Commercial and voiceover actress Joyce Gordon, who was the first woman to serve as the president of a Screen Actors Guild branch, died late Friday. She was 90 years old. Her death was announced by SAG-AFTRA Saturday.
"Joyce was everything you could want in a SAG-AFTRA member and leader: intelligent, talented, unceasingly dedicated to her fellow performers, and a warm and generous friend," SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. "Her stature as a pitchwoman and voiceover talent was indispensable in convincing the advertising industry to take seriously the concerns of commercial performers in the early days of that contract. Our hearts go out to Joyce’s family."
Gordon was born in Des Moines, Iowa in March 1929 and grew up in Chicago. She moved to New York at 19 years old, and began making appearances on radio and early live television programs. During the 1950s, she set multiple "firsts," becoming the first woman to do network promos and the first woman announcer at a political convention on network television. She was reportedly the first woman to appear on television wearing glasses. She was even featured in a 1960 Broadcasting magazine article titled "The TV Girl Who Wears Glasses" and was on the cover of TV Guide.
During the days of live television, she appeared in commercials that aired during The Jack Paar Show, Hugh Downs and The Price Is Right. A whole chapter of Alice Whitfield's 1992 book about the voiceover industry, Take It From The Top, was devoted to Gordon.
Gordon also played dramatic roles, appearing on live television shows at the beginning of her career. She also used her voiceover skills for English dubs of classic movies when the practice was still common in the U.S. She was most famously the voice of Claudia Cardinale in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West. She also appeared as a judge in episodes of Law & Order late in life.
Gordon was also active in SAG. In 1959, when actor Howard Keel was SAG's president, she was among the first 12 branch members on the National Board, and the only woman in the group. In 1966, she became the president of the New York SAG branch. Later, she was a SAG-AFTRA Motion Picture Player Welfare Fund trustee and supported the merger of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts.
"We are deeply saddened by Joyce’s passing," SAG-AFTRA Health Plan and SAG-Producers Pension Plan Chief Executive Officer Michael Estrada said in a statement. "She was a passionate and committed trustee for over three decades and worked tirelessly on behalf of our participants. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends."
"I am deeply grieved at the loss of my dear friend and colleague of nearly 40 years. Joyce was a tremendous advocate for our union, its members and especially actors and their families," SAG-AFTRA Foundation Treasurer, SAG-AFTRA Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund Chairman and former SAG New York Branch President Maureen Donnelly added. "She was one of the creators of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Scholarship in honor of Jack Dales providing crucial financial support to members and their children pursuing an education. Joyce was a passionate advocate for New York members in her work as a trustee for MPPWF."0comments
Gordon is survived by her son, daughter, grandson and sister. She was married for over 50 years to actor Bernard Grant, who died in 2004.
Photo credit: Patrick McMullan via Getty Images