Known for her performance as the exotic and sinful, Ancaria, in ‘Sign of the Cross’ (1932), actress and dancer Joyzelle Joyner was, in reality, more complicated and mysterious then the glamorous, Eastern characters she played.
Joyner was in fact born in the US in Alabama on the 27th of August 1905. She began her film career as an extra, first appearing as a slave girl in the silent epic ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ’ (1925) and following it with small roles in ‘Dance Madness’ (1926) and ‘Out of the Past’ (1927). Her persona and performances were growing as audiences began to notice the striking, exotic actress. In 1927, tragedy struck and was inevitably followed by scandal. Joyner, now aged only 22, was married to Dudley V. Brand who, jealous of his wife’s acting career, wanted desperately for her to behave like a traditional housewife instead of a Hollywood sex symbol.
|More provocative shots rumoured to be of Joyner as Salome|
In mid-August 1927 Brand’s temper finally gave way and he shot his young wife twice through a closed bedroom door, injuring but not killing Joyner. The August 11 papers included articles on the scandal. Below is one from The Miami News:
Film Star Shot by Piqued Husband.
Jealousy of a wife’s desire for a film career was blamed by the police for the shooting here last night of Joyzelle Joyner, 20, dancer and screen actress.
Miss Joyner, wounded in her left arm when her estranged husband, Dudley V. Brand, shot through the closed door of her bedroom, was taken to a hospital where physicians said her injury was not serious. Police were seeking Brand, who fled immediately after the shooting.
After two shots had been sent through the door of Miss Joyner’s room, her 19-year-old brother, Clarence wrested the pistol from Brand’s hand.
|Joyner in 'Just Imagine' (1930)|
Joyner promptly divorced Brand and subsequently married film director Phil Rosen in 1929 and, without any marital restraints, continued her film career ambitions.
The new decade brought a surge in Joyner’s popularity and a major role in David Butler’s controversial sci-fi film ‘Just Imagine’ (1930). Appearing opposite Maureen O’Sullivan and El Brendel she played futuristically and quite minimally costumed twin queens of Mars – Boo Boo and Loo Loo. After this role she appeared in several films in her usual type-casted role as the ‘exotic dancer’ and generally uncredited until she landed her standout part two years later.
|Another shot of Joyner in 'Just Imagine' (1930)|
Directed by the king of the religious epic, Cecil B. deMille, ‘The Sign of the Cross’ (1932) starred Claudette Colbert, Fredric March and Elissa Landi in a story set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Like many of deMille’s Precode films the original print focused mainly on the struggle between purity and sin and included many sexually charged and provocative scenes. Joyner, portraying immoral dancer Ancaria, is prominent in one of these shots when she is encouraged by Marcus Superbus (March) to dance around Mercia (Landi) and perform the song ‘Dance of the Naked Moon’ in order to “warm her into life”. The deMille was pressured by the Hays Office to remove the sequence but he refused and left it in the final 124 minute cut. The scene – as well as several gladiatorial fighting and nudity parts – were removed from the reissues following the 1934 code changes. However, they were replaced MCA-Universal for the 1993 edition.
Joyner in 'Sign of the Cross' (1932)
In the same year as her triumph in ‘Sign of the Cross’, Joyner performed in two credited roles in westerns ‘Whistlin’ Dan’ and ‘The Vanishing Frontier’ with Johnny Mack Brown. She appeared in a handful of films before retiring from the screen prematurely in 1935. These include featured parts as Vavara in ‘I Believed in You’ (1934) and Chanda in horror film ‘House of Mystery’ (1934), under the name Laya Joy. Her last film was uncredited as a dancer in ‘Dante’s Inferno’ (1935). The conclusion of the Hays Code in 1934 appeared to put a standstill Joyner’s career similar to many other actresses of the period, such as, Mae West and Dorothy Mackaill. She lived a private and quiet life until her death in Orange California on August 27, 1980. Strangely, the Social Security Death Index reported her last name at the time of her death to be ‘Brand’ showing she had legally kept the name of her first husband who had injured her decades before.
Below is a colour clip from ‘Wild People’ (1932) where Joyner performs as The Panther Lady: