Did J. D. Salinger name Holden Caulfield, protagonist of the novelist’s Catcher in the  Rye, for actress Joan Caulfield after seeing her in the underated 1947 romantic comedy, Dear Ruth?

(Answer to be found at the conclusion of today’s blog. Pls be patient and read all the way down.)

In any case, although largely forgotten today, Caulfield was a big star — one with above-the-title billing — during much of the Forties. After that, she had quite a run on television.

And, if she (above and below) looks the epitome of the Forties-era fashion model, well, that’s exactly what she was before arriving in Hollywood in 1945.

Joe feels it would be well for “stars” of today to remember the New Jersey-born Caulfield, and realize that their stardom might be as fleeting as hers. As for Frank, he’ll settle for stars just learning their lines.

Today Joan Caulfield might best be remembered as much for her affair with Bing Crosby as for her less than lengthy career comprising 14 movies beginning with 1945’s Duffy’s Tavern, a comedy with — you guessed it — Crosby as its star. (The picture below graced the cover of Life Magazine in the mid 40s.)

Over the next few years, Caulfield appeared in at least three pictures with Crosby: 1945’s Blue Skies; 1947’s Welcome Stranger along with Barry Fitzgerald; and 1947’s Variety Girl,  a musical about the Variety Club charity with an overstuffed cast that included Bob Hope.

But the story many in Hollywood remember is that when Crosby thought their affair needed to end, he tried to foist her off on his pal Hope. Caulfield wouldn’t cooperate however. Interestingly, she’d starred with Hope in 1946’s Monsieur Beaucaire.

Some say Crosby thought of divorcing his wife to marry her, but this was never verified. In 1950, Joan married producer Frank Ross who’d been married to actress Jean Arthur. The union lasted less than a decade with the divorce coming in 1959.

The story goes that Arthur always held a grudge against Caulfield for “stealing” Ross, and vowed to outlive them both. Ross died in 1990. He was 85.  Joan died of lung cancer at 69, on June 18, 1991.  Arthur died the next day.

Caulfield actually had two careers — a short one in films and a longer one on tv. Since her last film in 1955 — Jean Negulesco’s The Rains of Ranchipur with Lana Turner, Richard Burton and Fred MacMurray (what a strange cast!) — Joan was strictly a creature of the tube.

She is perhaps best recalled for her starring role as a travelling salesgirl who befriends a rich matron on Sally, a sitcom produced by then husband Ross for NBC in the late Fifties. Her last appearance was in a Murder, She Wrote segment four years before she died.

It’s worth noting that two of Caulfield’s later movies are 1947’s The Unsuspected with Claude Rains (directed by Michael Curtiz) and 1948’s Larceny opposite John Payne and Dan Duryea.  Both are tough-minded crimes dramas; Bing Crosby is conspicuous by his absence.

(Answer to our opening question: Supposedly after seeing a movie marquee emblazoned with the names of Joan and costar William Holden — the movie was 1947’s Dear Ruth — J.D. Salinger settled on the name Holden Caulfield for the protagonist in his 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Literary sleuths cast doubt on this story since the timing doesn’t quite work out– the character name was used in a Salinger short story published in 1944 — but conclude that  Salinger perhaps borrowed Joan’s surname after tracking her early acting career.)

 

 

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