joan ellis: local celebrity

by Nyla W., 16

Like many others, I feared getting older, being afraid I would lose my passions over time. But I became reassured that passion is ageless when I met Joan Ellis. Joan, now movie critic, former CIA agent, is a passionate woman who’s filled to the brim with stories all from different periods of her life: her involvement with film, her work as an agent in the CIA, and her early involvement with politics. I was excited to listen to everything she had to say.

The most surprising part of my interview with Joan was in regards to her work in the CIA. She graduated from college and married young, at only 18 years old. Her husband attended Yale University and was a track athlete. During one of the track meets, her husband was approached by a man who said he was recommended for the CIA. Wanting to avoid the draft in the Korean war, his request was “only if my wife can come too.” The day Joan’s husband graduated, they traveled to Washington, D.C., with nothing, rented an apartment, and reported for work the next day.

Their first assignment was to set up a storefront in Indonesia to funnel agents into the country. This required Joan and her husband, still of 18 and 20 years old, to learn Indonesian and travel to Indonesia. They spent six months in New Haven learning the language and then traveled to Indonesia. They were both young, blond Americans and stuck out like a sore thumb in the foreign country. “I mean, it was the stupidest kind of operation there could be. It was doomed!” They then discovered that their pictures were on the Indonesian police reports, so they were given another assignment, which both she and her husband denied due to the dangers they realized they could face. With that, Joan and her husband quit working in the CIA.

Although her time with the CIA was brief, the stories regarding it don’t end there. While in the garage of her home in Red Bank, Joan saw a young woman whom she had met before, walking with her grandfather. She introduced herself to the grandfather and learned that he had spent five years in the military in Indonesia. Joan then started speaking Indonesian to him because “You just do silly things when you’re older.” They made conversation, which the granddaughter tried to get to an end, but they insisted that they keep talking.

Even though she had worked for the government, she had never worked in politics. When I asked her if she was involved in politics, she told me, “If you mean working in it, no. If you mean involved emotionally, I’m terribly upset. I’ve always felt strongly about there being two sides, and that they need to talk. And that was true after WWII, the two sides did talk. But now, nobody’s talking.” She is looking for a presidential candidate that will be able to beat Trump in the next election yet still fulfill the responsibilities of a president.

As to her involvement in politics, she has participated in many protests for a variety of causes. She made her first political protest while attending college at Vassar. She protested for Eleanor Roosevelt’s right to make a speech. She even came in contact with political figures, for instance, she once shared a bathroom in college with Kennedy’s wife, Jackie Onassis, who Joan recalls to be a brave, powerful, and tranquil woman. She especially respected her leadership skills in her ability to take charge of the country after the assassination of her husband.

After a very interesting youth, Joan keeps herself busy these days writing movie reviews on her website. She hasn’t missed a single week writing reviews in 25 years. She started writing movie reviews for The Two River Times when the newspaper began in 1990. Her passion for film started when she was young, just eleven years old. Her father was in the military and was stationed in Ohio. Joan said that her mother opened the front door one day, pointed to a red city bus, and explained that they could get on the bus any time they’d like and go downtown and see a movie. The first movie she saw was with Spencer Tracy, and said she fell in love with movies that day. She loves to write movie reviews, although she admits she does not know for how much longer she will continue to do it.

Getting into the topic of writing, we spoke more about her passions. She assured me that if I knew what I was passionate about, I was set to go far and have a great life. I was flattered and excited to hear this, but another thing she said particularly stuck with me. She said to me, “Writers understand writers.”

When talking to Joan, I saw bits of myself. Someone who was passionate about politics, writing, and doing what’s right. Meeting her has made me less afraid to grow old. That with age, I will not lose my passion, but through age I can exist with the many loves I have now, and more.

Oceanport, New Jersey