In the 1950s and 60s, actress and buxom beauty, Joi Lansing, worked tirelessly to prove that her measurements didn't define her. She became known as the Marilyn Monroe of TV and a B-movie icon, but true stardom was always just out of reach. Sadly, this wasn't even the greatest tragedy of her life.
1. She Was A Grandpa’s Girl
Joi Lansing was born Joy Rae Brown on April 6, 1929, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Though her parents separated when she was just a year old, she wanted for nothing. Her grandparents, well-to-do, devout Mormons, doted on her, especially her grandfather Ray, who gave her anything her little heart desired.
This turned out to be drama and piano lessons, because what Joi wanted most, even as a child, was to become a star.
2. She Won A Coveted Spot
Her mother remarried and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1935. By the age of 14, Joi was working as a swimsuit model. A few years later, she won a talent competition hosted by MGM studios and appeared twice in the film Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. But that was only the beginning.
In 1948, MGM signed her to a contract—and for good reason.
3. She Was A Knockout
At 5’5”, with blonde hair, green eyes, and the hourglass measurements of 39-23-35, Joi was every inch the ideal starlet. Her peaches-and-cream complexion was flawless, though she was always insecure about the roundness of her plump cheeks.
She would later come to think of her beauty as a mixed blessing, saying, “I was always known as a glamour girl and categorized as only that. It was very limiting”. But in those early days, she still had hope that her looks would do her more good than harm.
4. She Was In Good Company
The studio enrolled her at the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting along with such other up-and-coming actresses as Janet Leigh, Ava Gardner, and Esther Williams. There, she worked on her poise and performing skills and met another student by the name of Marilyn Monroe. They were not especially close—but Marilyn might have wanted them to be much closer.
5. Some Don’t Like It Hot
Joi claimed that Marilyn came on to her and invited her to Palm Springs for a little—wink-wink—“personal time”. She was aware that studios encouraged such liaisons between actresses to avoid unwanted pregnancies, but she declined because she was nervous and didn’t know Marilyn well enough.
Later in life, Joi would have a romantic relationship with a woman, but at the time, she was falling for someone else.
6. She Wasn’t Ready
In 1948, Joi married the first of her four husbands, Jack Shelton, the handsome friend of a fellow starlet. Her mother wasn’t a fan of the match and convinced her to get a divorce within the same year. Their split was one of Joi’s biggest regrets.
She said she was too young to realize what a wonderful person Jack was, and at one point called him the love of her life. But as we'll see, the same cannot be said for husband number two.
7. She Got Face Time
The MGM publicity department used Joi’s image to promote every picture she was in, even if she wasn’t in them very long. She had more visibility on posters and lobby cards than she had screen time.
For her barely-there role in 1949’s Take Me Out to the Ball Game with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, the studio built a whole press release around Joi claiming 2,500 men in Boston voted her “The Girl We Would Most Like to Take to the Ballgame”. And the hype didn’t stop there.
8. She Was A Cover Girl
The mighty publicity machine managed to get Joi—still an unknown—on the sacred cover of Life Magazine in March of 1949. Inside, silent film director Hal Roach sang Joi’s praises, saying he had personally selected her to be the “dumb blonde” in a series of short films for this new thing called television.
“Her well-rounded good looks and...flair for slapstick comedy” would make her a TV star, he said. He was right, but not right away.
9. She Made A Mistake
On March 3, 1950, Joi married Columbia Pictures executive Jerry Safron, and regretted it almost instantly. Four months later, they were in divorce court. A judge denied Joi’s plea for temporary alimony, and Jerry accused her of putting him in debt with her crazy spending habits.
Go figure, the court ruled their marriage was invalid all along because Jerry’s quick Mexican divorce from his previous wife didn’t count. Joi’s love life seemed to be going just about as well as her career.
10. She Couldn’t Catch A Break
After her divorce, Joi went to university but continued to grace the screen with less-than-stellar credits like Hat Check Girl, Model, and Showgirl. She was sorely disappointed to lose out on two roles that were huge breaks for Marilyn Monroe: Miss Casswell in All About Eve, and Angela Phinlay in The Asphalt Jungle.
Adding insult to injury, MGM dropped her contract. Maybe it seemed like a good time to get married again. Unfortunately, it was to Lance Fuller.
11. She Was Unlucky In Love
In 1951, Joi married struggling actor Lance Fuller, and soon began to resent having to pay for his acting lessons. “No Hollywood actress," she said “unless she is a big star can afford an actor for a husband”. The bigger problem was he stayed out all night gambling, or worse, brought his poker buddies home.
She divorced him only two years later, but her crumbling love life wasn't her only problem.
12. Something Had To Give
Joi landed plenty of work in big-budget musicals like Singin' In The Rain and The Merry Widow, but always as just some pretty blonde in the background. She appreciated the work but said, “I grew to realize I was going nowhere. I was used solely for decoration and never given the chance to act or sing”. Maybe not on camera, but when she did sing, she was a showstopper.
13. She Entertained The Air Force
In the spring of 1949, Joi was part of a Hollywood troupe that visited outposts of the Military Air Transport Service in Europe, Africa, Iceland, and Japan to entertain personnel. Reporters praised her bluesy singing voice and noted that her performance of “Embraceable You” consistently won the most wolf-whistles and cheers on the entire globe-hopping tour.
Joi would later focus on her singing career, but Hal Roach’s prediction came true first.
14. TV Saved Her
Joi caught a big break when actor Robert Cummings handpicked her for a recurring role in his 1955 sitcom Love That Bob. The show starred Robert as a girl-chasing photographer, with Joi appearing as his favorite model, Shirley Swanson, in 125 episodes. Finally, a character with a first and last name!
Joi made such an impression on producer Paul Henning that he later cast her as a semi-regular in The Beverly Hillbillies. Her TV career was off and running—and so was she.
15. Her Body Was Her Temple
Bob Cummings was a health nut and he introduced Joi to weightlifting. She also adopted his habit of taking handfuls of vitamins, and she became a spokesperson for Tiger’s Milk, one of the first protein shakes.
Publicity teams loved to promote her as Bob’s fitness protégé, and a clean-living, vice-less, Mormon glamour girl-next-door, even if most of it wasn’t true. Behind closed doors, Joi definitely had her vices.
16. It Was Just A Gimmick
Joi had insomnia and took the barbiturate Seconal so regularly that she couldn’t sleep without it. She also drank, though not often to excess, and despite her Mormon upbringing, she was not religious.
Her wholesome reputation set her apart from va-va-voom contemporaries like Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield, who were usually cast as vixens, and continued to land her choice gigs on the small screen.
17. She Married Superman
By 1956, Joi was such a familiar face that she appeared on an episode of I Love Lucy as herself. She also worked on hit shows like Perry Mason and Maverick.
In 1958, Joi did a guest spot on The Adventures of Superman, playing a policewoman who pretends to marry the Man of Steel in a trap for the villains. The role would’ve become steady if not for the untimely demise of star George Reeves. But true stardom kept eluding her, even when she was willing to pay the price.
18. She Drew A Line
It’s an unfortunate fact that many hopeful young stars’ careers depended on whether or not they’d test the springs of the casting couch. For Joi, it was a mostly unavoidable trade-off. However, when Burt Lancaster allegedly hired her for his film Elmer Gantry, she showed up to set—and made a disturbing discovery.
He only wanted to use her as his off-screen companion. Enraged, Joi stormed off immediately. Didn’t he realize she had bigger names to drop?
19. She Worked With The Best
Joi worked with cinematic genius Orson Welles twice. For the pilot of his proposed anthology series, The Fountain of Youth, he cast her as a character who stood for something “greater than talent, greater than beauty”.
The series ended with the aired pilot, but Orson hired Joi again for the famous opening tracking shot of 1958’s A Touch of Evil, where the camera follows her in a car for nearly four minutes. Joi would’ve also appeared in the opening scene of another film titan’s masterpiece if things had worked out.
20. There Was A Hitch
In 1954, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Joi was going to appear in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, as one of the two sunbathers who disrobe on a rooftop just as a helicopter hangs overhead. For some reason, Joi never actually filmed the cheeky scene.
She was always so close to greatness, and yet so far. Like, really far.
21. She Starred In The Worst
Though she always hoped for better roles, Joi took what she could get, appearing in such B-movie stinkers as The Atomic Submarine and Queen of Outer Space—where she didn’t even play the queen.
Her Hillbillys In A Haunted House made the cut in the 2004 documentary, The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. Sometimes the better parts are just about who you know, and luckily for Joi, she knew one of the most powerful actors in the business.
22. Frank Sinatra Saw Something Special
It’s unclear whether Joi met Frank Sinatra back on the set of Take Me out to the Ballgame, but after her 1958 guest appearance on The Frank Sinatra Show, he insisted on casting her in his next film, A Hole In The Head, and again in 1965’s Marriage On The Rocks. According to his make-up artist, Frank “was real good to his girls," and always found them work.
Joi did more than just rub elbows with the Chairman of the Board.
23. They Had A Ring-A-Ding-Fling
Joi and Sinatra became romantically involved on the set of A Hole In The Head, and they were together again after his split from Mia Farrow in 1965. Joi liked him a lot, but there was one heartbreaking problem. He was so moody and emotionally troubled at times that Joi felt it ruined the intimacy between them.
She ended the relationship, though they remained friends for the rest of her life. But in the middle of it all, she looked elsewhere for love.
24. Stan Was The Man
In 1960, Joi married her business manager Stan Todd. He was only 37 years old, but he reminded her of her beloved grandfather Ray, and so she had a cringey nickname for him—“Grampy”.
Joi felt protected by Stan, and his vanity enjoyed the clout of being married to a celebrity. He always introduced her as “my wife Joi Lansing, the movie star”. As it turned out, they made better friends than spouses.
25. He Broke Her Heart
Joi desperately wanted children, but Stan already had two teenage daughters from a previous marriage whom he introduced to others as his nieces because he felt it made him look old to have grown-up children. When Joi became pregnant, his reaction was chilling.
He pressured her into getting an abortion. It destroyed part of the love for him she had as his wife, but she still wanted him in her life. Even if he ruined what could've been her best chance to level up her star power.
26. He Got It So Wrong
Joi had a great relationship with Lucille Ball, having worked with her on I Love Lucy and a number of guest spots on shows produced by her Desilu production company. Lucille thought Joi was a talented comedian and wanted to sign her to a contract in the 60s, but Stan talked her out of it.
It was advice Joi bitterly regretted following, and for a time she resented Stan for it—and for much worse.
27. Stan Wasn’t Jealous
It was one thing for Joi to put up with the casting couch. It was another for her husband to encourage her to take advantage of it. Stan even shocked Joi one night by driving her to musician Les Paul’s house saying he would help her career if she showed him a good time.
It was nearly the end of their marriage—and led to Joi having an affair.
28. She Focused On Other Loves
Stan gets some points for pushing Joi to start singing and developing a nightclub act. He helped her find the right musicians and song arrangers, and also an agent named Ray Evans. Joi and Ray soon began a romance which led to her separating from Stan.
She opened her new act in 1965 at New York City’s Living Room Club and got rave reviews. How good was she? Check out who one of her biggest fans was.
29. Judy Garland Showed Up
Joi traveled the country with her act and even booked some shows in Puerto Rico where Judy Garland was also performing. Imagine Joi’s surprise when Judy not only came to one of her shows but sat down and watched her sing every night. Joi was honored that one of the world’s greatest voices enjoyed listening to her, and it encouraged her to keep going.
30. She Was Ahead Of Her Time
Joi was one of the first American singers signed by the Scopitone company to make short musical films for their coin-operated video jukeboxes. That’s right, she made music videos before they were a thing. She performed songs from her nightclub act, like the popular “The Web of Love," clad mostly in revealing swimsuits, with backup dancers wearing even less.
Others soon jumped on the bandwagon—and lost their shirts.
31. The Business Was Shady
Actress Debbie Reynolds lost a small fortune as an investor with Scopitone, unaware its primary financial backers were prominent members of the New York mafia. Just as Scopitone’s stock began rising—with Joi’s hits, and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking”—a federal investigation into the company exposed the mob ties.
Scopitone tanked, and Joi had to kiss another opportunity goodbye. She did have a more direct mafia connection, one that was truly horrifying.
32. Her Ex Scared Her
Joi had a brief affair with a man named “Lenny” who just happened to be a mob boss in Cleveland. He was way more into the relationship than she was, so she called it off saying she had reconciled with Stan.
A few years later, when the chance to sing at a popular Cincinnati nightclub came her way, she feared running into Lenny, but didn’t want to lose out. She hoped to stay under his radar. If only she had.
33. She Got A Terrible Surprise
Joi checked into the hotel where she’d be staying the night of the gig and froze when she saw Lenny waiting for her with a vase of red roses. She acted like she was happy to see him, but it wasn’t happy enough. He muscled her into the elevator and up to her room where, in a fit of jealous rage, he roughed her up and then some for over an hour.
Joi still sang her heart out at the club that night, and put on a brave face to sign autographs. No matter how she felt on the inside, she always made sure to look great on the outside. In fact, she went to extremes.
34. She Tried To Stay Young
Joi’s voluptuous figure may have kept her from being taken seriously as an actress, but it was her bread and butter. To maintain her youthful suppleness, she began taking estrogen supplements, even though her body was still making enough of its own.
This put her at risk for cancers associated with too much of the hormone, and it wasn’t the only way she played with fire.
35. She Had Dangerous Curves
Though silicone implants were available in the 60s, Joi regularly took the cheaper, easier route to boost her already ample bosom. She had liquid silicone injected straight into her bust—a trend that started in Japan as a way for women to make themselves more appealing to American GIs during WWII.
She even saw the same doctor Sinatra did to fill in the wrinkles in his face. Neither the AMA nor the FDA approved the practice, wary of unknown complications. For Joi, those complications might have been fatal.
36. She Found Love Again
While filming the B-movie, box-office dud Bigfoot in 1969, Joi formed an instant connection with 21-year-old aspiring actress Alexis Hunter—then known as Nancy. Practicing lines turned into daily phone calls and late-night coffee dates, and soon the pair were in love.
The relationship had to be kept secret from all but a few trusted friends. But their biggest supporter might come as a surprise.
37. They Had Stan’s Blessing
Joi and Stan were still living apart, but neither wanted a divorce, so they settled for being caring, platonic partners. When Alexis moved into Joi’s apartment, not only was Stan happy for them, but they all got along so well that he joined them almost every night for dinner.
It was a good thing too because there was a side to Joi that Alexis had no idea how to handle and she needed Stan’s help.
38. She Had Dark Moments
Few suspected that Joi struggled with depression, but understandably, she had her demons. Sometimes she drank while gulping down sleeping pills—crying for hours, almost delirious. Alexis would call Stan to come over because he was the only person able to calm Joi down.
He said the actress needed "constant companionship and support". But how could she keep Alexis by her side without raising eyebrows? The solution was genius.
39. Joi Became A Big Sister
Joi started introducing Alexis to everyone as her kid sister—Rachel Lansing. They were both attractive, leggy blondes, so no one suspected that the lie was a brilliant cover to keep their relationship safe from tabloid gossip that certainly would’ve ruined Joi’s career. Sadly, the couple would never find their "happily ever after".
40. She Threw Cotton To The Wind
The era of blonde pin-up types had pretty much come to an end in Hollywood, so Joi, now 40 years old, often had to travel to do theatre and nightclub shows, and she had a very unusual packing method. She’d stand in front of her closet and toss clothes at an open suitcase on her bed. Whatever landed inside went with her, and whatever didn’t stayed behind.
Alexis, of course, went wherever Joi did, quickly learning that her lover didn’t always obey the rules of the road.
41. She Pulled A Fast One
When a traffic officer busted Joi for driving too slowly, he questioned why she wasn’t wearing the glasses her license stated she needed. Well, the reason was simple: she hated them. But she lied and said she wore contacts. The officer inspected Joi—very closely—before calling over four other squad cars to help determine whether she was telling the truth.
Half an hour—and a bunch of signed autographs—later, all agreed that she was being truthful and let her go. Too bad the law didn't come to her rescue when she was really in trouble.
42. They Sent An SOS
Joi agreed to a corporate gig on a cruise ship, unaware that she and Alexis would be the only women on board. The men got so plastered and violent during her performance that the crew ushered her and Alexis back to their room, warning them to lock the door.
All night, the terrified women heard the passengers banging around looking for them. Some even tried to commandeer the ship. Mercifully, Joi and Alexis made it safely to shore the next morning. At least not all of their trips were nightmares.
43. They Saw Stars In Vegas
Joi flew to Las Vegas in 1970 to take part in a production of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn. While in town, she and Alexis made sure to see stars like James Brown, Louie Prima, and Elvis Presley perform. Elvis invited them backstage and charmed them, but his wife Pricilla and her friends completely ignored them.
When it was time to leave, Elvis made such a point of kissing each goodbye they were sure he’d done it to make up for the snub. Swoon! If only the rest of the trip had gone as well.
44. Something Wasn’t Right
Before Vegas, Joi had been having issues with the right side of her bosom becoming hard and slightly misshapen. Her silicone doctor injected her with cortisone, telling her it would soften the tissue. It didn’t.
In Vegas, Joi began to experience pain in the area and went to see another “chest expert” popular with all the showgirls. Again, this doctor promised that cortisone shots would help, but Joi was actually in real danger.
45. She Was In Denial
According to Alexis, Joi put her faith in doctors who told her she was fine, even when her body was telling her otherwise. She ignored her debilitating menstrual cramps for years because no doctor took them seriously.
After finally seeing a specialist in 1970, the results of her pelvic examination showed abnormalities. Alexis chose to hide the news until a follow-up appointment, fearing Joi’s fragile emotional state couldn’t take the bad news. What happened next came as a shock.
46. Things Didn’t Look Good
One night after a bath, Joi discovered swollen lymph nodes over her entire body. Even then, she decided it was an issue better handled by a dermatologist. The dermatologist, however, took one look at her and sent her to an internist down the hall.
Joi had cancer all through her body, and a massive tumor on her ovary. For the sake of her mental health, Alexis, Stan, and Joi’s doctor agreed to tell her she simply had a growth that needed surgical removal.
47. She Did Better Than Expected
Surgery to remove the tumor was successful, and after weeks of chemotherapy treatments working wonders to restore her to better health, Alexis finally told Joi the truth about her cancer.
She handled it surprisingly well. A few months later, there was cause for celebration. Though she would still need treatments, Joi was in remission. She, Alexis, and Stan were determined to make the most of it.
48. She Had Lots Of Support
With Joi unable to work, Stan really stepped up to help care for her. He paid for her rent and all her hospital bills—though some say Frank Sinatra pitched in as well. He also bought her a home in Palm Springs, and the move to the desert oasis lifted everyone’s spirits.
For a while, Joi was doing so well that life felt like it was getting back to normal. She was thrilled when the doctor gave her permission to work again. But sadly, things didn’t turn out as everyone hoped.
49. The End Came Too Soon
Joi traveled with Alexis to Florida to rehearse a play, but she suddenly became too ill to continue. She developed anemia and swelling as adverse reactions to her ongoing treatments, and needed several blood transfusions and hospital stays.
After months of trying to find a chemotherapy cocktail she could tolerate, her body rejected a last transfusion and gave up. Joi Lansing left the world in Alexis’ arms on August 7, 1972. She was only 43.
50. The Truth Came Out
1n 2015, Alexis shared the secret of her true relationship with Joi in the memoir, Joi Lansing: A Body To Die For. In it, she wrote that she believed Joi’s heavy use of estrogen and silicone led to her cancer and tragic, early end.
In 2021, she spoke of plans to adapt the book into a mini-series, not only to keep Joi's memory alive but so that the world might someday get to know the real woman behind the glamour girl image.