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Obituaries

Joan Vohs; Actress in 1950s TV, Movies

June 11, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joan Vohs, Connover model, youngest Radio City Rockette at 16, actress for a time and wife and mother for a lifetime, has died. She was 73.

Vohs, in everyday life Mrs. John Stephens, died Monday in Tarzana.

She appeared in several motion pictures and television series of the 1950s, always fighting stereotyping as a proverbial "dumb blond."

"Once a dumb blond, always a dumb blond in the opinion of some of the producers and casting directors," she complained to The Times in 1955--after rejecting a role in a film by the then-top box office team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Although she fought the brainless image with some success, she could not avoid being considered beautiful. Once the native New Yorker had danced her way to Hollywood via modeling assignments, hoofing at Radio City Music Hall and on Broadway, she was put before the movie cameras in 1949 as--what else?--a model.

Her debut came as one of the uncredited beauties in Ronald Reagan's search for the perfect female form in "The Girl From Jones Beach."

The same year Vohs was given similar roles as the "model" or the "girl" in three films, "My Dream Is Yours," "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" and "It's a Great Feeling."

Vohs' career before the camera lasted only through the 1950s--except for a recurring role in the television series "Family Affair" in 1966. But she got to experience the gamut of Hollywood's experiments in that awakening decade--from Westerns to 3-D, romantic comedy to science fiction.

Cast as blond and beautiful but not so dumb, she was suspected French spy Fortune Mallory opposite George Montgomery in 1953's "Fort Ti." Based on the 18th century French and Indian War centered on Ft. Ticonderoga, the film was the first outdoor epic filmed in 3-D.

Among her few leading roles was her part in the 1953 "Crazylegs," a story featuring real-life Los Angeles Rams football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, in which she played Hirsch's wife.

Vohs found more variety on the emerging medium of TV. She starred in a series of dramatized Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales shot in Denmark in the early 1950s, and appeared in "The Heiress."

She also had guest roles on series of the time, including "Perry Mason," "Maverick," "The Rebel," "Hawaiian Eye," "Frontier" and "Bachelor Father."

A Sunday school teacher even in her acting heyday, Vohs largely retired from acting after her 1966 turn on Brian Keith's "Family Affair" to rear her own family.

She is survived by her husband, John Stephens; two children, Bill and Laurie; one sister, Millicent McGrath; and one grandson.

A memorial service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Nicholas Church in Encino. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Audubon Society of San Fernando Valley.

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