Friday, August 20, 2010

In Memoriam: Yootha Joyce


The most constant element in the life of any comedian is the grief or rage or self-loathing that lurks behind the amusing mask; such was certainly the case with Yootha Joyce, who did yeoman service in theatre, film, and television throughout the 1950s and 1960s, only to be undone at a tragically early age by success, or more specifically typecasting.

The fame she found as Mildred Roper (alongside Brian Murphy) made them one of the finest comedy teams working in British sitcoms during the 1970s, and made her a household face (if not name) besides; yet the role - which she originated on Man About the House and continued in George and Mildred - is what she is best remembered for today. In fact, it's the main reason why I'm writing about her, truth be told.

In many ways, the bane of typecasting* isn't the scourge today it once was, due to the proliferation of chat shows and PR gurus, whose job it is to shoehorn celebrities into high-profile charity work and so get their real name in front of the public more than their character's; the situation likely changed, in part, because of people like Yootha Joyce.

Born on this day in 1927, Joyce died in 1980 - four days after her 53rd birthday, her costar Brian Murphy by her side - from an advanced case of alcoholism. At the time it was generally agreed that she drank herself to death, having imbibed as much as half a bottle of brandy daily for ten years. So terrified was she at the prospect of having to play some derivation of Mildred Roper for the rest of her life, she saw to it the remainder of that life was as short as possible...

*Generally manifested by members of the public calling you by your character's name dozens of times a day, but also by narrow-minded producers who can't see any potential beyond that one big role; in Joyce's case, this would have meant a plethora of offers to play scolding wives or sex-starved social-climbing working class suburbanites.
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1 comment:

jenibean said...

I feel her pain. Not much has changed in forty years with society's view of the over 40 women. (except now they call us MILF and cougars which I find disgusting). Shame.