Sothern, Ann

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Nationality: American. Born: Harriette Lake, Valley City, North Dakota, 22 January 1909; mother was a touring concert singer who later worked as a diction and vocal coach in Hollywood. Education: Studied voice and musical composition; attended University of Washington, Seattle. Family: Married 1) bandleader Roger Pryor, 1936 (divorced 1942); 2) socialite William J. Hart (who became the actor Robert Sterling), 1943 (divorced 1949). Career: Bit parts in Hollywood as Harriet Lake, 1927–33; signed contract with Columbia Pictures, 1934 (dropped, 1936); signed contract with RKO, 1936; signed contract with MGM, 1939; appeared in the TV series Private Secretary, 1953–57, The Ann Sothern Show, 1958–61, and as the voice of Gladys Crabtree in My Mother the Car, 1965–66; currently retired. Awards: Golden Globe for "Best TV Show," for "The Ann Sothern Show," 1959.



Broadway Nights The (Boyle) (uncredited bit part)


The Show of Shows (Adolfi) (uncredited bit part); Hearts in Exile (Curtiz) (uncredited bit part)


The Song of the West (Enright) (uncredited bit part); Hold Everything (Del Ruth) (uncredited bit part); Doughboys (Forward March) (Sedgewick) (as Dancer); Whoopee (Freeland) (as Chorus Girl)


Broadway Through a Keyhole (Broadway Thru a Keyhole) (Sherman) (as Dancer); Footlight Parade (Bacon) (as Chorus Girl)


The Party's Over (Lang) (as Ruth); Melody in Spring (McLeod) (as Jane Blodgett); Let's Fall In Love (Burton) (as Jean); The Hell Cat (Rogell) (as Geraldine Sloane); Blind Date (Neill) (as Kitty Taylor); Kid Millions (Del Ruth) (as Joan Larabee)


Hooray for Love (Lang) (as Pat Thatcher); Grand Exit (Kenton) (as Adrienne Martin); The Girl Friend (Buzzell) (as Linda); Folies-Bergere (The Man from the Folies Bergere) (Del Ruth) (as Mimi); Eight Bells (Neill) (as Marge Walker)


You May Be Next (Rogell) (as Fay Stevens); Smartest Girl in Town (Santley) (as Frances "Cookie" Cooke); My American Wife (Young) (as Mary Cantillan); Don't Gamble With Love (Murphy) (as Ann Edwards); Hell-Ship Morgan (Lederman) (as Mary); Walking On Air (Santley) (as Kit Bennett)


There Goes the Groom (Santley) (as Betty Russell); There Goes My Girl (Holmes) (as Connie Taylor); Super Sleuth (Stoloff) (as Mary Strand); Danger—Love At Work (Preminger) (as Toni Pemberton); Dangerous Number (Thorpe) (as Eleanor); Fifty Races to Town (Taurog) (as Millicent Kendall); She's Got Everything (Santley) (as Carol Rogers)


Trade Winds (Garnett) (as Jean Livingston)


Maisie (Marin) (as Maisie Ravier); Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President (Sinclair) (as Ethel Turp); Hotel for Women (Ratoff) (as Eileen Connelly); Fast and Furious (Berkeley) (as Garda Stone)


Dulcy (Simon) (as Dulcy Ward); Congo Maisie (Potter) (as Maisie Ravier); Brother Orchid (Bacon) (as Flo Addams); Gold Rush Maisie (Marin) (as Maisie Ravier)


Ringside Maisie (Cash and Carry) (Marin) (as Maisie Ravier); Maisie Was a Lady (Marin) (as Maisie Ravier); Lady Be Good (McLeod) (as Dixie Donegan)


Panama Hattie (McLeod) (as Hattie Maloney); Maisie Gets Her Man (She Got Her Man) (Del Ruth) (as Maisie Ravier)


Three Hearts for Julia (Thorpe) (as Julia Seabrook); Swing Shift Maisie (The Girl in Overalls) (McLeod) (as Maisie Ravier); Cry Havoc (Thorpe) (as Pat Conlin); You, John Jones (LeRoy) (as Mary Jones [uncredited]); Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (as Guest Star)


Maisie Goes to Reno (You Can't Do That to Me) (Beaumont) (as Maisie Ravier)


Up Goes Maisie (Up She Goes) (Beaumont) (as Maisie Ravier);


Undercover Maisie (Undercover Girl) (Beaumont) (as Maisie Ravier)


April Showers (Kern) (as June Tyme); Words and Music (Taurog) (as Joyce Harmon)


The Judge Steps Out (Indian Summer) (Ingster) (as Peggy); A Letter to Three Wives (Mankiewicz) (as Rita Phipps)


Shadow on the Wall (Jackson) (as Dell Faring); Nancy Goes to Rio (Leonard) (as Frances Elliott)


The Blue Gardenia (Lang) (as Crystal Carpenter)


The Best Man (Schaffner) (as Mrs. Gamadge); Lady in a Cage (Grauman) (as Sade)


Sylvia (Douglas) (as Mrs. Argona)


The Outsider (Ritchie—for TV) (as Mrs. Kozzek)


Chubasco (Miner) (as Angela)


The Great Man's Whiskers (Leacock—for TV) (as Aunt Margaret); Congratulations, It's a Boy! (So's Your Old Man) (Graham) (as Ethel Gaines); Death of Innocence (Wendkos—for TV) (as Annie La Cossit)


The Weekend Nun (Matter of the Heart) (Szwarc—for TV) (as Mother Bonaventure)


The Killing Kind (Harrington) (as Thelma Lambert)


Golden Needles (Chase for the Golden Needles) (Clouse) (as Fenzie)


Crazy Mama (Demme) (as Sheba)


Captains and Kings (Heyes, Reisner—mini, for TV) (as Mrs. Finch)


The Manitou (Girdler) (as Mrs. Karmann)


The Little Dragons (Karate Kids) (Hanson) (as Angel)


A Letter to Three Wives (Elikann—for TV) (as Ma Finney)


The Whales of August (Anderson) (as Tisha Doughty)


On SOTHERN: books

Thomas,Lawrence B., The MGM Years, The Golden Age of Movie Musicals, New York, 1971.

Parish, James Robert, and Ronald L. Bowers, The MGM Stock Company: The Golden Era, New Rochelle, 1972.

Schultz, Margie, Ann Sothern: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, 1990.

On Sothern: articles—

Gould, J., "TV's Top Comediennes," in New York Times Magazine, 27 December 1953.

Briggs, S., filmography in Films in Review, September 1963.

Buckley, Michael, "Ann Sothern," Films in Review, March 1988

* * *

After an itinerant childhood touring with her concert singer mother, Harriette Lake eventually ended up in Hollywood when her mother retired from the concert stage and took a position coaching actors for the new art of talking motion pictures. Commencing with work as an extra in 1927 (as Harriet Lake) the young actress only appeared in a few bit parts before abandoning Hollywood for Broadway. In New York she was cast in a Florenz Ziegfeld show, "Smiles," and appeared in musicals by Rodgers and Hart and Gershwin. In the early 1930s she returned to Hollywood where she became a platinum blond and had her name changed to Ann Sothern under a term contract with Columbia Pictures. A string of B-pictures followed, first at Columbia and then at RKO, until she signed with MGM in 1939 for a film which had originally been conceived for Jean Harlow. The ongoing Maisie films proved as popular as the equally low-budget black-and-white Andy Hardy films, and also served as a proving ground for many MGM players.

Aside from the durable Maisie series—which ran from Maisie in 1939 to Undercover Maisie in 1947—Sothern appeared in a number of slightly higher budget features as well, most notably landing the title role in the film version of Cole Porter's Broadway success, Panama Hattie, in 1942. While most of the Broadway score was cut from the film version Sothern did get to perform a rowdy version of Porter's risqué "I've Still Got My Health." A distinctive singer as well as a charming and glamorous comedienne, Sothern also starred in an equally cut-and-paste version of Gershwin's Lady Be Good in 1941, sensitively performing Kern and Hammerstein's celebrated "The Last Time I Saw Paris" to a simple piano accompaniment. As Sothern had appeared in Rodgers and Hart's Hollywood satire, "America's Sweetheart" on Broadway in 1931, it was appropriate (and a bit ironic) that she appeared as one of the musical guest stars in MGM's lavish, if unintentionally satiric Rodgers and Hart biofilm, Words and Music, in 1948.

Aside from the aforementioned musicals and a few good dramatic roles (such as on loan to Warner Bros. for Brother Orchid in 1940, and in MGM's own Cry Havoc in 1943) Sothern's 1940s roles were less than career-boosting, centered primarily around the on-going Maisie series. Sothern's contract with MGM expired in 1947, though she returned to the studio one more time as the glamorous actress who fears daughter Jane Powell is about to become an unwed mother in 1950's glossy Technicolor musical Nancy Goes to Rio. One of the best roles of Sothern's career was at 20th Century-Fox when she was cast as one of the three title characters in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's excellent A Letter To Three Wives in 1948.

A recurring struggle with hepatitis curtailed her career for several years in the early 1950s, but in 1953 she made a dramatic come-back in the noir thriller, The Blue Gardenia, receiving fine critical notices. The Fritz Lang film failed to revive her film career, however, and Sothern became one of the first personalities to transfer Hollywood glamour to the small television screen. After a series based on her popular Maisie character failed to materialize, Sothern starred in Private Secretary, a comedy series about Susie MacNamara, a charmingly meddlesome secretary to a harassed and ineffectual boss played by Don Porter. The show (which commenced in 1953) ran until 1958 when it became The Ann Sothern Show with a different but equally successful comic format. The Sothern shows were collectively nominated for four Emmy awards, in 1955, 1956, 1957, and 1959, and in 1959 the Ann Sothern Show won a Golden Globe Award for "Best TV Show."

Sothern returned to Hollywood for the first time in over a decade in Lady In A Cage (1964), in which she played the second lead as a plumpish prostitute opposite a harrassed Olivia de Havilland. The film was part of an unfortunate phase of the "new" post-studio Hollywood when stars such as de Havilland, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and others managed to pump a few extra years out of their film careers with a spate of Gothic semi-horror films, a trend which commenced with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane in 1962. But for Sothern 1964 also saw her nominated for another Golden Globe Award (for Best Supporting Actress in a film) for her role in Franklin Schaffner's film version of Gore Vidal's Broadway play about Washington politics, The Best Man. A number of minor character roles ensued, in films such as Carroll Baker's opus, Sylvia (1965), and Chubasco (1968). Sothern achieved minor cult status with her performances as John Savage's possessive mother in Curtis Harrington's bizarre The Killing Kind in 1973, and as Sheba in Jonathan Demme's Crazy Mama in 1975. Intermixed with this film work were miscellaneous TV movie roles, including a bit as Ma Finney in the 1985 TV version of A Letter To Three Wives. While Sothern herself has put down her own acting talents, claiming that "Hollywood sold its stars on good looks and personality buildups. We weren't really actresses in the true sense. We were just big names—the products of a good publicity department. . . ," she was a versatile, distinctive, and enduring example of the Hollywood star system at its best, most charming, and hard-working.

—Ross Care