Joi Lansing joined the likes of Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren in carrying on that splendid tradition of the robust and dazzling blonde, gorgeous and perhaps deceptively giddy.
A teen model whose shapely figure caught the eye of studio moguls, Lansing signed on as a contract player with MGM at age 14. Her early years evoked the days of careful grooming at MGM, with long hours in the Stills Department modeling deep dish swimwear or smiling pertly at “Mail Early for Christmas” posters.
Lansing was frequently cast in roles that accentuated her body. Her film credits spanned two decades, from 1947’s “When a Girl’s Beautiful” to 1970’s “Bigfoot.” She appeared as the doomed dancer Zita in the opening sequence of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.” “I keep hearing this ticking noise inside my head!” was her memorable line.
What looked to be a comfortable well-guided trip up the ladder of fame via MGM came to a screeching stop when the studios lost their theaters. But she carried on without a fatherly studio to guide her, building a television and nightclub career. It went pretty thinly for a time until “The Bob Cummings Show” signed her for what became a five-year run. Her role as Shirley Swanson, Cummings’ chief model and comedy foil, was her most enduring.
Near the end of her career, nightclub appearances gave her a chance to act, sing, dance — and show that she was more than pinup material. “I was always known as a glamour girl, and categorized only as that. It was very limiting,” Lansing said. “Many gals in the industry have more talent than they’re given credit for. My being blond and curvy, you might say, was a kind of mixed blessing.”