Joan Kenlay, short for Marjorie Joan Kenlay, is well-known for being the first wife of the late actor Robert Conrad. Their marriage had raised a few eyebrows here and there, given the amusing circumstances they faced.
Keep reading to dig into details about Joan, her marriage with Conrad, and other details regarding her personal life:
Joan Kenlay Comes from a Well-Off Family
Kenlay was born on 17th April 1935 in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Her father, Floyd Marion Kenlay Sr., was a successful lawyer, and her mother, Marjorie Kenlay O’Brien, was a homemaker.
She wasn’t an only child. She had two sisters, Susan Nancy Smith Kenlay and Valerie Kenlay, and three brothers, Floyd Kenlay, Richard Kenlay, and Robert Kenlay. Besides them, she also had a stepsister, Mary Alyce Kerner Christensen, from her father’s marriage to Helena Cermak Kerner.
She had a happy childhood with her family in Illinois.
She Did Not Attend College
Joan’s wealthy background meant that she didn’t face any hardships and also received the best education possible. She attended the prestigious private Roman Catholic girls’ high school, Convent of the Sacred Heart, at Lake Forest.
Given her intellectual background, she would have probably graduated from college if she hadn’t eloped with Robert Conrad. Thus, she had no time for her further education.
The Whole Debacle Surrounding Joan’s Marriage In The Beginning
Both Kenlay and Conrad grew up in Chicago and must have connected on some ground. Well, that’s where the similarities end. They had different upbringings, with the actor having a rough start to his life after his parents divorced when he was two. He grew up in a tough environment where he encountered financial problems often, unlike Joan.
Joan’s Parents Didn’t Approve Of Robert Conrad
The pair started dating when Conrad was studying drama at Northwestern University. However, the relationship did not sit well with Joan’s parents due to the former’s status as a young, unemployed man. It was also fueled by the fact that Robert had lied about his age, stating that he was 22.
Nonetheless, the young lovebirds would not listen to reason and decided to take matters into their own hands.
They secretly tied the knot on February 23, 1952, when they were both 17 years old in Louisville, Kentucky. The pair assumed different aliases to hide their identities from the public, with Robert using his stepfather’s surname, Hubbard.
Things Changed For The Couple After Joan’s First Pregnancy
As Joan conceived her first child, Robert was forced to disclose their location in May 1952. The thought of a grandchild had changed Joan’s parents’ perception of the marriage. The pair were allowed to live their lives freely.
Later, the lovebirds gave birth to their first child, a daughter on December 31, 1952, and they named her Joan Conrad.
Joan Kenlay Was Robert Conrad’s Wife For Twenty-Five Years
During the initial years of their marriage, the young couple had it rough. Robert tried out for multiple jobs, including docker, a candy factory worker, a milkman, a singer, and a stuntman, to provide for his family. Ultimately, he found success as an actor and starred in multiple hit shows like The Wild Wild West and Hawaiian Eye, among many other successful flicks.
Joan stuck by Robert through his toughest times and provided him support and hope in those longing times. The couple had a long 25-year marriage, which didn’t have many harsh feelings and drama. They also went on to have four more children, Nancy, born in 1954, Shane born in 1971, Christian, born in 1964, and Christy Conrad.
The Couple’s Separation Was Mutual
After spending decades together, the duo decided to call it quits. The divorce was amicable, and they had no bad blood between them. The former couple even worked together after their separation and shared the custody of their five children.
Alongside Robert, Joan also acted as the head of the Conrad family. When asked about his ex-wife, in 1986, nine years after his divorce, the actor had this to say:
There’s nothing ‘ex’ in my family,’ he said. ‘Joan is my ‘former’ wife and she is the matriarch of the family company. She handles all the business affairs and makes the major decisions. She’s the boss.
Joan And Her Children Worked In Conrad’s Projects Together
The former spouse was in charge of the finances when Conrad sponsored and directed the hit show High Mountain Rangers. Their sons, Shane and Christian, were actors on the show, with their daughters Joan as producer and Nancy as the caterer. Christy was also employed as a photographer.
The Couple’s Children Also Worked In the Entertainment Industry
All of Joan and Robert’s little ones have grown up now and have forged their career paths. Their oldest kid, Joan, is a director and producer, and she also directed Jesse Hawkes (1989). She is married to Timothy ‘Toes’ Erwin, and the pair share two children: Jesse Erwin and Sarah.
Their other daughter, Nancy, is an actress known for Sheep Squadron and Sudden Death. She is married to Norton Flynn. Moreover, Christian and Shane, are also actors. Christian is popular for appearing in the flicks Jingle All the Way (1996) and Star Trek: Voyager (1995), while Shane appeared in The Brady Bunch Movie, Project X, and more.
Only Christy Conrad opted out of the showbiz industry and went to Pepperdine University for her studies.
Did She Marry Again?
Joan likely did not remarry after her divorce. She and her children have not disclosed anything of late.
On the other hand, Robert Conrad married LaVelda Fann in 1983 after his divorce. An interesting fact is that his children, Joan and Nancy, were both older than their stepmother. He went on to have three more kids with her: Camille, Kaya, and Chelsea Conrad.
Unfortunately, Robert’s second marriage also ended in divorce in 2010.
Where Is She Now? Is She Still Alive?
Sadly, Joan Kenley is no longer with us. She passed away on January 6, 1998, in her home in Brentwood, California, aged 63. At the time of her death, she had 11 grandchildren.
In addition, her ex-husband died on February 8, 2020, in Malibu, California, at the age of eighty-four.