Family & Companions
Alternating between dramas and musicals, pretty Ann Blyth was already acting in elementary school and emoting on Broadway before she had even reached her teens. Discovered by Universal, she made some unremarkable films with that company before being borrowed by Warner Brothers and cast in their Joan Crawford vehicle "Mildred Pierce" (1945). As Crawford's brazenly ungrateful and downright evil daughter, Blyth made quite an impression and earned an Academy Award nomination. Although a serious back injury sidelined her for over a year, Blyth bounced back and excelled at MGM, which showcased her considerable singing skills in such glossy productions as "Rose Marie" (1954), "The Student Prince" (1954), and "Kismet" (1955). As the 1960s rolled around, she opted to mostly stay out of the limelight, devoting the majority of her time to a growing family, but did return briefly to stage and television work. Blyth made a lasting impression in "Mildred Pierce," but with her beauty, lovely singing voice and solid dramatic ability, she gave several performances that rightfully earned her a place among the most talented leading ladies of the 1940s and '50s.
Ann Marie Blyth was born in Mount Kisco, NY on Aug. 16, 1928 and from early childhood, she was interested in performing in one capacity or another. Her singing talent earned Blyth spots in San Carlo Opera Company productions of "Carmen" and "La Boheme" and she gained acting experience via radio work. She attended the Professional Children's School and by the ripe old age of 12, Blyth was polished enough to be awarded a role on Broadway in the long running drama "Watch on the Rhine" (1941-42). It would be Blyth's only Great White Way credit, but she also went on tour with the show and thanks to the qualities displayed in a Los Angeles presentation of "Rhine," the teenager soon embarked on a whole new chapter in life.
After her stage work had come to the company's attention, Blyth was put under contract by Universal Pictures and her film career was launched with roles in small budget musicals with titles like "Chip Off the Old Block" (1944) and "The Merry Monahans" (1944). However, her prospects brightened considerably when the studio loaned her out to Warner Brothers to appear in the sudsy melodrama "Mildred Pierce" (1945), where Blyth gave a bravura performance as a scheming, thoroughly amoral young woman who competes with her own mother (Joan Crawford) for the same man. For their brave performances, Crawford won her only Oscar and newcomer Blyth received a nomination for her strong, thoroughly convincing acting, assuring a quick ascent to stardom.
Alas, during the production of "Danger Signal" (1945), Blyth broke her back in a tobogganing accident while on a break from filming. While she ultimately defied a professional prediction that she would never walk again, Blyth remained unable to act for over a year. By the time she returned to the screen in "Brute Force" (1947), some momentum had been lost, but the young actress continued to do laudable work in quality productions like the murder mystery "A Woman's Vengeance" (1948) and the comic fantasy "Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid" (1948), where she was a charming siren of the sea accidentally reeled in by William Powell. Blyth's contract with Universal concluded in 1952, but she soon found opportunities at MGM, where her vocal abilities were put to use in "Rose Marie" (1954), "The Student Prince" (1954), and "Kismet" (1955). By that point in the decade, MGM's brand of musical was falling out of favor with the public, but they still made good use of Blyth in other genres, like the adventure "The King's Thief" (1955) and the film noir "Slander" (1957).
However, she turned out to be the wrong choice for the titular role in "The Helen Morgan Story" (1957). The largely fictionalized look at the celebrated songstress was considered to be something of a disappointment and critics felt that Blyth failed to impart Morgan's larger-than-life qualities. The actress was also not helped by the studio's decision to replace her vocals during the various songs with new performances by Gogi Grant. Blyth received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, but by that point, she had opted to leave her movie career behind. Aside from a handful of TV guest appearances, including a memorable 1964 outing on "The Twilight Zone," and a return to the stage in revivals of perennials like "Wait Until Dark" and "The King and I," she spent most of the ensuing years out of the limelight with her husband and five children. Blyth briefly resumed acting in the mid-1970s and, like a number of Golden Age stars, gave her final bow in an episode of "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-96).
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Debut as radio performer aged five
Made Broadway debut in "Watch on the Rhine"
Made film debut in "Chip Off the Old Block"
Had one of her greatest roles as Veda in "Mildred Pierce"; earned Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress
Early TV work on "The RCA Victor Show"
Left films after playing the title role in "The Helen Morgan Story"