The irony was there, if anyone bothered to make the connection. Just when the Brenda Starr comic strip was wrapping its 70-year run, so too did Joan E. Vadeboncouer pack it in. Known to friends and colleagues as “Joan E.” or simply “Joanie” for decades before the current county executive ran for office, she was around so long that those who might have taken her for granted are sure going to miss her. Think of it: no more columns of orbiting movie stars or auteurs who had some tangible Syracuse link; no more beat-thedeadline reviews that managed to showcase some nugget of arcane trivia from her noggin of knowledge. Even worse, no more Joanie.
Her Herald-Journal arts beat covered a wide territory during the 1960s, before altweeklies started to make some noise with their own critical perspectives. Sure, movies and stage were her mainstays, but how many still remember “TV by JV,” her columns on the television scene? Or that The Herald’s Joanie and The Post-Standard’s Nevart Apikian were daily rivals on the critic scene long before the Siskel-Ebert battles? (A seismic moment: Nevart hated director Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 crime drama The Getaway, but Joanie loved it). Joanie accompanied each film review with cast-and-crew credit boxes, a touch of class that you didn’t find in other metropolitan publications, unless they were named The New York Times or Variety. Joanie often betrayed a fondness for lower-grade cinema (regarding the tale of a disturbed man and his pet rat, one 1971 headline proclaimed, “Willard spins modern horror classic”), and if she didn’t walk down to the Loew’s State to catch a matinee, she’d likely visit a local drive-in if the ozoner had an exclusive first-run engagement.
Of course, Joanie’s penchant for scramming out of a bijou or stage venue before the house lights came on was indeed legendary, perhaps owing to twin needs for nicotine and a fast return to her typewriter. It was getting toward the end of a summer show at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre and we both knew the deal: If we didn’t hustle to our respective vehicles as soon as the play ended, we’d likely be stuck for the next half-hour getting out of the nightly Cass Park traffic jam. I managed to escape first and soon got onto Interstate 81. Then a car behind me started to gain speed and quickly caught up, its headlights glaring into my rear-view mirror in what seemed like a scary passage from Stephen King’s Chris tine.
I slowed down to allow the speed demon to pass and, sure enough, it was Joanie: her head bobbing just above the steering wheel, puffing away on a cigarette, its orange embers twinkling in the twilight, as she rocketed her way back to Herald Place.
Traveling to hang out with Hollywood’s glitterati many times over the years, Joanie’s junketeering surely earned her enough frequent-flyer miles to circumnavigate the globe 20 times. Yet she also palled around with local movie exhibitors and ushers; during pre-opening screenings at the old Shoppingtown quad (where Chili’s now sits) in the 1980s, projectionist Jack Dumas always scrounged up an ash tray for Joanie’s comfort. For several years Joanie and I were judges at Owen Shapiro’s annual VPA Showcase for Syracuse University’s budding filmmakers; to assist in programming the evening, Joanie would usher Owen and me into the Post’s luxurious commissary, and even spring for my annual can of soda. And talk about knowing people way back when: Joanie was a childhood friend of Ann Carter, the Syracuseborn youngster who headlined the 1944 drama The Curse of the Cat People, as revealed in a 2008 issue of Video Watchdog.
Print journalism has experienced some rocky interludes over the last few years. In Joanie’s case, her bylines became somewhat marginalized in the Post’s pages during an uncertain era of job consolidations and buyouts. Her last hurrah, oddly enough, was through video: The eight-segment review series “Joanie’s Smoke Break,” shot in 2009 by videographer Steve Pallone, allowed Joanie’s flinty persona to surface amid the gently affectionate hectoring of co-conspirator Hart Seely. Someone should get these unfiltered bons mots onto a DVD, or at the very least, they should never ever get removed from the www.syracuse.com site.
From the critics’ corner, we’ve all made errors that were later corrected, an inevitable casualty in the rush toward deadlines. In the May 22, 1983, edition of Stars magazine, Joanie misstated that Return of the Jedi would be presented in the 3-D format; some readers at the time suggested that perhaps Joanie might have been glancing at the press release too quickly, so that somehow “3rd” unfortunately came across as 3-D. But now Joanie has been belatedly vindicated, since George Lucas is indeed planning multiplex reissues of his six Star Wars sagas in 3-D. Getting a scoop 28 years in advance: Even Brenda Starr couldn’t top that.
Hollywood reporter: The late Joan E. Vadeboncouer with Stephen Baldwin during a 2008 Syracuse International Film Festival wingding at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre.