This early Hollywood sexpot was the type that paved the way for Marilyn Monroe just a short time later, but did not achieve even a fragment of Marilyn’s popularity and ended a complete unknown.
Juanita Stark was born on June 10, 1921, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Henry Stark, a former noted vaudeville actor, and his wife Wanda Miller, who was Russian born. Her younger sister June was born on June 16, 1925.
The family moved to Amherst, Ohio, and then to Los Angeles after 1930. Henry Stark’s health declined rapidly while in California, and by the time Juanita graduated from high school, she was the main breadwinner of the family by being an waitress in downtown Los Angeles. In 1941, she lost her job amid the start of the war, and was living off 10$ a week unemployment check when a Warner Bros scout noticed and signed her. She was given minor roles right off the bat.
Juanita was a Warner Bros contractee her whole career. Her filmography spans a wide variety of movies, from A class to Z class productions, from comedies to serious dramas.
After staring off in prestigious movies, Dive Bomber and Affectionately Yours Juanita was stuck in B movies, The Body Disappears, Blues in the Night, Those Good Old Days. Her next features were A movies again, and she had clawed her way her to the top of the uncredited roster, but sadly stayed there instead of going upwards.
There we have a meek John Garfield spy drama, Dangerously They Live , which could have been a a much better with a more able director (for instance, Hitchcock), The Male Animal with the always-relevant message lost in the muddled decision of seeing itself as both a comedy and a serious drama (a very ambitious plan that often backfires), the so-so musical/comedy Always in My Heart. Perhaps the most famous movie Juanita appeared in was Yankee Doodle Dandy, the superb musical with the superb James Cagney. She had a slight decline in movie quality after that: You Can’t Escape Forever, a B movie with the wooden George Brent, and the better The Hard Way, a hard hitting drama about ambition, greed and life choices featuring the unsung queen of Warner Bros, Ida Lupino, and her last worthwhile film for the studio (another great talent wasted!).
She had her first and only leading role in a short western, Oklahoma Outlaws, but as with most movies of this type, she was a mere decoration and the movie flied past the radar. Her career continued in further B movies: Crime by Night and Murder on the Waterfront. While the later movie actually had some moments of good film-making on the whole it did not make the grade. Like everyone else in Warner Bros, she appeared in Thank Your Lucky Stars for the war relief.
Juanita’s last movie is an interesting if flawed one, One More Tomorrow. As the remake of a top notch precode movie, The Animal Kingdom, it has much to show, but without the biting wit and humor of the original, cut mercilessly by the Production Code.
Juanita retired to become a housewife after 1946.
At the height of her fame, she was a blonde, five feet four and a half inches tall, and weighted 107 pounds. She suffered from stage fright, which possibly limited her career:
SAD little incident took place at the “Meet John Doe” premiere. Juanita Stark, recently signed Cinderella girl, was to make speech at the microphone and be introduced to the crowd as a future star. She bought a new dress, her first evening dress. Her hair was elaborately coiffed. All day long she practiced her speech. Came the important moment. She was grabbed by a Warner publicity man, marched to the mike. She was jut about to speak when Dorothy Lamuor arrived. “Just a minute” they told Juanita. She stepped back while Dotty told the crowd how glad she was to be there ect ect. Then Gary Cooper arrived. Then another celebrity. After 20 minutes of shifting from one foot to the other, the Cinderella girl slipped unnoticed into the theater.
Juanita was promoted heavily in the press as a luscious, sexy doll with come hither, sleepy eyes and a knockout figure. She was pictured in provocative pose while doing mundane things – sunbathing, playing tennis, talking to fellow starlets and so on. She was also a regular at fashion spreads, showing off her carriage in a whole palette of modern clothes. Great things were predicted for her in terms of a career.
She was allegedly offered a role in the hilarious comedy, Arsenic and the old lace, early in her career, but broke her foot just prior to the start of the filming. While she is listed in the credits, in reality she is nowhere to be found in the movie. It took her some time to recover, and this time perhaps dampened the impulse she had as the newest Hollywood Cinderella.
In the mid 1942, Juanita joined the Hollywood caravan, made out of highly distinguished industry names that toured the US to sell war bonds (Alexis Smith, Dennis Morgan, Errol Flynn and many others). She was very active in this caravan. As the papers took great notice of what they did, she was constantly photographer talking to patients, making trips to hospitals and so on.
Juanita suffered a great tragedy during WW2. She was dating the son of comedian Joe E. Brown, Don Brown, in 1941. He was drafted to the army, and could not contract her directly any more. He asked if he might call when he got another leave and she said yes. A few days later she received a call from another officer, who explained that his pal had suddenly been shipped overseas and had given him her telephone number. He asked for a date. She wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, but finally agreed. His name was John Le Blanc, and they became engaged. Shorty after, Lt. LeBlanc was sent to Guadalcanal and was in the thick of things for three months. On the day he was given his leave to return home, he wrote Juanita the good news. An hour later he was killed – crushed by a US tank that wet out of control during routine maneuvers. As a double tragedy, Don Brown also died in 1942.
This is the official story and it’s possible the dates and names are wrong, but the fact is that Juanita lost her beloved to war. To add to her distress, her long time sick father, Henry Stark, died of a paralytic stroke just months after her fiancee, in May 1943.
Despite all the pain, Juanita moved quickly and my June 1943, she was already engaged to wed an another soldier, Vyrnwy Enos Jones, born in 1917. They wed later that year and she left Hollywood to move to his ranch in Kern County.
Her son, Dennis Morien Jones, was born on February 13, 1944 in Kern County, California. He became a noted surfer and even had a brief Hollywood career during the surfer movies craze in 1965.
Vyrnwy Jones died on May 27, 1983. Juanita remarried in in the 1990s.
Juanita Stark died in cca. 2002.
Her sister June died on August 7, 1997.