Joanne Dru; Actress Starred in ‘40s and ‘50s Westerns


Joanne Dru, heroine of 1940s and 1950s western films including Howard Hawks’ classic “Red River,” has died. She was 74.

Dru died Tuesday night in her Beverly Hills home of respiratory failure after suffering with lymphedema, said her brother, television host Peter Marshall.

After the Hawks film in 1948 came another important western, also starring John Wayne, the 1949 John Ford entry, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

“Right after I made ‘Red River,’ all I had submitted to me was western subjects,” she told The Times in 1948. “It seemed to be settled that this was the kind of picture I should play in.”


Other oater roles included Ford’s “Wagon Master,” which inspired the later long-running television series “Wagon Train,” Disney’s “Light in the Forest” with Fess Parker, “Return of the Texan” with Dale Robertson, “The Warriors” and “Durango.” Although studio contracts kept her out of early television, she did appear in some “Playhouse 90" presentations and the short-lived western series about New Yorkers running a dude ranch, “Guestward Ho!”

Dru aspired to comedy roles and did appear in a few non-western pictures, such as the Dizzy Dean biography, “Pride of St. Louis,” with Dan Dailey. But she grudgingly accepted the sagebrush sagas, and when westerns declined in popularity her career waned.

“Once you’re typed,” she told syndicated Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1957, “you’re lost.”

The diminutive auburn-haired actress had dutifully followed the western scripts and submitted to elaborate hairstyles and costumes, but she confessed to Hopper she didn’t enjoy it: “While a western is a good bet for the producer and the male star, it seldom does anything for the woman in it. . . . I simply hate horses--I’m scared to death of them. I dread those rattling wagons I have to drive in over rutty roads that practically shake your teeth loose.

“And those long gingham dresses with boned bodices,” she added, “are miserable things to wear.”

Born Joanne LaCock in Logan, W. Va., she moved to New York with her widowed mother, a dressmaker, and vowed to get into show business. She started out as a Powers model and soon won a place in Broadway chorus lines.

Dru came west with her first husband, singer and actor Dick Haymes, and made her debut in the 1946 film “Abie’s Irish Rose.” Hawks spotted her sunning in Palm Springs and put her under contract for “Red River.”

After divorcing Haymes, the actress married and divorced actor John Ireland. She later was married for 22 years to developer C.V. Wood.


In addition to her brother, Dru is survived by two children, Richard Haymes Jr. of New York City and Joanna Santos of Monterey, Calif.; another brother, David Moss; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 22 at Christ Church, 635 Manhattan Place South, Los Angeles.

Marshall suggested that any memorial donations be made to the National Lymphedema Network, 2211 Post St., Suite 404, San Francisco CA 94115.