Joan Davis (Born Madonna Josephine Davis June 29, 1907, St. Paul, Minnesota; d. May 22, 1961, Palm Springs, California) was an American comic actress whose career spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television. Remembered best for the 1952-1955 television comedy, I Married Joan, Davis actually had a more successful earlier career as a B-movie actress and radio comedienne.
A performer since childhood, she performed with her husband Si Wills in vaudeville and became known as one of the very few physical woman clowns of her time. Davis became a B-movie actress who made a large volume of such films between 1935 and 1952. She may have been known best for co-starring turn with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in 1941's Hold That Ghost, but she had a reputation for spotless physical comedy. She entered radio in the same decade but she was probably misplaced. She featured in shows like Leave It To Joan (a situation comedy) and Sealtest Village Store (a comedy and variety show), the latter also featuring Jack Haley and Eve Arden, but the disadvantage was that, as good as she was with dialogic comedy (and she was very good at it), listeners couldn't see the physical comedy that was her best talent.
That should have changed when I Married Joan premiered in 1952, casting Davis as the manic wife of a mild-mannered community judge (Jim Backus) who got her husband into and out of numerous whacky jams, with or without the help of a younger sister played by her real-life daughter, Beverly Wills. Aimed at the audience massed around its most obvious influence, I Love Lucy, I Married Joan didn't quite sustain a strong audience of its own and retired quietly in 1955---as did its star, seemingly.
A periodic and popular part of Tallulah Bankhead's legendary radio variety show, The Big Show (1950-52), Davis died of a heart attack in 1961, at age 53. She was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery mausoleum in Culver City, California. In one of the most tragic---and bizarre---postscripts in the history of American show business, Davis's mother, daughter, and grandchildren were all killed in a house fire two years after Davis's death.
But a quarter century after her signature show left the air, Davis re-entered the American television viewer's consciousness. The original CBN cable television network began showing the old episodes of I Married Joan in 1981-82, as part of a late-night hour that also included the old episodes of My Little Margie. This resurrection of I Married Joan remained on the air almost as long as the show had lived in the first place. The show is now said to be seen in scattered viewings on small, localized television stations as well as on the i television network, while copies of Davis's radio work of the 1940s remain in circulation among collectors.