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Joan Tompkins
Cameron Prud'homme Charme Allen Joan Tompkins David Harum 1947.JPG
Tompkins (right) as Susan Price Wells with Cameron Prud'homme and Charme Allen in the radio serial David Harum, 1947.
Born(1915-07-09)July 9, 1915
DiedJanuary 29, 2005(2005-01-29) (aged 89)
Years active1953-1980
Spouse(s)Steve Appleby (? - ?)
Bruce MacFarlane (? - ?)
Karl Swenson (widowed in 1978)
ChildrenFour stepsons, including Steven Swenson

Joan Swenson (July 9, 1915 – January 29, 2005),[1] previously known as Joan Tompkins, was an American actress of television, film, radio, and stage, who co-founded with her husband, Karl Swenson, an acting company in Beverly Hills, California.[citation needed]

Early years

Tompkins was born in New York.[2] She was the daughter of Florence Aiken.[3] She began acting in stock theater immediately after she finished high school.[4]

According to the Social Security Death Index, Tompkins, listed as Joan Swenson at death, was living in New York when she procured her Social Security number, probably in the late 1930s.[1]

Tompkins was discovered by actress June Walker, who said, "She has the finest diction of any young actress I've heard in years."[5]


In 1938, at the age of 23, Tompkins joined Henry Fonda in performing plays in White Plains, New York. She appeared on Broadway in New York City in stage productions of Fly Away Home (1935),[6] (her first Broadway appearance)[3] Pride and Prejudice (1935), The Golden Journey (1936) and My Sister Eileen (1940).[7]


Tompkins performed on radio in the soap opera role of Nora Drake on This Is Nora Drake, which ran on CBS radio until 1959. Her other roles on radio programs included those shown in the table below.

Program Role
Against the Storm Siri Allen[8]
David Harum Susan Wells[8]:94
Lora Lawton Lora Lawton[8]:206
Our Gal Sunday Madeline Travers[8]:262
Young Widder Brown Joyce Turner[8]:361
Your Family and Mine Judy Wilbur[8]:362

Film roles

Tompkins's film roles included that of Aunt Thora from Denmark in The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970), who gives the world's first transsexual, George Jorgensen, the name "Christine", after her deceased daughter and George's cousin.[9]

She appeared as Miss Musto in the comedy film Popi, starring Alan Arkin and Rita Moreno[10]

Tompkins appeared as Judge Beth Weaver in Zigzag, an American film based on the British picture False Witness.[11]

Tompkins appeared as Grandma Dennison in the 1970 comedy I Love My Wife.[citation needed]

Television appearances

In 1954, Tompkins played Marion Walker in the CBS drama Woman with a Past.[12]:1189

Tompkins first appeared on television in 1954 at age 39 in the episode “Guest in the House” of NBC's Kraft Television Theater. Four years later, she appeared as Sarah Sheldon in the 1958 episode “The Spy” of the Goodyear Theatre. That same year, she portrayed Patience in NBC's western series The Californians, and gossip columnist Beverly King in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. Subsequent appearances were on the situation comedies, The Donna Reed Show, and Bachelor Father. In 1960, she played Martha in “The Twisted Root” of the syndicated series The Brothers Brannagan.[citation needed]

In 1960, she also appeared in three Warner Brothers/ABC series, Maverick, as Mary Burch in the episode “Bullet for the Teacher”; Hawaiian Eye, as a tourist in “Man in a Rage”, and The Roaring Twenties, as Celia Morton in “Layoff Charley”. In 1960-1961, she appeared twice on Boris Karloff's Thriller, starring Boris Karloff. Between 1962 and1964, she made three guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the role of murderer Florence Holman in the 1962 episode, "The Case of the Poison Pen Pal," and Emily Green in "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" in 1963.[citation needed] As Sadie Norman in the 1964 episode "The Case of the Sleepy Slayer", she appeared with husband Karl Swenson, who played her husband Charles Norman.

Tompkins appeared twice with David Janssen on the ABC television series The Fugitive. She portrayed a mother in the 1965 episode, "Fun and Games and Party Favors".[13] She also appeared in the 1967 episode, "There Goes the Ballgame," as Rose. Tompkins also played Lorraine Miller, the mother of Katie Miller Douglas (Tina Cole) on My Three Sons. She played the part nine times during the period from 1967-70.[citation needed]

In the 1962-1963 television season, Tompkins played legal secretary Trudy Wagner in Edmond O'Brien's NBC legal drama Sam Benedict, co-starring Richard Rust.[12]

Her other television roles include:

Personal life

In the 1930s, Tompkins was married to actor Steve Appleby.[15] In the 1940s, she was married to actor Bruce MacFarlane.[16]

During her radio performances, she met Karl Swenson, who portrayed the Scandinavian Lars Hanson on Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie NBC television series. Tompkins herself guest starred twice on Little House. The couple married sometime after Swenson divorced his first wife, the former Virginia Hanscom (1908–2003).[1] They were living in southern California by 1957.[17]

Last years

Tompkins's last roles were in 1980, as Grandma Gertie Wells in the episode “Generations” of ABC’s Eight Is Enough and as a woman physician in The Night the City Screamed, another television film.[citation needed]

After World War II, Tompkins became a foster parent for a war orphan, a handicapped Polish youth named Tomek Machcinski, who became a photographer, known as the “Man of a million faces”. In 1994, their story was portrayed in a documentary. After Karl Swenson's death in 1978, Tompkins organized a group to help prospective writers improve their narratives and to obtain publication of their works. She resided in Dana Point in Orange County, California, at the time of her death at the age of eighty-nine.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c "Social Security Death Index". Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  2. ^ Lentz, Harris M. III (2006). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2005: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland. p. 367. ISBN 9780786452101. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Some Young Unknowns In 'Fly Away Home'". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn. February 3, 1935. p. 28. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  4. ^ "Joins 'Joyce Jordan". Harrisburg Telegraph. Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. June 2, 1940. p. 4. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  5. ^ "Studio Notes". The Evening News. Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. December 24, 1938. p. 12. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  6. ^ Dimond, Bushnell (February 2, 1935). "Broadway At Night". The Evening News. Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre. p. 2. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  7. ^ "("Joan Tompkins" search results)". Playbill Vault. Playbill. Archived from the original on 15 May 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924-1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4.
  9. ^ "The Christine Jorgensen Story". Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  10. ^ "Popi". Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  11. ^ "Zigzag". Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  12. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 924. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  13. ^ "The Fugitive: "Fun and Games and Party Favors"". Retrieved January 20, 2010.
  14. ^ "The Waltons: "The Achievement"". Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  15. ^ "Studio Notes". The Evening News. Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. April 5, 1939. p. 18. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  16. ^ Francis, Robert (May 20, 1945). "Candid Close-Ups". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn. p. 26. Retrieved May 14, 2017 – via open access
  17. ^ "In Memory of Karl Swenson (1908-1978)". Retrieved January 18, 2010.

External links

This page was last edited on 6 September 2020, at 05:05
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