Joan Castle Joseff dies at 97; businesswoman led Burbank firms

As the successful head of two distinctly different Burbank business enterprises, Joan Castle Joseff achieved two equally distinct reputations.

As president of Joseff Precision Metal Products -- it primarily makes aircraft and missile parts -- she was described in a 1959 Times article as “unquestionably the world’s loveliest foundryman.”

As president of Joseff-Hollywood -- it makes and rents dazzling costume jewelry that has been worn on and off the screen by Hollywood’s most illustrious stars -- she was hailed in a 1990 People magazine story as “the High Priestess of Paste.”

Joseff, who took over running both businesses after husband Eugene’s death in 1948, died March 24 of congestive heart failure at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, said her daughter-in-law, Tina Joseff. She was 97.

“She remained president until the day she died,” said Tina Joseff, general manager of the family-operated business. “She never really said she had retired; I guess she never felt she did. Even though she wasn’t in the office, we spoke frequently about what was going on in the business.”

Joseff, who never remarried, was chosen as the 2004 Businesswoman of the Year by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Business Advisory Council and flew to Washington, D.C., to receive the honor.

“She was very energetic, very driven,” said Tina Joseff. “I think she had as much passion for the business as [her husband] did.”

Eugene Joseff, who arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago in 1928, created a thriving business designing, manufacturing and renting jewelry to movie studios.

As writer Brenda Polan of the Times of London once phrased it, “Eugene Joseff put the tinsel in Tinseltown.”

In time, the man who came to be known by the single name Joseff was reportedly producing 90% of the jewelry seen in movies set in contemporary and historic times.

The company’s jewelry has appeared -- and reappeared -- in thousands of films and TV shows over the decades.

Those items include an amethyst necklace, bracelet and earring set that Vivien Leigh wore in “Gone With the Wind” and pearl pendant earrings worn by Grace Kelly in “High Society.”

Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Myrna Loy, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor are among the many other stars who wore Joseff’s jewelry in films. Many of them also rented pieces to wear at the Oscar ceremonies.

“The heyday of our business was in the ‘30s and ‘40s, when people really dressed up and wore jewelry,” Joan Castle Joseff told People magazine in 1990. “Those days are gone.”

Born Aug. 12, 1912, in a small Canadian farming town outside Calgary, she moved with her family to Eugene, Ore., when she was 6. After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she enrolled at Sawyer Business College and was hired as a secretary for Eugene Joseff in 1938.

Two years later, she became his office manager. It reportedly was her suggestion that he make costume jewelry for retail sale.

Eugene Joseff had already started a manufacturing plant to make parts for military airplanes when he and Joan were married in 1942.

While he ran that end of the business, she was in charge of studio rentals and retail sales, setting up accounts and handling publicity at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and other major department stores across the country.

But in 1948, 11 months after their son, Jeffrey, was born, Eugene Joseff died in a plane crash.

“Joseff had always told me that he was confident that I could run the companies if anything ever happened to him,” her family recalls her later saying. “Of course, I never thought it would. I just forced myself to do things.”

Known as J.C., she was a petite (5-foot) woman with brown hair -- at least when she wasn’t dying it turquoise, lavender, flame red or blond in the 1950s and ‘60s to match her gowns.

She’d also sometimes dye her two poodles to match her hair and dress, said her daughter-in-law.

“She was bold and daring,” said Tina Joseff. “I think she sort of liked to be a little ahead of the crowd, to stand out.”

A longtime resident of Toluca Lake, Joseff was active in social and civic affairs. She was also heavily involved in Republican politics and often attended events at the White House.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A private funeral has been held, and a public memorial is pending.