Jocelyn Howarth (1911-1963) – Endless disappointments

Above: Constance Worth (Jocelyn Howarth) manages a smile while being made up during shooting of the utterly abysmal “The Wages of Sin”, her first film after the divorce from George Brent.[1]Author’s collection. Photographer unknown

filmstars010The 5 second version.
Born Enid Joyce Howarth, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 19 August 191.In Australia she was known as Joy Howarth and Jocelyn Howarth. In the US she used the stage name Constance Worth.
A talented and popular actress on stage in Australia and in several Australian films, she travelled to the US in 1936 to pursue a career in film. There has been a tradition of representing Howarth as an Australian pioneer in Hollywood. Perhaps, but her experiences also suggest she was frustrated by underwhelming roles in B films and poor treatment in the studio system. She never had the chance to shine, as she had in Australia. She died in Los Angeles, California USA on 18 October 1963, aged only 52. The IMDB suggests she appeared in 35 US films, sometimes in uncredited roles.
(See Note 2 below regarding the British actress Constance Worth)
Photo at left – A very young Jocelyn Howarth on an Allen’s lolly card. C.1933.

Enid Joyce Howarth was born in Sydney on 19 August, 1911.[2]NSW Births Deaths and Marriages certificate 44906/1911, Enid Joyce Howarth She was one of Australian director Ken G Hall’s “finds,” making a great impression under her stage name, Jocelyn Howarth, in The Squatter’s Daughter (1933) and The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934) before moving to Hollywood in 1936, where she was known as Constance Worth.

But her story was not a happy one. Indeed, her US film career would end up being one of frustration and continual disappointment. She spent much of her Hollywood career chasing film roles that either did not eventuate or failed to live up to expectations.

To family and friends she was known all her life as Joy. The youngest of three daughters[3]Gwen born 1908, Nancy born 1910 born to wealthy Sydney importer Moffat Howarth and his wife Maryellen nee Dumbrill, her childhood was privileged but the family had its moments of unhappiness – and her parents finally divorced very publicly and acrimoniously in 1921.[4]Truth (Syd) 25 Sept, 1921, P7, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove After leaving St Gabriel’s Church of England School, Waverley, she involved herself in amateur theatre, appearing in a production of Cynara.[5]Despite many the many references to the contrary, the Ascham school archivist has assured me that Jocelyn did not attend their school

Above: Cinesound publicity at work. Jocelyn Howarth advertising Ken Hall’s The Squatter’s Daughter, holding a Koala. [6]Table Talk, 20 July 1933. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.

In 1933, Ken Hall tested her for The Squatter’s Daughter, his entertaining film of Australian pastoral life. Hall made much of her ability and composure during the film’s spectacular scenes – especially the bush fire scene. Publicity from production company Cinesound helped establish her reputation as “Australia’s bravest girl”. Cinesound ensured she appeared at screenings of the film around Australia and she certainly impressed reviewers. In late 1933, a reviewer from the Melbourne Argus wrote; She is a most winning and attractive figure, who both looks and acts her part. She will establish a reputation for her work in this film.” [7]The Argus (Melb) 23 Oct 1933, P5 She certainly looked the part of the glamourous film star, but her answers to the press as she traveled Australia were well considered and also revealed a mature and thoughtful mind. In May 1934 The Silence of Dean Maitland was released with Joy in a supporting role and again, she enjoyed good reviews. According to Ken Hall, she had wanted the leading role in this film.

Above: Screen grabs of Jocelyn Howarth in Ken Hall’s The Squatter’s Daughter 1933. She was 22 at the time. [8]Unfortunately only a few of Ken Hall’s films are available publicly, in shortened low-quality versions from US sources, including this one. Author’s collection

Through 1934 and 1935, Joy waited for more parts in film. She performed on stage in Ten Minute Alibi and The Wind and the Rain and in several radio plays. 5’5, Blonde, blue eyed, and widely admired for her willingness to throw herself with gusto into her roles, Joy was a talented and seemingly confident young Australian about to go places. She attracted great attention, and appears to have been briefly engaged to “Digger Comedian” Johnnie Marks. But unfortunately the problem for all of Australia’s enthusiastic young actors was that there were few feature films being made. Advertising iced tea and appearing on radio with James Raglan could not sustain her interest for long. So, in April 1936, aged 25, Joy sailed for California on the Matson liner Monterey, determined to try her luck in Hollywood.

Journalists reported Joy and a travelling companion mixing cocktails for well-wishers in their cabin on the eve of departure. Although she publicly claimed to be “loaded with introductions to people in Hollywood,” she was cautious enough to add “it seems to me going to Hollywood in search of a career is like taking a ticket in the lottery …” [9]The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 1936, P20 And so it was. Despite travelling on the Monterey with actor and director Miles Mander, and enjoying welcome dinners with the likes of expat Australian director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan, by August 1936, Joy had received no film offers. In an angry despair she reportedly made a half-hearted attempt to take her own life. She was saved by the timely intervention of young actor friend, Tyrone Power, whom she telephoned for help.[10]Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug 1936, PA2 via Newspapers.com Unfortunately, Joy found herself dogged by reports of this event for the rest of her Hollywood career, and the explanation of what had happened with the gas in her flat changed and therefore became less believable (a pot boiling over,[11]Santa Rose Republican, 10 Aug 1936, P9 and Prescott Evening Courier, 11 August 1936 P5 via Newspapers.com a gas leak,[12]The Daily News (Perth WA)14 Sep, 1937, P1, a new type of stove,[13]The Mail (Adel. SA) 14 Aug 1937, P1 a heater[14]The Daily Telegraph (Syd)13 Jul 1937, P2 over time. Years later, she would publicly acknowledge how hard her early years in Hollywood had been. “I really was in an emotional state in those days… I had little faith in myself and still less money.”[15]Sydney Morning Herald 5 Nov 1961, P27 “I’ll rebuild my life as an actress” via

Above: Joy Howarth, August 5, 1936, taken just after the gas event. The accompanying story states “an inhalator squad worked an hour reviving her.” [16]A syndicated US news agency photo, Author’s collection.

Joy’s luck changed soon after this incident and she finally secured a contract with RKO. She took the lead in two underwhelming mystery/adventure films, China Passage and Windjammer, both released in 1937. On China Passage she was to co-star with Vinton Haworth, so at the suggestion or perhaps insistence of RKO she changed her stage name to Constance Worth.

Howarth1
Above: Constance Worth in her first Hollywood movie, playing the leading female role in the exotic 1937 RKO thriller China Passage. The film was possibly influenced by the success of MGM’s China Seas, made a few years before. [17]Photo is an enlargement from an RKO film publicity photo. Author’s Collection. The film has recently been re-released on DVD
With Geo O'Brien in Windjammer 1937
Above: With George O’Brien in Windjammer (1937), her second RKO film. [18] Cine-Mundial, Jan-Dec 1937. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

cw and brent
Above- Joy and George Brent, about the time of their marriage in 1937.[19] Picture play Magazine, 1938, Media History Digital Library

In the midst of this excitement, she met another actor, a friend of Tyrone’s, and began an intense relationship. Unfortunately the object of her affection was serial Hollywood womaniser, George Brent, who already had two failed marriages and numerous relationships behind him. Under intense pressure from Brent, they married, secretly, in Mexico in May, 1937. It was a disaster and within months the entire saga was played out in the press in agonising detail. After a few weeks of marriage, Brent had become morose, withdrawn and uncommunicative, later to suggest he realised he had made a terrible mistake. Brent attempted to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that having been conducted in Mexico it wasn’t a legal marriage, but before the end of the year it ended up as a full-blown stoush in a US divorce court.

When Joy’s mother Mary-Ellen was pressed to comment she said; “when I first met Brent I was not impressed.” But “Joy…was in love and that was all that mattered to me.”[20]The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 11, 1937, P27 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove Mary-Ellen was to spend the next twenty years worrying about Joy, while Moffatt Howarth repeatedly told his daughter to come home to Sydney.

Joy’s sister Gwen Howarth visited Hollywood in late 1937, to support her sister through the divorce. Her thoughtful and considered views about Hollywood appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly, in September and October 1937.[21]Joy’s accounts appear in The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 11, 1937, Page 3 and The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 18, 1937, Page 4 via National Library of Australia’s Trove While she celebrated Australian successes, amongst them that of Mary Maguire, Gwen Howarth didn’t balk at reporting the reality, which was often quite the opposite to the well-peddled stereotype of Hollywood success. She also told The Sydney Morning Herald of “Some of Hollywood’s Failures” in August: “Hollywood … is a city of hopes which are fulfilled for few. Its drug-stores, shops, and restaurants have as assistants and waitresses scores of beautiful girls who linger on in the hope of gaining employment in films. And most of them wait in vain.” Little did she imagine that a few years later, her sister Joy would also turn to waitressing when acting jobs dried up.

Gwen also wrote a scathing account of the way the press reported events relating to her sister in Hollywood: “I was rather amused to read in a recent paper here… ‘Miss Worth had been seen out dining alone and she would be leaving for Europe next month.’ She has not dined out alone since she has been here, and will not be leaving for Europe next month. But that is Hollywood. What they don’t know, they invent.”[22]The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 18, 1937, Page 4 via National Library of Australia’s Trove

Of course, there is an irony in Gwen’s “letters from Hollywood.” Despite her efforts to report to Australian readers with a high degree of reflection and honesty, the papers that carried her occasional accounts were the same ones that reported the nonsense and fed the impossible fantasy.

JH in Hollywood c 1937
Above: Looking her movie-star best in 1937 while advising fans on makeup.[23]Hollywood Magazine, Jan-Dec 1937, Fawcett Publications. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

The Brent affair of 1937 undermined Joy’s public standing as a serious actress and RKO offered her no further roles. She was too closely associated with a messy public divorce to warrant more effort by the studio. In a 1945 interview, she acknowledged that not only had Brent’s rejection hurt her deeply, it had also hurt her career. Joy’s next film was also a starring role, but in a minor studio exploitation flick – The Wages of Sin, a story of a young woman lured into prostitution. Producer Willis Kent was notorious for his sensationalist films made outside the Hollywood production code. The young Australian was desperate for work after the Brent divorce and apparently felt she had no other option. Perhaps she convinced herself that there was something worthwhile about the film. There wasn’t, but she made a great effort with the useless script, her Sydney accent sounding incongruous alongside the broad US accents of her co-stars.

In this short audio clip, hard working Marjorie (Constance Worth) scolds her oafish family for not giving young Tommy milk, and her father for not working. [24]The Wages of Sin is now in the public domain. Copy in the author’s collection

Wages of Sin 1936
Above: Screengrabs from The Wages of Sin. Left; the family meal scene referred to. Right; One of the film’s scenes that attempt to titillate – Marjorie has a conversation with Tony (who is in another room) whilst in the shower. [25]Author’s collection

The scandalous film had only limited release in the US, usually opening and closing in towns before local authorities could act, and was never released in Australia.

Not surprisingly, when Joy returned home to Australia in June 1939 she let slip her true opinions about working in the Hollywood studio system. It gave an actress “no scope” she said, and added that she “far preferred the stage.” However, after seeing family and friends, modelling the spring collection for Anthony Hordens and appearing in a play at the Minerva Theatre (under her real name), Joy gritted her teeth and returned to a career in Hollywood B pictures.

CW & John Beal
Above: With John Beal on the set of Let’s Have Fun in 1943.[26] Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942 via Lantern, Media History Digital Library

Back in Hollywood as Constance Worth again, she worked tirelessly to re-establish herself as an actress. She freelanced, taking a mixture of uncredited, minor and supporting roles while apparently also waitressing. In 1943 she landed a leading role in Republic’s fifteen part serial G-Men Versus the Black Dragon. Playing British agent Vivian Marsh, she lurches from one hair-raising scenario to the next, tied to buzz-saws and fiendish torture machines by wicked Japanese spies, regularly saved “just in time” by US agent Rex Bennett, played by Rod Cameron. Her character has some spark however, and she handles a Thompson machine gun with ease. Unfortunately, while Director William Witney admired Joy as an actress, he also remarked on the reputation the thirty-two year old Australian had developed for copious drinking. Joy’s smoky, throaty voice, extraordinary arched eyebrows and striking looks consigned her to more and more supporting roles. There was now steady work, but this was often as “the girl your mother warned you about”; the saucy nurse, the bar room vamp, the treacherous female spy.


In 1943’s Crime Doctor, the first of a long running series of crime films, she plays a nurse who is in the ward just before the hero, Ordway, awakes (He has amnesia and doesn’t recall, no matter how hard he tries, that he was a gangster). Joy’s lines, as Nurse Betty, include this banter with another nurse as they fuss about Ordway. Here was Constance Worth – well and truly typecast.

Nurse Betty: From where I sit he promises to be good looking
Nurse 2: I wonder if he’s married…
Nurse Betty: If he appeals to me, he’s married!
Nurse 2 (laughing): Well you can’t do anything with an unconscious guy!
Nurse Betty: You should know some of the men I’ve been out with!

And later when Nurse Betty asks a doctor whether there is any news as to the patient’s identity:

Doctor: Apparently no one misses him
Nurse Betty: (aloud, but almost to herself) I would, if he were mine![27]Transcription – copy in the author’s collection

In 1946, Joy was in the news again in connection with another court case, but this time she was named as co-respondent. The wife of Bill Pierce, a Hollywood scriptwriter, had found her husband in Joy’s flat. Joy was apparently semi-naked when private detectives burst in, but Joy insisted there was nothing illicit in their relationship. They were just friends. She claimed Pierce had too much to drink “and decided to spend the night on the apartment couch, while she used the bedroom.” However, a year after the Pierce divorce, Bill and Joy were living together. She kept on working and in total, had appeared in 35 Hollywood films in the thirteen years between 1937 and 1949. Unfortunately, the increasingly meaningless roles in underwhelming films became the norm for her.

Her final film was in the B-western film, Western Renegades, in 1949. With light entertainment offered by the plump and ever good-humoured Johnny Mack Brown, lots of western stereotypes and “comedy relief” provided by aging ventriloquist Max Terhune and his dummy Elmer, the audience for this film was clearly the emerging post-war generation of young American boys, about to be exposed to the onslaught of TV westerns. Taking another minor supporting role and looking thinner than ever, Joy played a flashy “actress” hired to impersonate a missing mother, Ann Gordon. In her final scene, she is strangled or bashed-up, it’s not clear which, at the foot of the stairs of the Gordonville hotel by the angry daughter of the real Ann Gordon.

Above. Older but in classic film star makeup and pose. Left, in 1945 [28] on the cover of Australasian, 25 August, 1945. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.  At right; in Klondike Kate in 1943. [29] Author’s Collection. Source unmarked but probably a public relations photo by Columbia Pictures.

According to her extended family, it was reported in the late 1940s that she was pregnant.[30]Personal correspondence but I have been unable to corroborate this If this was true, she did not carry the child to full term successfully as there were no children from Bill and Joy’s relationship. There were also no more film roles after 1949, despite several reports that she was about to re-boot her career.[31]See for example Sydney Morning Herald 5 Nov 1961, P27 “I’ll rebuild my life as an actress” She did at least, have the presence of sister Gwen, who had married William Babylon in 1944, and now lived in Maryland.[32]The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr 1944, P5

Later in life.[33]Author’s collection. source and details unknown


Joy Howarth died at age 52,  on 18th October 1963, of complications arising from cirrhosis of the liver.[34]Joy Howarth Pierce, State of California Certificate of Death, 7053 21590 Bill was by her side. It was a thoroughly dismal end to what had started out as a brilliant career for a genuinely capable actress. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem Joy’s greatest pleasure came from performing on screen and stage at home, where to Australians, she was always a star.

Cw signature
Joy Howarth was never completely happy with her stage name. She complained on one occasion that it brought her bad luck. Her signature here, for a 1940s fan, looks like it was scribbled under sufferance. Author’s collection.

Note 1
Her DOB is often incorrectly cited as 1912 or 1913.

Note 2
Howarth is regularly confused with British stage actress Constance Wadsworth (born 1892) who used the stage name Constance Worth for several films in England between 1919 and 1922. Wadsworth was the second wife of actor Dan Rolyat (Herbert Taylor) (1872-1927).


Nick Murphy, May 2018

References

  • Special Thanks
    To Marguerite Gillezeau, Archivist at Ascham School.

Film Clips

Text 

  • Ina Bertrand (1989) Cinema in Australia. A Documentary History. New South Wales University Press.
  • Ken G. Hall (1977) Directed by Ken G. Hall, autobiography of an Australian film maker. Lansdowne Press.
  • Charles Higham & Roy Moseley (1990) Cary Grant. The Lonely heart. Avon Books
  • Scott O’Brien (2014) George Brent: Ireland’s Gift to Hollywood and Its Leading Ladies. Bear Manor Media
  • Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) Australian Film 1900-1977. Oxford Uni Press/AFI
  • Eric Schaeffer (1999) “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. Duke University Press.
  • Amber Sloan (1998) Jocelyn Howarth. Bonza RMIT film resource, via National Library of Australia.
  • William Witney (1996) In a Door, into a Fight, Out a Door, into a Chase: Moviemaking Remembered by the Guy at the Door. McFarland & Co.
  • Andree Wright (1987) Brilliant Careers: Women in Australian Cinema. MacMillan

National Library of Australia, Trove

  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Aug 28. 1937, Page 4
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Oct 16, 1937, Page 4
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 11, 1937, Page 26
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Nov 30, 1940, Page 20
  • The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 12, 1942, Page 12

This site has been selected for archiving and preservation in the National Library of Australia’s Pandora archive

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Author’s collection. Photographer unknown
2 NSW Births Deaths and Marriages certificate 44906/1911, Enid Joyce Howarth
3 Gwen born 1908, Nancy born 1910
4 Truth (Syd) 25 Sept, 1921, P7, Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
5 Despite many the many references to the contrary, the Ascham school archivist has assured me that Jocelyn did not attend their school
6 Table Talk, 20 July 1933. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove.
7 The Argus (Melb) 23 Oct 1933, P5
8 Unfortunately only a few of Ken Hall’s films are available publicly, in shortened low-quality versions from US sources, including this one. Author’s collection
9 The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 1936, P20
10 Los Angeles Times, 5 Aug 1936, PA2 via Newspapers.com
11 Santa Rose Republican, 10 Aug 1936, P9 and Prescott Evening Courier, 11 August 1936 P5 via Newspapers.com
12 The Daily News (Perth WA)14 Sep, 1937, P1,
13 The Mail (Adel. SA) 14 Aug 1937, P1
14 The Daily Telegraph (Syd)13 Jul 1937, P2
15 Sydney Morning Herald 5 Nov 1961, P27 “I’ll rebuild my life as an actress” via
16 A syndicated US news agency photo, Author’s collection.
17 Photo is an enlargement from an RKO film publicity photo. Author’s Collection. The film has recently been re-released on DVD
18 Cine-Mundial, Jan-Dec 1937. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
19 Picture play Magazine, 1938, Media History Digital Library
20 The Australian Women’s Weekly, Dec 11, 1937, P27 Via National Library of Australia’s Trove
21 Joy’s accounts appear in The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 11, 1937, Page 3 and The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 18, 1937, Page 4 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
22 The Australian Women’s Weekly, Sept 18, 1937, Page 4 via National Library of Australia’s Trove
23 Hollywood Magazine, Jan-Dec 1937, Fawcett Publications. Via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
24 The Wages of Sin is now in the public domain. Copy in the author’s collection
25 Author’s collection
26 Hollywood Jan-Dec 1942 via Lantern, Media History Digital Library
27 Transcription – copy in the author’s collection
28 on the cover of Australasian, 25 August, 1945. Via National Library of Australia’s Trove. 
29 Author’s Collection. Source unmarked but probably a public relations photo by Columbia Pictures.
30 Personal correspondence but I have been unable to corroborate this
31 See for example Sydney Morning Herald 5 Nov 1961, P27 “I’ll rebuild my life as an actress”
32 The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Apr 1944, P5
33 Author’s collection. source and details unknown
34 Joy Howarth Pierce, State of California Certificate of Death, 7053 21590