Joan Shawlee; Busy Actress in Zany Comedies

Times Staff Writer

Joan Shawlee, who portrayed a series of often bawdy and usually zany characters in some of film's most memorable comedies of the 1940s and '50s, including Sweet Sue, the leader of the all-girl band infiltrated by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in "Some Like It Hot," is dead.

Miss Shawlee, who also acted under the name of Joan Fulton, was 56 when she died of cancer in her Hollywood home March 22, said her friend and collaborator, David Johnson, who reported her death Monday.

The statuesque Miss Shawlee began her career at 14 as a Powers model. Two years later she was appearing in New York nightclubs, where she was judged one of the six most beautiful girls in Manhattan.

Dancing Role

That accolade brought her a dancing part in "By Jupiter," a Ray Bolger Broadway triumph. She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, but when the studio found she was only 16 she was relegated to a studio classroom rather than a movie set, and she returned to New York.

A letter to Richard Rodgers produced a role in his musical version of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," but when the show ended its Broadway run she returned to nightclub performing. Comic Lou Costello saw her dancing at the old Copacabana and persuaded her to try Hollywood again, this time at his studio, Universal.

For a time she acted under the name Joan Fulton, but she changed it after her marriage to businessman Walter Shawlee.

Variety of Roles

Her early films included "House of Horrors," "Lover Come Back," "Inside Job," "Buck Privates Come Home" and "Prehistoric Women."

Later she made "A Star Is Born," "The Apartment" and "A Farewell to Arms," and she was featured in two short-lived TV series, "The Adventures of Aggie," British-produced but seen locally, and "The Feather and Father Gang," a 1977 ABC adventure drama.

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