Joy Barlow

JoyBarlow4Her career was minor and she never had a truly satisfying role, but Joy Barlow will forever be remembered as the juicy, innuendo laden taxi cab driver from The Big Sleep, which is much more than most of the girls featured on this site can claim.


Dorothy June Thompson was born on May 18, 1924, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Wilton J. Thompson and Eve Thomspon. Her father was from Iowa, her mother a Minnesota native. She was their only child.

The family lived in St. Paul, with the Wood family, for a time, and then moved to California after the Great Depression hit. In 1940s they were living in Los Angeles, with Wilton working as a foreman, and her mother a housewife. Dorothy graduated from high school in the city. Dorothy was greatly interested in dancing, and by the time she was in her early teens, she knew she wanted to become a dancer/actress. She got her first serious taste of showbiz by becoming an Earl Carroll chorus girl in 1939. This prestigious position catapulted her to movies by 1942.


If you like  blends music, comedy, and a Cajun flavored atmosphere, than Louisana Purchase is a movie worth watching. Mirroring real life and the dealing of Huey Long, it turns a serious story into a half baked comedy plot. More worthy for the atmosphere than anything else, it’s still not a complete waste of time if you watch it. To me, a added bonus is Vera Zorina, the stunning ballerina who made a few movies in Hollywood in the 1940s. Anyone interested and George Balanchine and modern ballet knows her as one of his muses (and the second or his four wives).

JoyBarlow5Call of the Canyon is a typical Gene Autry western. What more do I need to say? Thank Your Lucky Stars is one of those star studded, wartime extravaganzas made more for the morale than for the art. Surprisingly, it’s a good movie, effortlessly lead by the ever magnetic Eddie Cantor.

Joy continued appearing in war related movies in Destination TokyoMade during the height of the war, and before it was a foregone conclusion that the Allies would prevail, it shows a surprisingly detailed (if romanticized) portrayal of life in the “Silent Service”. The characters are finely drawn with a craftsman director’s skill, and are the archetypes for subsequent films, not derivative cartoons. The cast is superb: Cary Grant, John Garfield, Alan Hale to name a few.

To Have and Have Not is a classic, and much has been written about it. While I certantly prefer the later pairings of Bogart and Bacall, it does not diminish its stature of a superb film noir with a great cast.

After a not too shabby start, Joy fell into the musical category from then on. Earl Carroll Vanities is a sub par, bland musical whose only strong points are the stunning dancers.The Horn Blows at MidnightWhere Do We Go from Here? and George White’s Scandals just continue the endless line of musicals with a paper thin plot but likable enough music and dance scenes. Joy briefly returned to the western genre in Don’t Fence Me In, a semi decent Roy Rogers movie (as I said multiple times, I am FAR from being a western fan so the less I write about it, the better). Then, it was back to some mainstream fare. Cinderella Jones is a stupid movie with Joan Leslie. I like Joan, but the movie is way too idiotic to be worth watching, even for Joanie.

JoyBarlow7Now comes the crowning moment of Joy’s career. The Big Sleep. Taxi Driver. This bit of dialogue is all you need to know just how GREAT this very brief role is. Remember, Joy plays the taxi driver, and Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe, the main character and detective extraordinaire (actually not, he’s far from Sherlock but has other aces up his sleeve).

Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.

Philip Marlowe: Day and night?

Taxi Driver: Uh, night’s better. I work during the day.

What more is there to say? This is such a short but perfectly timed, delicious scene, the kind that makes this movie much more than a very good film noir. Gotta love Howard Hawks! The rest of the movie is just as good. The plot is too complex and asks for repeated viewings, but I since I love complicated, intricate stories, it’s a true PLUS for me.

After her crowning moment, Joy appeared in a mixed bag of films, mostly B class ones, and never again achieved anything even approaching The Big Sleep. The Trespasser is a Dale Evans vehicle. Here we have a perfect example of a well plotted movie suffering from a “star” appearing in it – namely Dale. She puts forth absolutely nothing to the movie in terms of plot nor any advancement. She is too shrill and unladylike to work in a movie that is not a western and where she is not paired with Roy Rogers. Too bad  – the could have been a decent B crime movie if she was just left out of it.

JoyBarlow¸1Blackmail is a movie so bad it’s good. I laughed out out when I read this review on IMDB:

Ricardo Cortez, who must have been in almost every film ever made, is being blackmailed for something about incriminating pictures (naughty, naughty) by at least two people. So he makes the mistake of hiring Marshall to put a stop to the nonsense. Murder ensues, people fight, shoot each other, fall into swimming pools and cause general mayhem. All’s well that ends well and the film ends. You may want to jump in the pool after enduring this mess but frankly,it’s worth the laugh to watch it………maybe even a couple of times. A true misfire, if there ever was one.

Now don’t tell me you are not at least bit interested?

Two Guys from Texas was one of the string o movies Warner Bros made with the new Hope/Crosby pair, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. As one reviewer superbly wrote:

A large part of the dialog in their films was ad-libbed, something that Jack and Dennis either could not do or were not allowed to do. No, the songs are not all that memorable and, no, Dennis Morgan doesn’t have as good a voice as Bing, but while the songs are forgettable they are still pleasant. Jack Carson was a good actor and a fair comedian, but he was never as funny as Bob Hope.

As you can imagine, the movie did no favors to anyone involved, least of all to Joy, who plays a minor role as it is.

JoyBarlow3The Decision of Christopher Blake basically deals with problems Hollywood, always trying to achieve that “pink glasses outlook” on life, rarely tackled – divorce. But, let’s leave the “basic” behind – it what the studio brass does with basic stories that interested us. It turns into a mushy, over the top drama stories. Yes, I understand that many mundane topics are not good movie material, but divorce in itself is emotional and climactic enough, without any added soap opera elements. Wen are they gonna learn? On the bright side, we have Alexis Smith, an actress I find very interesting, whose appeal is actually very “inverted” – never a strong talent, she had that brand of icy charm that always worked wonders with her co stars.

Look for the Silver Lining! I love that song, and the musical, about the life of, while not as good, is not a bad piece of art either. June Haver is her usual graceful self, and Ray Bolger is definitely one of the most prominent tap dancers ever.

Just Across the Street is the kind of light comedy you rarely see today. While it’s an obscure movie no doubt, it’s a great example of the genre, with very good leads. Ann Sheridan she was a superb light comedienne, always had that tough edge to her that made her unique and interesting (most light comediennes are not as masculine as Sheridan was). She is matched very well by the underrated John Lund, a truly good actor that never made a name out of himself. The supporting cast is drool worthy: Robert Keith, Cecil Kellway, Natalie Schafer. With a cast like that and clever mistaken-identity romantic plot, it’s truly a forgotten gem.

Joy retired from movies after this.  


Joy entered the Hollywood tabloid scene in mid 1940, when she was barely out of high school, but already a seasoned Earl Carroll showgirl. She served as a model for the Goodrich seal-o-matic safety tube. A bit funny for sure, but it was a beginning of a almost a decade long “tabloid career”. For instance: a few months after that, this short anecdote made the columns: “Dorothy Gill and Joy Barlow were discussing romance backstage. Said Dorothy “I always judge  a man by his kisses. After all, kisses are the language of love.” Sighed Joy is response: “Then my boyfriends must be deaf mutes!” Not really funny, but Joy was slowly building up publicity.

JoyBarlow6Joy also headed, as an elected president, “The Million Dollar Babies”, a tongue-in-cheek organization whose sole aim was to pair wealthy gents with nimble young Earl Carroll showgirls. While mostly seen as a joke, we all know it’s far from being one. Earl Carroll girl dated millionaires by the shovel load. Let’s just hope that Joy was an able president and did much for the conditions of gold diggers in the early 1940s 😛 On the flip, serious side, Joy was very active in the war effort work, knitting sweaters for the soldiers and touring army bases along with her fellow chorines.

Joy was popular with the boys for sure. In 1941, she was dating Dick Purcell. Her big, serious romance was Vaughn Paul, the former husband of Deanna Durbin. The two started dating in early 1944 and dated for about eight months. After breaking up with Vaughn, Joy dated Curly Richards for a brief time in late 1944. Then, Joy hooked up with a man from her past – Herbert Ahrens. Theirs was a cute romantic story. Both natives of St. Paul, Minnesota, they were childhood sweethearts, but lost touch after she moved to California. Then, WW2 started, and Herbert went to attend a Navy preflight school in Oakland, where they met again. They were quick to reconnected and one thing led to another. Thus, Joy married Herbert Neal Ahrens on November 15, 1945. Ahrens had to return to active duty right away, and the had to wait for him to get a discharge in order to have a honeymoon. Arens was born on September 13, 1920, in St. Paul Minnesota, to Hebtert N. Ahrens and Myrtle Vassal. During WW2, he was 1st Lieutenant, US Marine. Sadly, the marriage was not to last.

Joy81947 was, romantically, a busy year from Joy. By April she was separated from her husband for good. They tried for a reconciliation for a few times, but it amounted to nothing. She was involved with Tommy D’Andrea in September and started to date Ray Montgomery in November. Joy’s marriage disintegrated fully during this time, and by 1948, she and Ahrens were divorced. Herbert died on May 13, 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The last we hear about Joy from the papers in late 1947 – she had just gotten a chance to appear to a greater effect in a movie, and a big Hollywood future was before her. Well, that sure proved to be a lark! She made her last movie in 1952, and retired after an unsatisfying career.

Joy allegedly married noted restaurant owner Bill Story at some point in the 1950s, but I couldn’t find any concrete evidence for that, so let’s just take it with a grain of salt.

I have no idea what happened to Joy afterwards.

Joy Barlow died on May 2, 1995, in North Hollywood, California.

3 responses

    • I hadn’t even realized Ms. Barlow’s highly unsatisfying career until I’d written a comment on the TCM Facebook page about how every woman in the cast seemed to be flinging themselves as Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe. I commented about the film being shot during WWII, which sort of explained why any guy with a pulse, had all his parts, and who hadn’t been drafted was liable to make out a bandit, and I referenced the Lady Cabbie…only to realize I didn’t even know the actress’s name! I looked her up on IMDB and they list 19 credits, 18 of which are “uncredited” parts….

      She deserved better — she had a kind of Joan Blondell/Glenda Farrell “wisecracking broad” air to her that, while unlikely to take her to the top, certainly should’ve given her a long career as a character type….

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