Joan Lowell

Joan Lowell
Born November 23, 1902
Berkeley, California
Died November 7, 1967
Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil
Other names Helen Trask
Occupation Film actress, author, film director
Years active 1920–1934
Spouse(s) Thompson Buchanan (1927-1930, divorced)
Leek Bowen (m 1936)

Helen Joan Lowell (November 23, 1902-November 7, 1967) was a movie actress of the silent film era from Berkeley, California. Lowell published a sensational autobiography, Cradle of the Deep, in 1929, which turned out to be a pure fabrication.

Childhood story

In 1929, Joan Lowell published an autobiography, Cradle of the Deep, published by Simon & Schuster, in which she claimed that her sea captain father took her aboard his ship, the Minnie A. Caine, at the age of three months when she was suffering from malnutrition. He nursed her back to health. She lived on the ship, with its all-male crew, until she was 17. She became skilled in the art of seamanship and once harpooned a whale by herself. Ultimately, the ship burned and sank off Australia, and Lowell swam three miles to safety, with a family of kittens clinging by their claws to her back. In fact, the book was a fabrication; Lowell had been on the ship, which remained safe in California, for only 15 months. The book was a sensational best seller until it was exposed as pure invention.[1] The book was later parodied by Corey Ford in his book Salt Water Taffy in which Lowell abandons the sinking ship (which had previously sunk several times before "very badly") and swims to safety with her manuscript.


Lowell's mother was the daughter of a Massachusetts Lowell. Her father was the son of a landowner from Montenegro and a Turkish woman. Lowell feared that her father, Captain Nicholas Wagner (Preacher Nick), had died on December 24, 1924. Newspapers reported his ship, the Oceanic Vance, sank off the coast of Mexico. Two weeks overdue in Los Angeles, California, the schooner was sighted in January 1925, fifteen miles (24 km) northwest of San Diego, California. The Oceanic Vance had lost her convoy, the schooner Westerner, on Christmas Eve, 1924.

Movie actress

Joan Lowell in Adventure Girl (1934)

Lowell received her dramatic training from Gwendolen Logan Seiler, and became an extra at Goldwyn Pictures at the age of 17. She played bit parts in motion pictures as an extra. One of her first efforts was the role of Madge Barlow in the movie Loving Lies (1924). She was featured with Monte Blue in Cap'n Dan and in the Thompson Buchanan production of The Cub.

After completing a leading part in Branded a Thief (1924), about Mexican frontier life, Lowell was chosen as the "Queen of the Fourth of July" for 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. She was selected by Senor De Los Rios, a noted bullfighter from Spain.

Her last screen role was in Adventure Girl (1934), a film directed by Herman C. Raymaker and loosely based on her fictionalized autobiography. In 1935, Lowell sued Van Beuren Studios and Amedee J. Van Beuren for an accounting of the profits. Van Beuren promptly made a counter-claim for $300,000 damages allegedly sustained because of Lowell's "inexpert" performance in the picture.[2]

Author and reporter

Lowell's book about growing up at sea, Cradle of the Deep, became a nonfiction bestseller in 1929, until it was exposed as a fabrication when neighbors of her parents were interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle.

She married playwright Thompson Buchanan on October 16, 1927. The couple resided on a 170-acre (0.69 km2) farm three miles (5 km) from New Hope, Pennsylvania. They separated in October 1929. Lowell continued to live in the smaller of two old stone houses on the property. She named the home Joan's Ark. Lowell liked the country, her horses, and books, while Buchanan preferred city life.

Lowell became a newspaper reporter in Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1930s. She was assaulted by booking agent Morris Levine. He was sentenced to fourteen months in the House of Correction in January 1932. Lowell worked for WOR (AM) radio station in New York City in 1934.

Joan Lowell married a sea captain, Leek Bowen, in 1936. He took her to the jungles of Brazil to carve out a coffee plantation. She chronicled their adventures in a book, Promised Land (1952).[3]

Joan Lowell died in Brasilia, Brazil in 1967. Photo Joan Lowell in Brasilia, 1966.


  1. Colby, Anne (March 14, 2008). "Meet the grandmother of memoir fabricators". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 31, 2008.
  2. SUIT ON 'INEXPERT' ACTING. New York Times. August 29, 1935
  3. Joan Lowell Dies in Brasilia. Reading Eagle - Nov 15, 1967


External links

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