Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell (June 30, 1904 – May 1, 1971)[1] was an American actress. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Farrell appeared in over 100 films and television series, as well as numerous Broadway play; and won an Emmy Award in 1963 for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her performance as Martha Morrison in the medical drama television series Ben Casey.[2]

Glenda Farrell
Glenda Farrell Vintage 1930s.jpg
Circa 1930s
Born(1904-06-30)June 30, 1904
DiedMay 1, 1971(1971-05-01) (aged 66)
Resting placeWest Point Cemetery
Years active1928–1970
(m. 1921; div. 1929)

Dr. Henry Ross
(m. 1941; her death 1971)
ChildrenTommy Farrell

Farrell began acting on stage as a child and continued with various theatre companies and on Broadway before signing with Warner Bros. Embodying the brassy blonde character of the early talkies. Farrell was a signature 1930s Warner Bros. star, starring in films such as Little Caesar (1931), I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Lady for a Day (1933). Starting with Smart Blonde (1937), Farrell played Torchy Blane, the hard-boiled, wisecracking reporter in a series of popular films; which later was credited by comic book writer Jerry Siegel as the inspiration for the DC Comics reporter, Lois Lane. After leaving Warner Bros. in 1939, Farrell remained active in film, television and theatre throughout rest of her career.

Early lifeEdit

Farrell was born in Enid, Oklahoma, to Wilhelmina "Minnie" (nee Messer, 1879-1931) of German descent and Charles A. Farrell (1873-1937) of Irish and Cherokee descent.[3][4] Farrell was the only daughter and had two younger brothers, Eugene and Richard.[5] After her family moved to Wichita, Kansas, Farrell began acting on stage with a theatrical company at age seven, playing the role of Little Eva in the play Uncle Tom's Cabin. Farrell's mother had never achieved her desire of being an actress, encouraged and supported her daughter's acting interests.[5] When her family moved to San Diego, California, a teenage Farrell joined the Virginia Brissac Stock Company. Farrell made the third honour roll in Motion Picture Magazine's "Fame and Fortune Contest". Her picture and biography were featured in the magazine's April 1919 issue, which also stated that Farrell had some experience in the chorus, vaudeville, and camp entertainments.[6] Farrell received a formal education at the Mount Carmel Catholic Academy.[7]


1928–1939: Stage and filmsEdit

In 1928, Farrell was cast as the lead actress in the play The Spider and made her film debut in a minor role in Lucky Boy. Farrell moved to New York City in 1929, where she replaced Erin O'Brien-Moore as Marion Hardy in Aurania Rouverol's play Skidding. The play later served as the basis for the Andy Hardy film series. By April 1929, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that she had played the role 355 times. Farrell appeared in a number of other plays, including Divided Honors, Recapture, and Love, Honor and Betray with George Brent, Alice Brady, and Clark Gable.

Farrell in I've Got Your Number (1934)

In 1930, she starred in the comedy short film The Lucky Break with Harry Fox, and in July 1930 Film Daily announced that Farrell had been cast in Mervyn LeRoy's film Little Caesar as the female lead, Olga Stassoff. Afterward, she returned to Broadway and starred in On the Spot at the Forrest Theater. At the time, Farrell conceded that motion pictures offered immense salaries, but felt the theater was the foundation of the actor's profession.[6] She appeared in several more plays.

In 1932, Farrell starred in the hit play Life Begins. Her performance caught the attention of Jack Warner, who signed her to a contract with the Warner Bros. film studio and cast her to recreate the role in Warner Bros.' film adaptation of Life Begins later that year. Farrell did not return to the stage until 1939.

In her first two years with Warner Bros., Farrell starred in 17 films, including Girl Missing (1933), Gambling Ship (1933), Man's Castle (1933) opposite Spencer Tracy, and Columbia Pictures' Lady for a Day (1933) by director Frank Capra. Farrell sometimes would work on three pictures that were shooting at the same time[1] and managed to transition from one role to another effortlessly. She worked in over 20 movies between 1934 and 1936, starring in films such as Go into Your Dance (1935), Little Big Shot (1935) and High Tension (1936).

Farrell was close friends with fellow Warner Bros. actress Joan Blondell,[8] and throughout the early 1930s, they were paired as a comedy duo in a series of five Warner Bros. movies: Havana Widows (1933), Kansas City Princess (1934), Traveling Saleslady (1935), We're in the Money (1935) and Miss Pacific Fleet (1935). She also appeared with Blondell in the Academy Award-nominated Gold Diggers of 1935 and Gold Diggers of 1937 musical film series. Farrell and Blondell co-starred in a total of nine films. Together, they came to personify the smart and sassy, wisecracking dames of '30s and '40s film.

In 1937, Farrell began starring as Torchy Blane, the fast-talking wisecracking newspaper reporter.[9] Warner Bros. had started to develop a film adaptation of "MacBride and Kennedy" stories by detective novelist Frederick Nebel in 1936. For the film version, Kennedy is changed to a woman named Theresa "Torchy" Blane and is in love with MacBride's character. Director Frank MacDonald immediately knew whom he wanted for the role of Torchy Blane. Farrell had already proved that she could play hard-boiled reporters in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Hi, Nellie! (1934); and was quickly cast as Torchy with Barton MacLane playing detective Steve McBride in the first Torchy Blane film Smart Blonde (1937).

Smart Blonde was a surprise hit and became a popular second feature with moviegoers. Warner Bros. starred her in several more Torchy Blane movies opposite Barton MacLane. She portrayed Torchy in seven films from 1937 to 1939. The films took Farrell's popularity to a new level. She was beloved by the moviegoing public and received a huge amount of fan mail for the films. On her portrayal of the Torchy Blane character, Farrell said in her 1969 Time interview: "So before I undertook to do the first Torchy, I determined to create a real human being—and not an exaggerated comedy type. I met those [news-women] who visited Hollywood and watched them work on visits to New York City. They were generally young, intelligent, refined, and attractive. By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies."[2]

Along with starring in the Torchy Blane series, Farrell appeared in a number of other films, including Breakfast for Two (1937), Hollywood Hotel (1937), and Prison Break (1938). Additionally, she performed in several radio series, including Vanity and Playhouse in 1937, and Manhattan Latin with Humphrey Bogart in 1938.

Farrell was elected to a one-year term as the honorary mayor of North Hollywood in 1937, beating her competition Bing Crosby and Lewis Stone by a three-to-one margin. Even though it began as a Warner Bros. publicity stunt, Farrell took the job seriously, attending functions, presentations, and ceremonies. She was also put in charge when the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that it wanted to put sewers along Ventura Highway and started the groundwork for that project.[2]

In 1939, Farrell left Warner Bros. when her contract expired. Several factors resulted in her decision including, feeling Warner Bros. was typecasting her as a newspaper reporter, a disagreement by Jack Warner for a pay rise, and wanting to return to the theatre. Farrell later told syndicated columnist Bob Thomas in 1952: "There's something more satisfying about working in a play. You get that immediate response from the audience, and you feel that your performance is your own. In pictures, you get frustrated because you feel you have no power over what you're doing".

1939–1969: Television, stage, and filmsEdit

In July 1939, Farrell starred in the lead role in the play Anna Christie at the Westport Country Playhouse, then followed that with a summer stock production of S. N. Behrman's play Brief Moment. She co-starred with Lyle Talbot and Alan Dinehart in the long-running play Separate Rooms at Broadway's Plymouth Theater for a successful 613-performance run throughout 1940 and 1941. In April 1942, she starred in the Broadway play, The Life of Reilly.

Farrell returned to motion pictures in 1941, starring in director Mervyn LeRoy's film noir, Johnny Eager. Throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s, Farrell continued to appear in numerous films, including the Academy Award-nominated The Talk of the Town (1942), Heading for Heaven (1947) and the 1954 Charlton Heston adventure epic Secret of the Incas.[10]

Farrell in 1962 with Chill Wills in the television series Frontier Circus

Farrell made her television debut in 1949 in the anthology series The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre. She appeared in over 40 television series between 1950 and 1969, including Kraft Theatre, Studio One in Hollywood, The United States Steel Hour, Bonanza, and Bewitched.

In 1963, she guest-starred in the ABC medical drama series Ben Casey as Martha Morrison in the two-part episode "A Cardinal Act of Mercy". She won the Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding performance in a supporting role by an actress. Farrell co-starred with her son Tommy Farrell in two comedy films in 1964: Kissin' Cousins with Elvis Presley and Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly.

Farrell briefly retired in 1968, but soon decided to return to acting. Farrell's final work in her long career was the Broadway play Forty Carats. She was appearing in Forty Carats at the Morosco Theatre until ill health forced her to leave the play a few months later. Farrell was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer.[2]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1920, Farrell was hired to do a dance routine at a Navy benefit ball in San Diego. There she met her first husband, Thomas Richards.[11] They were married from 1921 to 1929. Their son, actor Tommy Farrell, was born in 1921. In 1931, she was engaged to Jack Durant of the comedy duo "Mitchell and Durant" but never married him.[12] She dated screenwriter Robert Riskin a few years later.

In 1941, Farrell married Dr. Henry Ross. The couple met when Farrell sprained her ankle during a performance of the play Separate Rooms and was treated backstage by Ross, who had been called forth from the audience.[2][13] Ross was a staff surgeon at New York's Polyclinic Hospital and West Point graduate, who later served as chief of the public health section on General Eisenhower's staff.[14] Farrell and Ross remained married until her death 30 years later. Farrell was a devout Catholic.[15]


In 1971, Farrell died from lung cancer, aged 66, at her home in New York City and was interred in the West Point Cemetery in West Point, New York.[16][17] When Ross, who did not remarry, died in 1991, he was buried with her.[14]


Comic book writer Jerry Siegel credits Farrell's portrayal of Torchy Blane as the inspiration for the fictional Daily Planet reporter and Superman's love interest, Lois Lane.[18] Siegel also named June Farrell, one of the characters in his Funnyman comic book series, after Farrell.

On February 8, 1960, Farrell received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to motion pictures, at 6524 Hollywood Boulevard.[19]

In 1977, Farrell's husband Dr. Henry Ross donated 38 acres of land to the Putnam County Land Trust, establishing the Glenda Farrell–Henry Ross Preserve.


Year Title Role Notes
1928 Lucky Boy Uncredited
1930 The Lucky Break Short
1931 Little Caesar Olga Stassoff
1932 Scandal for Sale Stella Uncredited
Life Begins Florette Darien
Three on a Match Mrs. Black
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Marie Woods
The Match King Babe
1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum Florence Dempsey
Grand Slam Blondie
Girl Missing Kay Curtis
The Keyhole Dot
How to Break 90 #2: Position and Back Swing Golfer's Wife Short, Uncredited
Gambling Ship Jeanne Sands
Mary Stevens, M.D. Glenda Carroll
Lady for a Day Missouri Martin
Bureau of Missing Persons Belle Howard Saunders
Havana Widows Sadie Appleby
Man's Castle Fay La Rue
Central Airport
1934 The Big Shakedown Lily 'Lil' Duran
Hi Nellie! Gerry Krale
Dark Hazard Valerie 'Val' Wilson
I've Got Your Number Bonnie
Heat Lightning Mrs. Tifton
Merry Wives of Reno Bunny Fitch
The Personality Kid Joan McCarty
Kansas City Princess Marie Callahan
The Secret Bride Hazel Normandie
1935 Gold Diggers of 1935 Betty Hawes
Traveling Saleslady Claudette
Go into Your Dance Molly Howard
In Caliente Clara
We're in the Money Dixie Tilton
Little Big Shot Jean
Miss Pacific Fleet Mae O'Brien
1936 Snowed Under Daisy Lowell
The Law in Her Hands Dorothy 'Dot' Davis
Nobody's Fool Ruby Miller
High Tension Edith McNeil
Here Comes Carter Verna Kennedy
Gold Diggers of 1937 Genevieve Larkin
1937 Smart Blonde Torchy Blane
Fly-Away Baby
Dance Charlie Dance Fanny Morgan
You Live and Learn Mamie Wallis
Sunday Night at the Trocadero Glenda Farrell Short
Breakfast for Two Carol Wallace
The Adventurous Blonde Torchy Blane
Hollywood Hotel Jonesy
1938 Blondes at Work Torchy Blane
Stolen Heaven Rita
Prison Break Jean Fenderson
The Road to Reno Sylvia Shane
Exposed 'Click' Stewart
Torchy Gets Her Man Torchy Blane
Breakdowns of 1938 Torchy Blane Short, uncredited outtakes
1939 Torchy Blane in Chinatown Torchy Blane
Torchy Runs for Mayor
1941 Johnny Eager Mae Blythe
1942 Twin Beds Sonya Cherupin
The Talk of the Town Regina Bush
1943 City Without Men Billie LaRue
A Night for Crime Susan Cooper
Klondike Kate Molly
1944 Ever Since Venus Babs Cartwright
1947 Heading for Heaven Nora Elkins
1948 I Love Trouble Hazel Bixby
Mary Lou Winnie Winford
Lulu Belle Molly Benson
1952 Apache War Smoke Fanny Webson
1953 Girls in the Night Alice Haynes
1954 Secret of the Incas Mrs. Winston
Susan Slept Here Maude Snodgrass
1955 The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing Mrs. Nesbit
1959 Middle of the Night Mrs. Mueller
The Bells of St. Mary's TV movie
1961 A String of Beads TV movie
Special for Women: The Glamour Trap Beauty Operator TV movie
1964 Kissin' Cousins Ma Tatum
The Disorderly Orderly Dr. Jean Howard
1970 Tiger by the Tail Sarah Harvey (final film role)

Television creditsEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1949 The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre
1950 The Silver Theatre Gaudy Lady
1951 Starlight Theatre Dorine
Faith Baldwin Romance Theatre
Prudential Family Playhouse Effie Flound
1953 Tales of Tomorrow
Armstrong Circle Theatre Serena Price 2 episodes
1955 Goodyear Playhouse Mrs. Davis
The Elgin Hour Mrs. Dane
1956 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour
The Alcoa Hour Eloise Schroeder
Front Row Center May Cooper
1957 The 20th Century-Fox Hour Mae Swasey
The Sheriff of Cochise Sarah Avery
Kraft Theatre Stella Harvey / Alma Wilkes 5 episodes
1958 Studio One in Hollywood Claire / Mrs. Endsley / Irene 4 episodes
Cimarron City Maggie Arkins
1959 The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen
General Electric Theater Mrs. Brady
Wagon Train Belle MacAbee
Buick-Electra Playhouse
1960 Play of the Week Rose Frobisher
The Islanders Mrs. Dan King
1961 Westinghouse Playhouse Laura
1962 Frontier Circus Ma Jukes
The Defenders Edna Holley
Route 66 Laverne
1963 Ben Casey Martha Morrison 2 episodes
Won the Emmy Award for outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actress.
The United States Steel Hour Grace Smith / Edna Huntington / Mrs. Rausch 5 episodes
Rawhide Mrs. Elizabeth Farragut
Dr. Kildare Vera Dennis
The Fugitive Mrs. Maggie Lambert
1964 Bonanza Lulabelle 'Looney' Watkins Episode: "The Pure Truth"
1968 Felony Squad Jeanette Anderson
1969 Bewitched Hortense Rockeford


  1. ^ a b "Hollywood Star Walk: Glenda Farrell". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Bubbeo, Daniel. "Glenda Farrell: The Gimme Girl". The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. pp. 74, 79–80, 82. ISBN 0786411376.
  3. ^ "Wilhelmina "Minnie" Messer". Geni. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  4. ^ "Charles A. Farrell (1874-1937)". Find A Grave. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Nollen, Scott (2014). Glenda Farrell: Hollywood's Hardboiled Dame. Baltimore: Midnight Marquee Press, Inc. pp. 13–17. ISBN 9781936168477.
  6. ^ a b Aliperti, Cliff (September 10, 2013). "Glenda Farrell Biography and 1930s Hollywood Heyday". Immortal Ephemera. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  7. ^ "Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy". Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  8. ^ "My Pal Glenda". Hollywood Magazine. January 1936. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
  9. ^ Backer, Ron (August 25, 2012). Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood - Torchy Blane: The Investigative Reporter. McFarland. p. 258. ISBN 0786469757.
  10. ^ Mike French & Gilles Verschuere (2005-09-14). "Debora Nadoolman interview". Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  11. ^ Van Neste, Dan. "Glenda Farrell: Diamond in the Rough". Classic Images. May 1998. Issue 275.
  12. ^ "Los Angeles Actress To Wed In June", Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1931, p. 11.
  13. ^ "Glenda To Wed", The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana. February 6, 1941, p. 5.
  14. ^ a b "Dr. Henry Ross, 89, Eisenhower's Chief Of Health in War". The New York Times. June 28, 1991. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  15. ^ Garson Kanin, “Glenda Farrell 1904-1971”, New York Times, May 16, 1971, p. 14. (Retrieved 2017-05-04.)
  16. ^ "Actress Glenda Farrell Dies in N.Y. at Age 66", European Stars and Stripes, May 3, 1971, p. 6.
  17. ^ Garson Kanin, “Glenda Farrell 1904-1971”, New York Times, May 16, 1971, p. 14. (Retrieved 2017-05-04.)
  18. ^ Siegel, Joanne. "The True Inspiration for Lois Lane". Superman Home Page. Retrieved July 19, 2015.
  19. ^ "Glenda Farrell". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved March 13, 2016.

External linksEdit