crimes and hosting luaus while sorting out their romantic entanglements.

Jesus, what’s wrong with people?! I love watching movies like Kona Coast. This may be low-budget and suffering from being a tv pilot presented as a feature film but I enjoy it very much. I love so many movies from the sixties that take place in beautiful locales like this one. I watched them all the time as a kid and, I admit, a lot of it has to do with reliving the cinematic comfort food of my childhood. Still, you could do a lot worse.

And it had Joan Blondell! And her character’s name is Kittibelle Lightfoot! What a great name! And you pegged it, Kimberly. Joan played a woman of her day, never a period piece or some far removed refined lady of the court. She was perfectly suited to sass.

Posted By medusamorlock : August 18, 2011 9:24 am

“Kona Coast” was part of a movie package from WB many years ago and it used to a staple of ours once in a while in primetime but more often in overnight. Definitely TV friendly stuff, with a solid cast. I can’t wait to watch it again next week!

Great intro post to this weeks’ special lady, Miss Joan Blondell!

Posted By medusamorlock : August 18, 2011 9:24 am

“Kona Coast” was part of a movie package from WB many years ago and it used to a staple of ours once in a while in primetime but more often in overnight. Definitely TV friendly stuff, with a solid cast. I can’t wait to watch it again next week!

Great intro post to this weeks’ special lady, Miss Joan Blondell!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 10:45 am

I can’t wait to watch it again next week!

Me too!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : August 18, 2011 10:45 am

I can’t wait to watch it again next week!

Me too!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 18, 2011 12:50 pm

perfectly suited to sass

I want that on my license plate frame!

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 18, 2011 12:50 pm

perfectly suited to sass

I want that on my license plate frame!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 18, 2011 2:58 pm

JeffH – Joan is gorgeous so I can totally understand the appeal. Her smile could stop traffic.

Greg – I completely agree with you, Greg and as someone now in “middle age” I appreciate a film that doesn’t feature a cast of teenagers. But in ’68 I suspect that (much like today really) the “youth quake” was all the rage and teenagers controlled the box office. Just wait until those young whipper snappers hit middle age and start wondering why 90% of movies cater to teenagers. (Shaking my old wrinkled fist in the air and shouting “Get off my lawn!” as I type this…). And “perfectly suited to sass” does sum up Blondell perfectly. It should be her motto!

Medusa – Thanks! KONA COAST is a great summer movie. It would also make a good double feature with something like DONOVAN’S REEF.

Richard – It would suit ya!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 18, 2011 2:58 pm

JeffH – Joan is gorgeous so I can totally understand the appeal. Her smile could stop traffic.

Greg – I completely agree with you, Greg and as someone now in “middle age” I appreciate a film that doesn’t feature a cast of teenagers. But in ’68 I suspect that (much like today really) the “youth quake” was all the rage and teenagers controlled the box office. Just wait until those young whipper snappers hit middle age and start wondering why 90% of movies cater to teenagers. (Shaking my old wrinkled fist in the air and shouting “Get off my lawn!” as I type this…). And “perfectly suited to sass” does sum up Blondell perfectly. It should be her motto!

Medusa – Thanks! KONA COAST is a great summer movie. It would also make a good double feature with something like DONOVAN’S REEF.

Richard – It would suit ya!

Posted By AL : August 18, 2011 3:54 pm

Delightful actress. In the ’30′s Joan and Charles Atlas were voted to have the “Best physiques in America” (Don’t remember by whom). Her lovely, unpretentious corner home was located on Fairfax, just above Sunset.
Although I love the haunting “My Forgotten Man”, my favorite Blondell film is STAND IN…

Posted By AL : August 18, 2011 3:54 pm

Delightful actress. In the ’30′s Joan and Charles Atlas were voted to have the “Best physiques in America” (Don’t remember by whom). Her lovely, unpretentious corner home was located on Fairfax, just above Sunset.
Although I love the haunting “My Forgotten Man”, my favorite Blondell film is STAND IN…

Posted By Joe : August 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Joan Blondell and Richard Boone also starred together MGM’s, Lizzie, from 1957.

Can’t wait to see Kona Coast because not only is Joan one of my very favorites, but Duane Eddy is one of my favorite musicians. He’s still around. Check out his brilliant new CD, Road Trip.

Posted By Joe : August 18, 2011 4:32 pm

Joan Blondell and Richard Boone also starred together MGM’s, Lizzie, from 1957.

Can’t wait to see Kona Coast because not only is Joan one of my very favorites, but Duane Eddy is one of my favorite musicians. He’s still around. Check out his brilliant new CD, Road Trip.

Posted By Emgee : August 18, 2011 4:36 pm

Ah,Joan Blondell……sorry, got lost in reverie there for a while. Great to see she finally gets the kudos she so richly deserves. I mostly know her from her Thirties movies and kept wishing she got more screen time. Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, huge fan of these gents but when Joan’s in the movie i wanna see more JOAN!! Those eyes almost deserve a movie of their own, and why repeat the praise you so aptly heaped on her in your intro? My thoughts exactly.

The only post-war role i saw was a far too small supporting role, little more than a cameo in The Cincinnati Kid. Again, McQueen, Robinson, all fine actors but why so little screen time for Miss Blondell? And Robinson even dares to call her a bitch!
Not to her face of course; she would have put him in his place pronto! Blogs away, Morlocks!

Posted By Emgee : August 18, 2011 4:36 pm

Ah,Joan Blondell……sorry, got lost in reverie there for a while. Great to see she finally gets the kudos she so richly deserves. I mostly know her from her Thirties movies and kept wishing she got more screen time. Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, huge fan of these gents but when Joan’s in the movie i wanna see more JOAN!! Those eyes almost deserve a movie of their own, and why repeat the praise you so aptly heaped on her in your intro? My thoughts exactly.

The only post-war role i saw was a far too small supporting role, little more than a cameo in The Cincinnati Kid. Again, McQueen, Robinson, all fine actors but why so little screen time for Miss Blondell? And Robinson even dares to call her a bitch!
Not to her face of course; she would have put him in his place pronto! Blogs away, Morlocks!

Posted By Erica.S : August 18, 2011 5:11 pm

The Joan Blondell episode of “The Twilight Zone” (called “What’s In The Box”) scares me. Yes, I know it is not the most disturbing or scary “Twilight Zone” episode(nor is it a particularly good episode). Maybe it’s the fact that her husband is played by the terrifying William Demarest. Who knows? It just bother’s me.

Posted By Erica.S : August 18, 2011 5:11 pm

The Joan Blondell episode of “The Twilight Zone” (called “What’s In The Box”) scares me. Yes, I know it is not the most disturbing or scary “Twilight Zone” episode(nor is it a particularly good episode). Maybe it’s the fact that her husband is played by the terrifying William Demarest. Who knows? It just bother’s me.

Posted By CynthiaKS : August 18, 2011 9:45 pm

Speaking of postwar roles for Joan Blondell . . . her turn as Peg, Katharine Hepburn’s coworker and confidante in DESK SET, is a delight.

Posted By CynthiaKS : August 18, 2011 9:45 pm

Speaking of postwar roles for Joan Blondell . . . her turn as Peg, Katharine Hepburn’s coworker and confidante in DESK SET, is a delight.

Posted By Peach917 : August 19, 2011 7:32 am

I thought I was one of a few that had the jumps behind that Twilight Episode. Weird but I made me think about the box. Cant wait for her day on TCM.

Posted By Peach917 : August 19, 2011 7:32 am

I thought I was one of a few that had the jumps behind that Twilight Episode. Weird but I made me think about the box. Cant wait for her day on TCM.

Posted By suzidoll : August 19, 2011 11:24 am

Kimberly: Great start to Joan Blondell week. I may have seen this film back in the day. I was such a fan of made-for-tv movies, especially those with aging Golden Age stars. But, I will have to catch it again to know for sure.

Posted By suzidoll : August 19, 2011 11:24 am

Kimberly: Great start to Joan Blondell week. I may have seen this film back in the day. I was such a fan of made-for-tv movies, especially those with aging Golden Age stars. But, I will have to catch it again to know for sure.

Posted By DBenson : August 19, 2011 1:41 pm

And don’t forget “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”, where she plays Jayne Mansfield’s confidente with an unsuspected passionate streak.

Posted By DBenson : August 19, 2011 1:41 pm

And don’t forget “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”, where she plays Jayne Mansfield’s confidente with an unsuspected passionate streak.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 19, 2011 2:12 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback! And I have to say that I enjoyed the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “What’s in the Box” too. I love the TWILIGHT ZONE in general but William Demarest is a scary guy. There’s something about his scratchy voice & squinty eyes that can be unnerving and when he’s pretending to be unhinged, he’s believable.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 19, 2011 2:12 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback! And I have to say that I enjoyed the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “What’s in the Box” too. I love the TWILIGHT ZONE in general but William Demarest is a scary guy. There’s something about his scratchy voice & squinty eyes that can be unnerving and when he’s pretending to be unhinged, he’s believable.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 19, 2011 3:27 pm

I first saw Joan Blondell on TV shows, later thanks to TCM her movies. I would like to see this movie: “Kona Coast”. I love shows about Hawaii. I can’t stand that new “Hawaii Five-O”. I watched it for 2 secs. and turned it off! It’s nothing compared to the fun and excitement of the orginal.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 19, 2011 3:27 pm

I first saw Joan Blondell on TV shows, later thanks to TCM her movies. I would like to see this movie: “Kona Coast”. I love shows about Hawaii. I can’t stand that new “Hawaii Five-O”. I watched it for 2 secs. and turned it off! It’s nothing compared to the fun and excitement of the orginal.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 11:47 pm

That tears it. I’m going to watch “What’s in the Box?” right now. And the whole time I’m watching it I will be impersonating Brad Pitt asking that very question.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 19, 2011 11:47 pm

That tears it. I’m going to watch “What’s in the Box?” right now. And the whole time I’m watching it I will be impersonating Brad Pitt asking that very question.

Posted By Rhetor81 : August 21, 2011 8:25 pm

Love sassy young Joan in pre-Codes, but don’t forget A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Genius film! Great cast overall, but Joan is especially good in a costume role. . .

Posted By Rhetor81 : August 21, 2011 8:25 pm

Love sassy young Joan in pre-Codes, but don’t forget A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Genius film! Great cast overall, but Joan is especially good in a costume role. . .

Posted By mvtt : August 22, 2011 12:24 am

Can’t say i’m a fan of Kona Coast, but of Joan’s other 1960′s-era movie performances, I thought she was really good in ‘Advance to the Rear’.

Posted By mvtt : August 22, 2011 12:24 am

Can’t say i’m a fan of Kona Coast, but of Joan’s other 1960′s-era movie performances, I thought she was really good in ‘Advance to the Rear’.

Posted By Hecubot : August 22, 2011 11:29 am

I grew up familiar with Joan Blondell from all of her TV roles in the sixties so it was a surprise to see how long her career was and how gorgeous she was in her youth.

The role that was a real revelation for me, though, was her performance in Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power. I think that’s one of the best female performances in the entire noir era.

Posted By Hecubot : August 22, 2011 11:29 am

I grew up familiar with Joan Blondell from all of her TV roles in the sixties so it was a surprise to see how long her career was and how gorgeous she was in her youth.

The role that was a real revelation for me, though, was her performance in Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power. I think that’s one of the best female performances in the entire noir era.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 22, 2011 11:32 am

She was pretty great in that.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 22, 2011 11:32 am

She was pretty great in that.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 22, 2011 2:37 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback! Hope you’re all enjoying the Blondell blogathon. Just wanted to pop in a say that I enjoyed Hecubot’s comments about Nightmare Alley. It’s one of my favorite Blondell films as well. She’s great in that!

I haven’t had the chance to see Advance to the Rear, mvtt so I’ll keep an eye out for it. It has a pretty remarkable cast.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 22, 2011 2:37 pm

Thanks for all the great feedback! Hope you’re all enjoying the Blondell blogathon. Just wanted to pop in a say that I enjoyed Hecubot’s comments about Nightmare Alley. It’s one of my favorite Blondell films as well. She’s great in that!

I haven’t had the chance to see Advance to the Rear, mvtt so I’ll keep an eye out for it. It has a pretty remarkable cast.

Posted By ellemeesh : August 24, 2011 1:21 am

I like Joan Blondell a lot. I haven’t seen Koana Coast before so i hope to see it soon. In my opinion her best movie isn’t being shown. I love her in a tree grows in Brooklyn. But, I enjoy in a lot of other things as well. Its going to be a great day.

Posted By ellemeesh : August 24, 2011 1:21 am

I like Joan Blondell a lot. I haven’t seen Koana Coast before so i hope to see it soon. In my opinion her best movie isn’t being shown. I love her in a tree grows in Brooklyn. But, I enjoy in a lot of other things as well. Its going to be a great day.

Posted By elizabeth : August 24, 2011 7:28 am

@CynthiaKS – Desk Set is one of my favorite Blondell roles too. Sure it was a pithy, supporting role – but like so many of Blondell’s roles, the scenes just couldn’t be such a delight without her!

Posted By elizabeth : August 24, 2011 7:28 am

@CynthiaKS – Desk Set is one of my favorite Blondell roles too. Sure it was a pithy, supporting role – but like so many of Blondell’s roles, the scenes just couldn’t be such a delight without her!

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