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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

FARRELL, GLENDA (1904–1971).

Noted actor Glenda Farrell (her real surname), was born on June 30, 1904 (U.S. Censuses of 1910 and 1920 report 1900 as birth year; headstone reports birthday as January 30, 1904), in Enid, Oklahoma, to Charles and Minnie Farrell. She began her acting career in theater at the age of seven as Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin. After a successful Broadway career, she broke into the movies with First National Pictures in 1930. Her first major film came with the role of Olga Stassoff in Little Caesar, perhaps the most well-known gangster movie of all time, starring Edward G. Robinson. She followed with a similar feature, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), opposite Paul Muni. Soon came The Match King, a 1932 picture with Warren William in the lead role. Farrell's filmography is extensive and varied. She progressed from playing typical "victim" roles in which, essentially, a good girl goes wrong because of a man, to playing a self-actualized (blondly beautiful but a little goofy) career woman with a tough exterior. In 1937 she got her own series of movies about a reporter-detective type named "Torchy Blaine." The eight-film Blaine series included The Adventurous Blonde, Blondes at Work, and Torchy Runs for Mayor. In 1941 she appeared as Lana Turner's mother in Johnny Eager, starring Robert Taylor. Her career shifted back to theater in the 1940s, but in the 1950s she made a few notable screen appearances, including Susan Slept Here (1954, Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds) and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955, Ray Milland and Joan Collins). In the 1960s she had a role in the television doctor show Ben Casey, winning an Emmy Award in 1963 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series. Her theatrical career ended with Forty Carats in 1970. Farrell married three times, producing a son, actor Tommy Farrell, in her first marriage.

Diagnosed in the late 1960s with lung cancer, Glenda Farrell died on May 1, 1971. She was buried in the cemetery of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, a site chosen by her then-husband, Col. (Ret.) Henry Ross, West Point class of 1926. In writing her obituary, film writer and director Garson Kanin characterized Farrell as "one of the few real Americans I have known. . . . There are players who create characters; . . . more rare are those who, like Glenda, created a type. She invented and developed that made-tough, uncompromising, knowing, wise-cracking, undefeatable blonde. . . . she was always, relentlessly, The Type."

Dianna Everett

Learn More

Daily Oklahoman, 20 January 1941, 2 May 1971.

Dianna Everett, "The Other Half: Oklahoma Women in the Movies," in Oklahoma @ the Movies, comp. Larry O'Dell (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).

Garson Kanin, "Glenda Farrell, 1904-1971," New York Times, 16 May 1971.

Los Angeles Times, 2 May 1971.

Leonard Maltin, Spencer Green, and Luke Sader, Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1994).

David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (3rd ed.; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Farrell, Glenda,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=FA027.

Published February 4, 2015
Last updated September 14, 2018

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