Joanna Yarbrough

Runaway Star

"A hat, sunglasses and lipstick... What do they have in common? You can go anywhere and fool everyone into thinking you look fine," laughed Joanna Yarbrough. The former Beverly Hills resident sported her fabulous smile and favorite hat in her collection of 2,000. Tilting her beautiful brunette head thoughtfully, "You learn all the tricks of the trade, but none of it is worth your life," she said. "Most Hollywood stars basically give up their lives when signing contracts, and the devil can take over. It's always been a place where many good people fall into bad habits. It happened to me, but I was fortunate enough to be saved in time."

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Joanna always wanted to be a movie star and ballerina. "I've been delusional since I was a kid," she said. Joanna grew up dressing up in hats and gloves and watching all the Disney movies she still finds fascinating as an adult. "I started dancing at age five and was very good." she beamed. "At 17, I represented New Hampshire in the Jr. Miss America Pageant and won the talent division with my tap dancing. I love to dance, and it led to my discovery in 1962."

Leaving her New Hampshire home and family behind, Joanna ran away to Hollywood at a very young age, landed a day job with a law firm, and danced on the Sunset Strip at night. "An agent from the TV show, Hollywood a Go Go, hired me to dance, and from then on it, was television shows and commercials. In 1963, I was an extra in Roust About with Elvis, who was a very good man and a sad example of Hollywood's evils."
Joanna's Hollywood career halted for five years during her marriage to Beverly Hillbillies' star, Max Baer (Jethro on the show), who Joanna claims paid no attention to her when she was on the set next to his. "After seeing my portfolio, he asked for an introduction. We met in February and married in July of 1965. His show was number one for nine years, and my dad, who escaped from Turkey during the Holocaust, thought it was great I was married to a television star," said Joanna. "I acquired my pilot's license during that time so I could fly Max various places and have flown ever since. After the divorce, I re-entered the entertainment world, and it was non-stop. I bought a beautiful home in Beverly Hills, two doors from George Burns, who became a very good friend and introduced me to many of the old Hollywood greats: Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day. ones I idolized. I adored Doris Day, as we shared a love of animals. I thought her 'Actors for Animals' program was wonderful."

Suddenly, barks and meows erupted from the porch of the dramatic Rosehill/Hollywood-style mansion where Joanna and her attorney husband, Wayne, reside. After two years of extensive study in an Atlanta school, the couple painstakingly built and perfected every detail. It took three years, but each room sparkles with its own character, awesome crown molding and decor. Peeking from a window in the luxurious blue and white kitchen, highlighted with Blue Willow and Flow Blue china, revealed Joanna's "cubbies"-a rescued collection of two adorable ShihTzus and three doll-faced Persians. Fussing over their momentary confinement, they restlessly milled about amongst pillows, begging for attention. As a long-time volunteer for Hilton Head Humane Association and Beaufort County Animal Rescue, Joanna has assisted in the placement of many lost and abused animals. Her "cubbies" have a multitude of outfits, kept in their own closet-chest, easily making them substantial fashion statements when they venture from the sofa made up with sparkling white sheets and pillows for their inside comfort.

But all was not as well or comfortable in Joanna's previous, luxurious Beverly Hills home. By 1975, she was deep into the Hollywood scene, including heavy alcohol that claimed so many stars. "It was an escape for me, as with most everyone," she admitted. "Through all those years, my Aunt Jasmine, the most wonderful woman in my life, loved me unconditionally," she said. Reaching her lowest point that year, Joanna said, "God led me providentially to AA." With a smattering of Christian background and lost faith, Joanna refused to say the Lord's Prayer finishing one of the meetings. "I don't believe in God," she blatantly declared, to which the fellow next to her shocked her by saying, "Young lady, if you do not believe in God, you do not have a prayer!" She vividly recalls the huge impact the movie Jesus of Nazareth had on her, and began attending John MacArthur's non-denominational church. After a particularly moving sunrise service and evening worship on Easter Sunday in 1976, Joanna found Christ and was baptized. "A light went off in my head," she paused quoting the Bible: "My sheep will hear my voice..." Choking back the tears, she added, "It's so vivid; it was like yesterday."

She sold her Beverly Hills mansion, fled Hollywood and sought sanctuary in Atlanta, even though she knew, "there were no openings for movie stars there!" She met and married Wayne in 1978, and after several visits to Hilton Head Island, they relocated to Sea Pines Plantation in 1986. Sixteen years ago, they built in Rosehill, expanding to a 15,000 square foot home-the perfect venue for Joanna's amazing collection of vintage clothes and hats. Strolling reluctantly away from the striking entranceway chandelier, every room revealed a new delight. Hallways and benches filled with leopard, and floral hat boxes met vine-covered pencil post beds with adjacent windowed, walk-in closets, bursting with animal-print jackets, suits, dresses, perhaps 500 pairs of shoes and thousands of changes of clothes. Choosing from her room of 2,000 eclectic hats, gloves and purses, Joanna has entertained many women's associations, church groups and nursing home residents, modeling her elegant gowns from Hollywood's yesteryears. Her volunteer work over the past 11 years has brought many a smile to lonely faces at Hilton Head's Life Care Center. The devil was removed, and the star qualities, including her inward and outward beauty and warm smile, remained. Joanna knows full well, "God can make evil good, and so we continue to live one day at a time."