Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part Nine by Greg Dziawer

Joanne Cangi as Geraldine in The Violent Years (1956).

Joanne's big movie role.
Duluth, MN-born actress Joanne Cangi (1937-2014) had a brief TV and film career in the mid-1950s, notching a couple of appearances on a forgotten NBC sitcom called It's a Great Life (featuring a pre-Andy Griffith Frances Bavier) in 1955 and one low-budget juvenile delinquent picture for a small independent studio called Headliner Productions in 1956. But that Poverty Row JD picture was the Ed Wood-scripted masterpiece The Violent Years.

Joanne played Geraldine, a member of the all-girl gang headed by doomed debutante Paula Parkins (Jean Moorhead). Ed's script dishes out harsh punishments to its young miscreant characters; bad girl Geraldine, for instance, is gunned down by the cops after trashing a schoolroom as part of some subversive conspiracy. Those are the breaks, honey.

I'm currently mired in research for other, longer articles in this series, but in the meantime, I'd like to share with you some clippings about Joanne Cangi that I've recently discovered. The Cangi clan migrated from Minnesota to California when the actress was very young, so Joanne spent her adolescence in sunny, touristy Orange County, CA. Spurred on by her mother, she entered and won numerous local beauty contests. By 16, in fact, she was already chosen to be queen of the annual summer bacchanal known as the Orange County Fair. Her duties included posing with an ostrich, as seen in this whimsical newspaper clipping from 1953.

"Preparing for ostrich races." Aren't we all?

A statuesque blonde, Joanne seems to have attained some degree of renown in northern Orange County in the mid-1950s. She attended Garden Grove High School back then, and during her junior year, she was named queen of the Camp Pendleton Rodeo. A few years later, after having graduated from GGHS, Joanne graciously returned to her alma mater to crown a young woman named Pat Wood as the new "Miss Garden Grove." That event was documented in the school's yearbook, with Joanne all smiles in the accompanying photo.

Excerpt from the Garden Grove High School yearbook; Inset: a news clipping about the Camp Pendleton Rodeo.

Joanne Cangi's local celebrity status was such that she was even called upon to visit the sick and bedridden, as seen in the clipping below in which she "exchanges holiday greetings with iron lung patient Allen Conkwright." Note that the photo caption refers to Ms. Cangi as a "starlet," suggesting her film and TV career was already underway. The actress' address is supplied in the text as well. A quick Google search reveals a short dead-end street lined with modest one-story houses.

Mr. Conkwright in the iron lung.

The Violent Years aside, movie stardom was not in the cards for Joanne Cangi. She later married a man named Doug Nicholls, moved to Michigan in the early '60s, got into real estate, and had four children. Her 2014 obituary in the Orange County Register alludes to a "brief acting career" and an encounter with John Wayne but makes no mention of her role as a teenage nogoodnik in an Ed Wood movie.