It may be true that Joanna Moore never tackled a particularly challenging role.

It may also be true that Moore had a special gift for effortlessly bringing characters to life before a camera.

What I know for certain is that for about 10 years I found Joanna Moore to be the most interesting performer in every television show and movie that she did. Often it appeared her character was the only real person on the screen.

Some dismissed her work, saying she was only being herself. Well, the world would discover it wasn't easy being Joanna Moore.

She is best remembered now as the one-time wife of Ryan O'Neal and the mother of Tatum O'Neal. She was a chain-smoking alcoholic and a drug addict who died of lung cancer in 1997, at the age of 63. The last half of her life was an often chaotic ride through hell. She was arrested at least six times for drunk driving and toward the end depended upon her daughter for support.

During the first ten years of her acting career she often seemed to live a charmed life, though from childhood she had to endure tragedies and hardships.

I interviewed her in December, 1962, four months before she married O'Neal. Her statements to me weren't entirely truthful. It's not like I couldn't handle the truth; it's just that some facts would have required too much explanation, especially for a newspaper reporter who was merely one of several she was told to call in order to generate publicity for some upcoming television appearances.

The interview resulted in the following story, in which I've inserted a few corrections based on what I've since learned about Joanna Moore. She gave an entertaining interview, which is what I expected from an actress who always gave an entertaining performance. She has always been a special favorite of mine.


December 2, 1962, Akron Beacon Journal


Actress Joanna Moore is especially cheerful these days ... and you can’t blame her.

In a town – Hollywood – that supposedly is a death cell for performers, Moore is living better than ever.

“They tell me there are a thousand actresses trying for each role because there are so few parts available,” she said. “I must be lucky, because I’m working all the time.”

Then she giggled.

The giggle is as much a part of Joanna Moore as her soft Southern accent – and that’s a mighty big part.

Moore lived her first 19 years in Georgia, never intending to be a movie or TV star. Then, in 1955, she moved West with her father, a nuclear physicist. She was prepared to begin studies at UCLA, but a Hollywood party changed her plans. Producer Al Zugsmith saw her at the party and asked her to make a screen test.

[NOTE: The preceding paragraph contains only a grain of truth, apparently. She was born Dorothy Cook in 1934 in Americus, Georgia. Her parents and a younger sister were involved in a fatal auto accident when she was a child. Her mother and sister died immediately; her father a year later. That information was gathered from Tatum O'Neal's autobiography.

[An orphan at age 6, Dorothy Cook lived for awhile with a grandmother, then was adopted by another family. She changed her first name to Joanna, and later was briefly married to a man named Willis Moore. Somewhere along the line she won a beauty contest, which is how she wound up in California. And, yes, she was discovered at a party.]

As for her screen test: “I didn’t know which end of the camera was which,” she said, with her familiar giggle.

But she passed ... and has been coming along slowly, but steadily ever since.

“I still haven’t been on the stage,” she said, “and I have no desire to be.”

Moore attracted a lot of attention as Miss Precious in the movie, “Walk on the Wild Side.”

“I got more mail response from that role than from anything else I’ve done.”

Miss Precious was a neurotic prostitute ... and therein lies a complaint.

“When I play neurotic like Miss Precious, I bring the part home with me. You can’t be neurotic 12 hours a day ... and then shut it off suddenly.” Again, the giggle. “So I hope I don’t play many more neurotics.

“One thing I’ll say about the nuts I play; they are nice, harmless nuts.”

Miss Precious advanced Moore’s movie career to a point where she might ride to stardom if the finds the right follow-up role.

“There are a few deals brewing,” she said, “but I’d rather not talk about them. I’m real excited about one of them, and I think I will have the lead in an important movie within the next few months, but there’s nothing definite.”

She expected a popularity boost from “Follow That Dream,” which she made with Elvis Presley, but says the movie did nothing for her.

“I enjoyed working with Elvis, though. He’s a great person and one of the hardest working actors I know. He never complains or delays production.

[NOTE: The website Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen includes a tidbit about "Follow That Dream," probably picked up from an old gossip column. Supposedly during the period she worked with Presley he tried to break through her door. Which door? The item doesn't explain, but it did quote Moore as saying of Presley, "He's a bore."]

Moore has used her time between movies to do several guest appearances on television.

“I just finished four ‘Andy Griffith” shows and one ‘Empire.’ I’ll be working next on ‘Stoney Burke’ and ‘Twilight Zone.’

“I liked the Griffith show better than anything else I’ve ever done. Everyone on the program is so nice. The show is well organized and there is no rush. The people discuss their problems openly and the difficulties just seem to disappear.

“I was shocked by the honesty on that show, but it was a refreshing kind of honesty.

“I’ve had to learn this business the hard way by making mistakes. No one has told me anything in advance. When I do something wrong, I want to be told. That’s why I appreciate honest opinions.”

Moore recalled her first lesson in show business etiquette.

“I was working with Orson Welles and one day I happened to sit in his chair. He walked over to me and shouted, ‘UP!’

“Well, I’d never been treated like that before, especially in Georgia. Imagine, a gentleman making a girl get out of his chair!

“But that’s the way it is in show business. Orson just laughed and I realized he was doing it for my own good.” And once more she giggled.

[NOTE: Moore had a supporting role in the 1958 Welles movie, "Touch of Evil."]

She stopped laughing when she recalled an experience last season on “Route 66.”

“It was the roughest thing I have ever done. I have a six-inch scar on my left leg to show for it.”

Her opening scene in that show had her floundering about in the Pacific Ocean, several feet from shore. As she tried to walk out of the water, she was supposed to get her foot caught in a rock.

“The trouble was ... I really did get my foot caught. The water was very rough. When I finally got out of the water I was too number to feel anything.”

While Moore can call herself “lucky” today, it was just a year ago she was considered one of Hollywood’s most unfortunate actresses. She went deaf for awhile, but continued to work.

“It was hereditary deafness and I didn’t realize what was happening until I lost my hearing completely. The director would have to tape me on the shoulder to start a scene, but I could read lips so well that I was able to answer the other actors. Most of them didn’t believe I was deaf.”

She had an operation last winter that restored hearing in one ear.

Moore said she has never regretted her decision not to go to UCLA. She figures she can out ahead in the game.

“I went to Agnes Scott (a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia), but I didn’t know one girl who wasn’t there just to get a husband.”

(Georgia Tech, with 5,000 male students, is located a few miles from Agnes Scott.)

Moore is single and says she likes it that way. She has been linked with several actors since 1956, but apparently feels there is no need to settle down yet.

[NOTE: She did not mention her first marriage.]

She said she is always doing something, but that something might be as simple as decorating her Beverly Hills home ... or as elaborate as a trip to Europe.

“I went to Europe right after I finished the last Griffith show, and it was strictly a vacation, the first vacation I’ve had in four years. I was out of work a few times two years ago, but I never considered that a vacation.”

As you might expect from someone who has worked with Andy Griffith and Elvis Presley, Moore has taken up the guitar.

“I’ve even had an offer to make records,” she said. “I do some singing on the last Griffith show.”

Moore said she will remain an actress, though admittedly she doesn’t pursue her career with the intense devotion of some other performers. She doesn’t analyze success, she just tries to enjoy it.

“I’ve had conversations with actors who talked and talked about their ideas on acting and I didn’t have the faintest idea what they were talking about.

“I never had a reason to get into show business. Now I have no reason to quit. It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. With a giggle, of course.


She was busy with television and acting roles from 1957 through 1967, but worked on and off after that, until 1986. She lost three fingers on her left hand from an accident, and later wrote a short story about a woman whose grandchild was fascinated by "Nana's little hand."

Admitting her problem with drugs and alcohol, she checked herself into Camarillo State Hospital in 1970, but a year later was out and drinking. She lost custody of her two children, Tatum and Griffin.

In 1975 she married Gary L. Reeves, but the marriage ended the next year.