The Reel Joyce Compton (2010) – By James L. Neibaur

Character actress Joyce Compton spent her later years penning her memoirs with the help of writer and film historian Michael G. Ankerich.  Compton’s prowess as a character actress during Hollywood’s heyday found her in such noted classics as THE AWFUL TRUTH (McCarey, 1937), THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (Walsh, 1940), MILDRED PIERCE (Curtiz, 1945), and A SOUTHERN YANKEE (Sedgwick, 1948), as well as a host of B movies. 

Compton’s book is a journey through classic Hollywood’s landscape, through the different studios, directors, and such stars as Cary Grant and Marlene Dietrich, as well as comedians Charley Chase, and Red Skelton. 

Joyce Compton decided to put her memories on paper during the 1980s, long after the nostalgia craze made such things palatable to the mainstream, and prior to the resurgence of interest in classic American cinema.  Although she lived to be 90 years old, she remained saddened that no publisher was interested in the stories she so carefully recalled.

Ankerich continued to shop the material around, and found an outlet via Bear Manor Media.  The result is a chatty, delightful collection of memories from someone who experienced the filmmaking scene at the A level and the B level, and whose image was immediately recognizable, even in the smallest roles.

Joyce Compton’s prowess for comedy, and ability to do convincing drama, made her a popular inclusion to any scene, whether she was playing the “other woman,” a trusted accomplice, or a romantic lead.  From two reel comedies, to B westerns, to top flight productions featuring major league superstars, Compton maintained a consistent niche in the realm of classic American movies.

Ankerich does a nice job of taking Compton’s narrative, which was likely rather prolix and discursive, and turns it into a collection of chapters that are terse and to the point.  Compton’s friendships, romances, and short list of enemies are fascinating for those of us who know the work of these past players.  Her later embracing of Christian values and ultimate peace with her accomplishments are gratifying.  Her long life, filled with highs and lows, makes for a most interesting story.