Thursday, May 3, 2012

Joan Dixon, Howard Hughes, and Tim Holt

From the late silent era on, multi-millionaire playboy Howard Hughes would take time out from his various hobbies of flying planes into things and such to dabble in the film industry in general – Hell's Angels (1930), The Outlaw (1943), Vendetta (1950) – and beautiful Hollywood starlets in particular. With, it should be noted, an appetite and indeed taste ranging from beautiful silent star Billie Dove to mannish talkie newcomer Katharine Hepburn. And, as they say, anything and everything in between. Including, at least one writer suggests, the male of the species as well – notably the ill-fated Robert Francis (died in a plane crash in 1955) – although how Howard would have found the time is anybody's guess. Having gotten himself stuck attempting to create a star out of Jane Russell's brassiere – The Outlaw as a narrative clearly came second to the natural scenery that indeed was Jane's epic bust – Hughes threw caution to the wind and went into film-making full time, managing in the process to destroy one mini-major, RKO. Once again, Howard got mired in his zeal to foist a girl on the public, come what may. This time, the object of his feverish fantasies was one Faith Domergue, the film a Corsican melodrama entitled Vendetta (1950) and the result the slow and lingering demise of the company that had brought the world King Kong, Astaire & Rogers, and Citizen Kane. With all this destruction going on, Hughes had little time left for his other contract starlets, which at this particular moment in history, 1950-1952, also included Faith Domergue and Jane Russell lookalike Joan Dixon.

Dixon, from Norfolk, VA, signed with RKO, and Hughes, in 1950, but since Domergue was still the reigning star in Howard's' constellation, she was pawned off to the B-units, noir and Western respectively. Her noirs are actually very good, notably Roadblock (1951), and her Westerns, five in total, even better. Dixon became Tim Holt's final leading lady of note and co-starred in what in my opinion remains one of Tim's best, Desert Passage (1952). As I wrote for the AMG database:

Always slightly more adult than the competition, RKO's Tim Holt fine B-western series went out with a bang rather than the accustomed whimper. Although cheaply made, Desert Passage remains an evocative and exciting pocket Western complete with shootouts, hard riding, and such mystery elements as a deserted hotel, howling dogs, and strange bumps in the night. Holt and Mexican-accented sidekick Richard Martin are their usual stalwart selves -- the former all uncompromising decency, the latter foolhardily romantic -- but the real treat here is the supporting cast, RKO B-movie regulars all but allowed to play the mystery angle for all it is worth and with no holds barred.

Although she was blithely compared to Hughes' biggest star, Jane Russell (Faith Domergue had badly flopped), Hughes, as we have already noted, paid scant attention and Desert Passage proved Dixon's final film appearance of any importance. Why? She was as attractive, if not more, than the average Hollywood starlet and, unlike Faith Domergue, could actually act. But she got caught up in an off-screen marital farce with Ted Briskin, the former husband of Paramount star Betty Hutton, that for all intent and purposes derailed her career. Joan became Mrs. Theodore S. Briskin in October of 1952 and in a purely conjugal manner seized to be Mrs. Briskin less than three weeks later, Mr. Briskin in the subsequent divorce hearings alleging that his wife had beat him up no less than three times. There was a second marriage, to a television writer, but that, too, proved shortlived, and apart from a couple of television appearances and a night club engagement or two, Joan Dixon disappeared from view. She died in Los Angeles on February 20, 1992.

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