Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell

Farrell in Stolen Heaven (1938)
Born (1904-06-30)June 30, 1904
Enid, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died May 1, 1971(1971-05-01) (aged 66)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Occupation Actress
Years active 1928–1969
Spouse(s) Thomas Richards (m. 1921; div. 1929)
Dr. Henry Ross (m. 1941; her death 1971)
Children Tommy Farrell

Glenda Farrell (June 30, 1904 May 1, 1971)[1] was an American actress of film, television, and theater. She is best known for her role as Torchy Blane in the Warner Bros.' Torchy Blane film series, and the Academy Award nominated films Little Caesar (1931), I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and Lady for a Day (1933). With a career spanning more than 50 years, Farrell appeared in over 100 films and television series, and numerous Broadway plays.[2] She won an Emmy Award for best supporting actress for her performance in the television series Ben Casey in 1963 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960.

Early life

Farrell was born to Charles and Wilhelmina "Minnie" Farrell of Irish and German descent in Enid, Oklahoma. She had two brothers, Richard and Gene.

After her family moved to Wichita, Kansas, Farrell began acting on stage with a theatrical company at age 7, playing the role of Little Eva in the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. She received a formal education at the Mount Carmel Catholic Academy.[3] When her family moved to San Diego, California, she joined the Virginia Brissac Stock Company. Farrell made the third honor roll in Motion Picture Magazine’s "Fame and Fortune Contest". Her picture and biography were featured in the magazine’s April 1919 issue, which also stated that Farrell had some experience in the chorus, vaudeville and camp entertainments.[4]


1928–1939: Stage and films

In 1928, Farrell was cast as the lead actress in the play The Spider and made her film debut in a minor role in Lucky Boy. Farrell moved to New York in 1929, where she replaced Erin O'Brien-Moore as Marion Hardy in Aurania Rouverol's play Skidding. The play was later served as the basis for the Andy Hardy film series. By April 1929 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that she had played the role 355 times. Farrell appeared in a number of other plays, including Divided Honors, Recapture, and Love, Honor and Betray with George Brent, Alice Brady, and Clark Gable.

Farrell in I've Got Your Number (1934)

In 1930, she starred in the comedy short film The Lucky Break with Harry Fox. And in July 1930, Film Daily announced that Farrell had been cast in Mervyn Leroy's film Little Caesar as the female lead, Olga Stassoff. Afterward, she returned to Broadway and stars in On the Spot at the Forrest Theater. At the time, Farrell conceded that the motion pictures offer immense salaries, but felt the theater was the foundation of the actor's profession.[4] She appeared in several more plays and in 1932 stars in the hit play Life Begins. Her performance in play caught the attention of Jack Warner, who signed her to a long-term contract with the Warner Bros film studio. And cast her to re-create the role in Warner Bros.' film adaptation of Life Begins later that year. Farrell would not return to the stage until 1939.

In her first two years with Warner Bros., Farrell starred in seventeen films, including Girl Missing (1933), Gambling Ship (1933) opposite Cary Grant, Man's Castle (1933) and the Columbia Pictures Lady for a Day (1933) by director Frank Capra. Farrell often worked on four films at once and managed to transition from one role to another effortlessly. She worked in over 20 movies between 1934 and 1936, starring in films like Go into Your Dance (1935), Little Big Shot (1935), High Tension (1936) and appeared opposite Dick Powell and Joan Blondell in the Academy Award nominated Gold Diggers of 1935 and Gold Diggers of 1937 musical film series. She was very close friends with fellow Warner Bros. actress Joan Blondell.[5] Throughout the early 1930s, they were paired as two sassy blonde bombshell comedy duo in a series of five Warner Bros. movies: Havana Widows (1933), Kansas City Princess (1934), Traveling Saleslady (1935), We're in the Money (1935) and Miss Pacific Fleet (1935). Farrell and Blondell would co-star in a total of nine films. Farrell came to personify the smart and sassy, wisecracking dame of the '30s and '40s films.

Torchy Blane series

In 1937, Farrell was given her own film series as Torchy Blane, "Girl Reporter".[6] In this role, she was promoted as being able to speak 400 words in 40 seconds. Warner Bros. began to develop a film adaptation of "MacBride and Kennedy" stories by detective novelist Frederick Nebel in 1936. For the film version, Kennedy is changed to a woman named Teresa "Torchy" Blane and is now in love with MacBride's character. Director Frank MacDonald immediately knew who he wanted for the role of Torchy Blane. Farrell had already proved that she could play hard-boiled reporters in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Hi, Nellie! (1934). She was quickly cast as Torchy with Barton MacLane playing detective Steve McBride in the first Torchy Blane film, Smart Blonde. On her portrayal of the Torchy Blane character, Farrell said in her 1969 Time interview:

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 [news-woman] who visited Hollywood and watched them work on visits to New York City. They were generally young, intelligent, refined and attractive. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies.[7]
Farrell in the first Torchy Blane film, Smart Blonde (1937)

Smart Blonde was a surprise hit and became a popular second feature with moviegoers. Warner Bros. starred her in several more Torchy Blane movies opposite Barton MacLane. She would portray Torchy Blane in seven films from 1937 to 1939. The films took Farrell's popularity to a new level. She was beloved by the moviegoing public and received a huge amount of fan mail for the Torchy Blane films. Along with starring in the Torchy Blane series, Farrell also appeared in a number of other films. And several radio series, including Vanity and Playhouse in 1937, and Manhattan Latin with Humphrey Bogart in 1938.

Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane was credited by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel as the inspiration for the Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.[8] Siegel also named, June Farrell, one of the characters in his Funnyman comic book series after Farrell.

Farrell was elected to a one-year term as the honorary Mayor of North Hollywood in 1937, beating her competition Bing Crosby and Lewis Stone by a 3 to 1 margin. Despite the fact that it began as a Warner Bros. publicity stunt, Farrell took the job very seriously, attending functions, presentations, and ceremonies. She was also put in charge when the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that it wanted to put sewers along Ventura Highway and started the groundwork for that project.[9]

In 1939, after eight years working in films, when her Warner Bros. contract expired, Farrell left the studio and returned to the theater. "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." Farrell told syndicated columnist Bob Thomas in 1952.

1939–1969: Television, stage, and films

Farrell star in the lead role in the play Anna Christie at the Westport Country Playhouse in July 1939, then followed that with a summer stock production of S. N. Behrman's play Brief Moment. She co-starred with Lyle Talbot and Alan Dinehart in the long-running play Separate Rooms at the Broadway's Plymouth Theater for a successful 613-performance run throughout 1940 and '41.

Farrell in 1963

In 1941, Farrell returned to motion pictures, starring in director Mervyn LeRoy's film noir, Johnny Eager. She starred in the play The Life of Reilly on Broadway in April 1942. Throughout the '40s, '50s and '60s, Farrell continued to appear in numerous films, including the Academy Award-nominated The Talk of the Town (1942), Heading for Heaven (1947) and the 1954 Charlton Heston adventure epic Secret of the Incas, upon which the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was based on a quarter century later.[10]

She starred in the comedy films Kissin' Cousins with Elvis Presley and The Disorderly Orderly with Jerry Lewis in 1964. In both films, Farrell co-starred with her son, Tommy Farrell.

Farrell made her television debut in 1949 in the anthology series The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. She appeared in over 40 television series between 1950 and 1969, including Kraft Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, The United States Steel Hour, Bonanza and Bewitched. She won the Emmy Award for outstanding performance in a supporting role by an actress in 1963, for her performance as Martha Morrison in the medical drama series Ben Casey.

Farrell briefly retired in 1968 but soon decided to return to acting. Farrell's final work in her long and successful career was the Broadway play Forty Carats. She was appearing in Forty Carats at the Morosco Theatre until ill health forced her to leave the play a few months later. Farrell was eventually diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.[11]

Farrell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to Motion Pictures, at 6524 Hollywood Boulevard.[12]

Personal life

In 1920, Farrell was hired to do a dance routine at a San Diego Navy benefit ball and met her first husband Thomas Richards.[13] They were married from 1921 to 1929. Their son, actor Tommy Farrell was born in 1921. In 1931, she was engaged to Jack Durant of the comedy duo "Mitchell & Durant", but never married him.[14] She dated screenwriter Robert Riskin a few years later.

Farrell married Dr. Henry Ross in 1941,[15] a staff surgeon at New York's Polyclinic Hospital, and a West Point graduate and Army physician who served on General Eisenhower's staff.[16] The couple met when Farrell sprained her ankle during the play Separate Rooms and was treated backstage by Ross, who had been called forth from the audience.[9] Farrell and Ross remained married until her death thirty years later. In 1977, Ross donated 38 acres of land to the Putnam County Land Trust, establishing the Glenda Farrell-Henry Ross Preserve.


In 1971, Farrell died from lung cancer, aged 66, at her home in New York City and was interred in the West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York.[17] When Ross, who did not remarry, died in 1991, he was buried with her.[16]


Year Film Role Notes
1928 Lucky BoyUncredited
1930 The Lucky Break Short
1931 Little Caesar Olga Stassoff
1932 Scandal for Sale Stella Uncredited
Life Begins Florette Darien
Three on a Match Mrs. Black
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Marie
The Match King Babe
Mystery of the Wax Museum Florence Dempsey
Grand Slam Blondie
Girl Missing Kay Curtis
The Keyhole Dot
Central Airport
How to Break 90 #2: Position and Back Swing Golfer's Wife Short, uncredited
Gambling Ship Jeanne Sands
Mary Stevens, M.D. Glenda Carroll
Lady for a Day Missouri Martin
Bureau of Missing Persons Belle Howard Saunders
Man's Castle Fay La Rue
Havana Widows Sadie Appleby
The Big Shakedown Lily 'Lil' Duran
Hi, Nellie! Gerry Krale
I've Got Your Number Bonnie
Dark Hazard Valerie 'Val' Wilson
Heat Lightning Mrs. Tifton
Merry Wives of Reno Bunny Fitch
The Personality Kid Joan McCarty
Kansas City Princess Marie Callahan
The Secret Bride Hazel Normandie
Gold Diggers of 1935 Betty Hawes
Traveling Saleslady Claudette
Go Into Your Dance Molly Howard
In Caliente Clara
We're in the Money Dixie Tilton
Little Big Shot Jean
Miss Pacific Fleet Mae O'Brien
Snowed Under Daisy Lowell
The Law in Her Hands Dorothy 'Dot' Davis
Nobody's Fool Ruby Miller
High Tension Edith McNeil
Here Comes Carter Verna Kennedy
Gold Diggers of 1937 Genevieve Larkin
Smart Blonde Torchy Blane
Fly-Away Baby Torchy Blane
Dance Charlie Dance Fanny Morgan
You Live and Learn Mamie Wallis
Breakfast for Two Carol Wallace
The Adventurous Blonde Torchy Blane
Hollywood Hotel Jonesie
Sunday Night at the Trocadero Short
Blondes at Work Torchy Blane
Stolen Heaven Rita
Prison Break Jean Fenderson
The Road to Reno Sylvia Shane
Exposed 'Click' Stewart
Torchy Gets Her Man Torchy Blane
Breakdowns of 1938 Torchy Blane Short, uncredited
1939 Torchy Blane in Chinatown Torchy Blane
Torchy Runs for Mayor Torchy Blane
1941 Johnny Eager Mae Blythe
Twin Beds Sonya Cherupin
The Talk of the Town Regina Bush
City Without Men Billie LaRue
A Night for Crime Susan
Klondike Kate Molly
1944 Ever Since Venus Babs Cartwright
1947 Heading for Heaven Nora Elkins
1948 I Love Trouble Hazel Bixby
Mary Lou Winnie Winford
Lulu Belle Molly Benson
1949 The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre TV series
1950 The Silver Theatre Gaudy Lady TV series
1951 Starlight Theatre Dorine TV series
Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre TV series
Prudential Family Playhouse Effie Flound TV series
1952 Apache War Smoke Fanny Webson
1953 Girls in the Night Alice Haynes
Tales of Tomorrow TV series
Armstrong Circle Theatre Serena Price TV series
2 Episodes
1954 Secret of the Incas Mrs. Winston
Susan Slept Here Maude Snodgrass
1955 The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing Mrs. Nesbit
Goodyear Playhouse Mrs. Davis TV series
The Elgin Hour Mrs. Dane TV series
Justice TV series
1956 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour TV series
The Alcoa Hour Eloise Schroeder TV series
Front Row Center May Cooper TV series
1957 The 20th Century-Fox Hour Mae Swasey TV series
The Sheriff of Cochise Sarah Avery TV series
Kraft Theatre Stella Harvey / Alma Wilkes TV series
5 Episodes
1958 Studio One in Hollywood Claire / Mrs. Endsley / Irene TV series
4 Episodes
Cimarron City Maggie Arkins TV series
1959 Middle of the Night Mrs. Mueller
The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen TV series
General Electric Theater Mrs. Brady TV series
The Bells of St. Mary's TV movie
Wagon Train Belle MacAbee TV series
Buick-Electra Playhouse TV series
1960 Play of the Week Rose Frobisher TV series
The Islanders Mrs. Dan King TV series
1961 Westinghouse Playhouse Laura TV Series
Special for Women: The Glamour Trap Beauty Operator TV movie
1962 Frontier Circus Ma Jukes TV series
The Defenders Edna Holley TV series
Route 66 Laverne TV series
1963 Ben Casey Martha Morrison TV series
2 Episodes
Won—Emmy Award for outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress.
The United States Steel Hour Grace Smith / Edna Huntington / Mrs. Rausch TV series
5 Episodes
Rawhide Mrs. Elizabeth Farragut TV series
Dr. Kildare Vera Dennis TV series
The Fugitive Mrs. Maggie Lambert TV series
1964 Bonanza Lulabelle 'Looney' Watkins TV series
Kissin' Cousins Ma Tatum
The Disorderly Orderly Dr. Jean Howard
1968 Felony Squad Jeanette Anderson TV series
1968 Tiger by the Tail Sarah Harvey
1969 Bewitched Hortense Rockeford TV series


  1. "Glenda Farrell". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  2. Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each - Glenda Farrell: The Gimme Girl. McFarland & Company. p. 74. ISBN 0786411376.
  3. "Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy". Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  4. 1 2 Aliperti, Cliff (September 10, 2013). "Glenda Farrell Biography and 1930s Hollywood Heyday". Immortal Ephemera. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  5. "My Pal Glenda". Hollywood Magazine. January 1936. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  6. Backer, Ron (August 25, 2012). Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood - Torchy Blane: The Investigative Reporter. McFarland. p. 258. ISBN 0786469757.
  7. Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. p. 79. ISBN 0786411376.
  8. Siegel, Joanne. "The True Inspiration for Lois Lane". Superman Home Page. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  9. 1 2 Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. p. 80. ISBN 0786411376.
  10. Mike French & Gilles Verschuere (2005-09-14). "Debora Nadoolman interview". Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  11. Bubbeo, Daniel. The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. p. 82. ISBN 0786411376.
  12. "Glenda Farrell". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  13. "Glenda Farrell: Diamond in the Rough". Classic Images. May 1998. Issue 275.
  14. Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Actress To Wed In June, March 11, 1931, Page 11.
  15. Valparaiso, Indiana. Vidette-Messenger, Glenda To Wed, February 6, 1941, Page 5.
  16. 1 2 "Dr. Henry Ross, 89, Eisenhower's Chief Of Health in War". New York Times. June 28, 1991. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  17. European Stars and Stripes, Actress Glenda Farrell Dies in N.Y. at Age 67, May 3, 1971, Page 6.
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