A JOY TO BEHOLD
It is very rare when one of my starlets gets a mention in Entertainment Weekly magazine. The latest issue’s cover story is “The 50 Sexiest Movies Ever” and believe it or not Glamour Girl Joy Harmon gets a special shout out for her scintillating car wash scene in the classic Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Below is my tribute to Joy Harmon in Cool Hand Luke that ran in Cinema Retro magazine last year. And believe it or not Hugh Hefner, Mr. Playboy himself, wrote a note to the editor specifically praising my piece on Joy.
Sixties starlet Joy Harmon, a buxom blonde known for her big blue expressive eyes and perpetual tan, starred in such teenage exploitation films such as Village of the Giants (1965) and One Way Wahine (1965) and was a fixture on television but she is best remembered for her five minute cameo as the sexy tease who entices members of a chain gang by washing her car as if she is performing a sex act in the classic Paul Newman film Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Joy Harmon began her show business career as a teenage extra in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1956). Her curvaceous figure, measuring 41-22-36, was her ticket to Broadway in the comedy Make Me Laugh starring Sam Levene in 1958 as the comic foil to the comedian. On television the popular pin-up (who also posed for numerous men’s magazines except Playboy because she wouldn’t go topless) became a favorite of such talk show hosts as Steve Allen and Gary Moore who spun as many double-entendres as possible at Joy’s expense and, of course, comparisons to Jayne Mansfield were inevitable. In between variety show appearances, she found time to make her film debut as a tough chain-smoking broad in the juvenile rock-and-roll flick, Let’s Rock (1958) starring, of all people, Julius LaRosa.
Hollywood soon beckoned and Harmon became a regular on the short-lived Tell It to Groucho in 1962. On the big and small screens, Harmon was so adept at playing the dizzy bugged-eyed blonde with the giggly laugh that she became typecast. Minor movie roles in Mad Dog Coll (1962), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), Young Dillinger (1965), and The Loved One (1965) led to lead roles as a teenage delinquent in Village of the Giants (1965) opposite Beau Bridges and a beach denizen in Hawaii mixed up in robbery in One Way Wahine (1965). Even when playing bad girls, audiences could not help but love Joy due to her effervescent personality and the innocence she brought to all her characters. This quality is undoubtedly why she was hired for her most infamous role in Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Cool Hand Luke examines life for men on a chain gang in a Southern prison camp. The immensely entertaining social drama stars Paul Newman as a loner who refuses to conform to society’s rules and George Kennedy, who won an Oscar for his performance as one of Newman’s fellow prisoners. On paper, Joy’s part seemed innocuous enough—a pretty girl washes her car while shackled prisoners of a chain gang peer on. Recalling the audition Joy says, “I had this agent named Leon Lance who was around forever in Hollywood. He got me the interview for Cool Hand Luke and told me that I had to wear a bikini for it. Paul Newman, Stuart Rosenberg [the director], and somebody else were there. I remember Paul Newman said to me, ‘Gosh, you have the bluest eyes!’ They just talked to me and that was it. It was a small part with no lines but I wanted to work with Newman so when they offered it to me I accepted.”
Cool Hand Luke was filmed in Stockton, California. None of the actors were allowed to bring their wives or girlfriends to the set because Stuart Rosenberg wanted his actors to have the feel for what it would be like to work on a chain gang without female contact. When they finally saw a woman their reactions would be believable and not “acting.” After arriving on location, Joy was sequestered at the hotel for two days and never saw anyone. They kept her away from all the actors until filming began. With Newman, Kennedy, and the rest of the chain gang entranced, Harmon washes her car like she’s making love to a man. While Kennedy dubs her his innocent “Lucille,” Newman realizes she is just a tease and knows exactly what she is doing by getting the prisoners excited. “Stuart Rosenberg was so sensitive and took time to work with me,” recalls Joy fondly. “I didn’t even have a line but he just wanted everything motivated with a thought behind it. He was an actor’s director—more concerned with the actors than the lighting or anything else. He kept talking with me and it was like a bonding kind of thing, which is why I was able to release all that energy in that scene.
“Stuart was very specific and knew exactly what he wanted,” continues Joy. “I guess you can tell that by the way the scene comes off—but I didn’t realize it. And I don’t think I even realized it right after I did it. There were a lot of things he made me do a certain way—soaping the windows, holding the hose— that had a two-way meaning. He would tell me to look different ways and we kept shooting it over and over again. I just figured I was washing the car. I’ve always been naïve and innocent. I was acting and not trying to be sexy.”
All of Rosenberg’s work paid off as the scene is unforgettable and is truly one of the sixties’ most provocative moments. Joy, clad in a tatty housedress with her cleavage clearly on display, holds the nozzle of the hose suggestively, squeezes the soap from the sponge and drenches her dress, and presses her bounteous bosom on the passenger-side window as she washes the roof putting on quite a tantalizing show for the frustrated prisoners. “I never had any inclination that this would be such a memorable role,” says Joy. “Except for being in a movie with Paul Newman, I never expected this part to be so notable and get the reaction it did. After seeing it at the premiere I was a bit embarrassed. Of all the things I’ve done people know me most from this film.”
Unfortunately for movie audiences Joy never capitalized on the notoriety that the film brought her. After the movie was released she met film editor Jeff Gourson and they wed. American International Pictures wanted to sign Joy to a contract beginning with the lead role in The Young Animals (1968) but she declined as she was happy juggling bit roles (A Guide for the Married Man, Angel in My Pocket) with her new marriage.
Harmon continued acting mostly on television in such series as Love, American Style and The Odd Couple until 1973 when she retired to raise her children. Her only foray back into show business was doing voiceover work in her husband’s hit TV series Quantum Leap. Today that girl from Cool Hand Luke has her own business called Aunt Joy’s Cakes. While she was acting Joy’s bosoms weren’t the only treats she brought to the set as she also shared her delicious homemade cakes and cookies with cast and crew. In the Nineties, she began supplying her niece’s coffee shop with her desserts and then saw her business quickly expand to include all the major movie studios. She now has a web site and you can order Joy’s baked goods online at www.auntjoyscakes.com.