Joan Weldon, stage actress and a Warner Bros. contract player in the 1950s who achieved lasting sci-fi fame in the creature feature giant ant classic Them!, died Feb. 11 at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was 90.
Her death was only recently announced by her family. A cause was not specified, but the family notes that she “passed away peacefully” at home.
“A talented and successful opera singer and actress of theatre, film, musicals and television, she was simply known to many as Joanie,” the family writes, “whose love for light-hearted pranks and practical jokes spread joy wherever she went.”
Born in San Francisco, Weldon began her professional career at age 16 when she became the San Francisco Opera’s youngest contract singer. She would return to the live stage often, appearing on Broadway opposite Alfred Drake in the 1961 musical Kean.
In 1958 she played Marian the Librarian in the national touring production of The Music Man starring Forrest Tucker, and in a 1964 revival of The Merry Widow she would become the first performer to step onstage at what was then the State Theater of Lincoln Center (now the David H. Koch Theater). Weldon can be heard on the 1964 original cast recording of the production.
On screen, Weldon made six Warner Bros. films in a one-year span beginning in 1953, including The System, The Grace Moore Story, The Stranger Wore a Gun, The Command, Riding Shotgun and, in 1954, the one that became a cult classic, Them!
Directed by Gordon Douglas and starring, in addition to Weldon, James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn and James Arness, Them! was an early American entry in the decade’s nuclear-obsessed mutant monster movies. Set in New Mexico, Them! set loose a bunch of huge, radioactive house-sized ants on a small town and, eventually, elsewhere. In addition to the Oscar-nominated visual effects and much-imitated shrieking musical accompaniment, the film is often remembered for an early scene in which a traumatized, near-catatonic little girl (played by Sandra Descher) suddenly shrieks “Them! Them! Them!”
Weldon played Dr Pat Medford, an ant-specializing scientist assisting her similarly trained father Dr. Harold Medford (Gwenn). “When Man entered the Atomic Age,” the elder Medford concludes, neatly summing up the genre’s ethos, “he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”
Weldon would go on to make frequent TV appearances through the decade, including roles on Cheyenne, Perry Mason, Maverick and Shirley Temple’s Storybook. Her final credit was Mervyn LeRoy’s 1958 drama Home Before Dark.
Weldon is survived by her husband of 56 years, Dr. David L. Podell Jr., daughter Melissa, grandchildren Sienna, Alexander and Ella, and stepdaughter Claudia, among other extended family.
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