Joanna Cook Moore

Active - 1963 - 1963  |   Born - Nov 10, 1934   |   Died - Nov 22, 1997   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Mystery, Western

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Georgia-born Joanna Moore spent two decades of her life in acting, a profession that she claimed never to have really wished to pursue. And across that time she got to play a couple of highly visible parts in important movies: she was the daughter of the murder victim whose killing starts the action in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) and was the learning-disabled prostitute in Edward Dmytryk's A Walk on the Wild Side (1962). But despite those two stand-out credits and movie-star looks, she had the misfortune to have come along too late to make a lasting impression. Born Dorothy Cook in Americus, GA, in 1934, she didn't begin her screen acting career until the mid-'50s, a point where television had started to overwhelm the movie business, leaving no more room for studios to develop young talent. As a result, as beautiful as she was, Moore spent most of her career on the small screen, on anthology shows such as Lux Video Theater, or doing one-shot appearances on The Rifleman, Riverboat, Adventures in Paradise, and the countless other dramatic series that filled the home screen. She took what there was in feature film work, the dubious (Monster on the Campus) and the good (The Last Angry Man), but following Walk on the Wild Side, her best opportunities came from Elvis Presley (Follow That Dream), and the Disney organization, which memorably cast her as femme fatale Desiree de la Roche in Son of Flubber (1963). She did work in some better quality dramatic series, such as Route 66 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but her best career opportunity seems to have come along in 1963, when Moore was cast as Peggy MacMillan, the new love interest for Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) on The Andy Griffith Show, but that proved to be only a four-episode gig. It did allow her to show off her range in comedy as well as drama, however, and even to sing the folk song "Down in the Valley" in one show, and it became the screen role for which she may be best remembered.

Moore married actor Ryan O'Neal that same year, and became much better known in the press from that personal union than for any of her screen work; O'Neal's sudden rise to fame with the advent of the series Peyton Place in 1964 made them one of the most visible (and attractive) young couples in Hollywood during the mid-'60s. Moore kept very busy during this period, working in episodes of everything from My Three Sons to Gunsmoke, and she even turned up on Peyton Place in 1966. By 1967, however, the marriage -- which produced two children, Tatum O'Neal and Griffin O'Neal -- had ended in divorce. By the end of the 1960s, Moore's personal life had begun falling apart, and she lost custody of both children owing to substance abuse problems. She was still extremely busy, however, appearing in Robert Altman's 1968 space-exploration feature film drama Countdown, as well as sitcoms (The Governor and J.J.) and television dramas (Judd for the Defense) right into 1970. After that, her appearances became much more sporadic, and it was said that Moore was living a post-hippie lifestyle on various communes when she wasn't working in episodes of Kung Fu or making a rare feature film appearance in Robert Wise's The Hindenburg (1975), where she was almost lost amid the all-star cast of the gargantuan disaster movie. She made two on-screen appearances in the 1980s, but otherwise had been unseen in the 20 years before her death in 1997.