Ann Sothern


Actor
Ann Sothern

About

Also Known As
Harriette Lake, Harriet Lake
Birth Place
Valley City, North Dakota, USA
Born
January 22, 1909
Died
March 15, 2001
Cause of Death
Heart Failure

Biography

Singer and comedienne Ann Sothern turned heads and amused audiences via her ability to deliver sharp dialogue with verve and comedic bite. After appearances in Broadway musicals, Sothern earned her keep in B-movies, but finally hit her stride as a contract player at MGM, where she toplined the company's popular series of "Maisie" pictures. Although Sothern eventually tired of playing the...

Photos & Videos

Maisie - Movie Poster
Cry 'Havoc' - Movie Poster
A Letter to Three Wives - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Roger Pryor
Husband
Orchestra leader. Maried in 1936; divorced in 1942.
Robert Sterling
Husband
Socialite, actor. Married in 1943; divorced in 1949; father of Tisha Sterling.

Bibliography

"Ann Sothern: A Bio-Bibliography"
Marie Schultz, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Sothern's agents reportedly turned down an offer for the actress to play the older courtesan in "Zorba the Greek" when Simone Signoret withdrew from the project. The part went to Lila Kedrova who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

"I guess in the old days we just got by on glamor. 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". --Ann Sothern (in 1970s)

Biography

Singer and comedienne Ann Sothern turned heads and amused audiences via her ability to deliver sharp dialogue with verve and comedic bite. After appearances in Broadway musicals, Sothern earned her keep in B-movies, but finally hit her stride as a contract player at MGM, where she toplined the company's popular series of "Maisie" pictures. Although Sothern eventually tired of playing the brassy Brooklyn showgirl, audiences loved her in the role, and the actress also impressed with her turn in the critically acclaimed "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949). Upon hitting her forties, Sothern found fewer motion pictures opportunities, but her popularity was reignited with the sitcoms "Private Secretary" (CBS, 1953-57) and "The Ann Sothern Show" (CBS, 1958-1961), which earned Sothern several Emmy nominations. Her movie and television work slowed down in the decade that followed and an unfortunate accident during the 1970s gave Sothern back issues that rendered her unable to act for an extended period. She did manage to step before the cameras again, but unlike many veteran performers who end their career on a depressing note, Sothern exited the business with Lindsay Anderson's widely praised "The Whales of August" (1987), which earned her a long overdue Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Widely respected by both audiences and her peers for the sharp comedic ability she displayed for years in film and on television, Sothern earned her place in both mediums and enjoyed a solid and loyal fan base right up to the end of her life.

Born Harriette Arlene Lake on Jan. 22, 1909 in Valley City, ND, Sothern's formative years were spent in Minneapolis, MN under the care of her opera singer mother, who was forced to raise three daughters largely on her own. Sothern attended Minneapolis Central High School and the University of Washington, and eventually made her way out to California, where she was employed by Warner Brothers as a vocal coach and had uncredited appearances in silent features like "Broadway Nights" (1927). A natural redhead, Sothern switched to blonde locks and stayed with that look throughout her career. After some inconsequential parts, Sothern decided to head east and made her Broadway bow in the musical "Smiles" (1930-31), which was followed by "America's Sweetheart" (1931), "Everybody's Welcome" (1931-32), and the George Gershwin effort "Of Thee I Sing" (1933). With her bubbly personality and good looks, Sothern's next few film roles were as chorus girls in comedies, with her first noteworthy assignment coming opposite Edmund Lowe in the musical romance "Let's Fall in Love" (1933). Now under contract to Columbia Pictures, she also appeared opposite Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman in "Kid Millions" (1934), but quickly dipped into B-features like the memorably titled, but otherwise forgettable "Hell-Ship Morgan" (1936). That year, she wed her first husband, actor Roger Pryor, who played leads in mostly minor movies and was nicknamed "the poor man's Clark Gable."

Sothern appeared in similar, second-tier efforts for RKO, but in the wake of her strong performance in the drama "Trade Winds" (1938), MGM added the actress to their talent roster and assigned Sothern the motion picture role for which she would be best remembered: sassy, loveable Brooklyn chorus girl "Maisie" (1939). While the studio concentrated their big name talent and resources on prestige productions like "Gone with the Wind" (1939) and "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), they also made a great deal of money by creating a whole series of "Maisie" outings. Limited in both scope and ambition, the films were nonetheless enjoyable, thanks to Sothern's energy and comedic talent. In between these projects, the actress also graced Busby Berkeley's comic mystery "Fast and Furious" (1939), the offbeat gangster farce "Brother Orchid" (1940), and the army nurse drama "Cry 'Havoc'" (1943). Sothern and Pryor called it quits in 1943 and less than a week after the divorce was finalized, she walked down the aisle with fellow MGM player Robert Sterling. The couple had a daughter together during their marriage, which ended six years later.

The popularity of the "Maisie" series also launched a radio career for Sothern, and she took the character to that medium with the program "The Adventures of Maisie" (CBS, 1945-47). "Undercover Maisie" (1947) was the 10th and final feature, a relief to Sothern, though she continued on with the radio version (syndication/Mutual, 1949-1953) for a few more years. The critically lauded "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) cast Sothern, Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell as friends who must figure out which one of their husbands has been unfaithful and was a major hit with critics and fans. As a successful writer for radio soap operas, Sothern was nicely paired with rising star Kirk Douglas. While her performance in the dramatic film was praised, parts of similar quality were not immediately forthcoming, so Sothern accepted a return trip to the Great White Way in the cast of "Faithfully Yours" (1951). Unfortunately, the play closed after 68 performances.

Looking to expand her career possibilities, Sothern decided to headline her own television sitcom, "Private Secretary" (CBS, 1953-57). Following the example set by old friend and fellow RKO veteran Lucille Ball, Sothern co-produced the program herself and had it shot on 35mm, rather than broadcast live and preserved on sub-par kinescopes. The popular Emmy-nominated production ran four seasons, but came to a premature end when Sothern quarreled with her business partner. She rebounded with a new endeavor, "The Ann Sothern Show" (CBS, 1958-1961), once again having a financial stake in the project and also helping to compose the theme song. It won a Golden Globe for Best New Television Show and had a healthy three-year run. In between her TV duties, she also found time to headline a Las Vegas nightclub act.

Sothern received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and returned to the big screen via a supporting part in the political comedy-drama "The Best Man" (1964), her first film in more than a decade, while the campy thriller "Lady in a Cage" (1964) provided one of her darkest characterizations. She also resumed series television with the infamous "My Mother the Car" (NBC, 1965-66) as the title character - a woman reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile. She provided the wisecracking vehicle's voice, while Jerry Van Dyke played her harried son who must keep mother away from evil antique car collector Captain Manzini (Avery Schreiber). If the premise sounded positively surreal, the results were simply stultifying. Critics had a royal time panning the show, which sputtered and died by the side of the road after one season. The program's reputation as an utter fiasco persisted for decades and in 2002, TV Guide branded it the second worst television show in the history of the medium. On a much more positive note that same season, Sothern reunited with Ball by guesting in seven episodes of "The Lucy Show" (CBS, 1962-68) as Rosie Harrigan, the Countess Framboise.

Aside from some stage engagements, Sothern worked intermittently on television during the late 1960s and early '70s and appeared in a few more feature films. She had one of her more colorful latter day parts in "The Killing Kind" (1973) as the deranged, doting mother of a young and thoroughly unhinged ex-con (John Savage). Unfortunately, the effective, often perversely entertaining Curtis Harrington thriller received almost no distribution, while neither "Golden Needles" (1974) nor "Crazy Mama" (1975) gave Sothern much of interest to do. While performing in the play "Everybody Loves Opal," she was badly hurt when a large prop tree fell on her. Sothern insisted on finishing for the night, but the back injury left the actress in need of hospitalization and she spent the next few years in a back brace dealing with recurring pain. Even upon recovering, she required a cane to be ambulatory and tired easily. Already in her sixties and not in the best physical shape, Sothern gained even more weight during her extended convalescence.

Eager to resume her career, Sothern graced the amusingly absurd horror thriller "The Manitou" (1978) and played Ma Finney in a made-for-television remake of "A Letter to Three Wives" (NBC, 1985). She took her final bow in Lindsay Anderson's "The Whales of August" (1987) opposite fellow Golden Age veterans Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price. In an inspired bit of casting, Sothern's 42-year-old daughter, Tisha Sterling, an established actress with many TV credits to her name, played a younger version of her character in flashbacks. The film received many accolades, including a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for Sothern, who spent her final years out of the limelight in Ketchum, ID. She died from heart failure on March 15, 2001.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

The Whales of August (1987)
A Letter to Three Wives (1985)
The Little Dragons (1980)
Angel
The Manitou (1978)
Mrs Karmann
Crazy Mama (1976)
Golden Needles (1974)
The Great Man's Whiskers (1973)
Aunt Margaret Bancroft
The Killing Kind (1973)
Thelma
The Weekend Nun (1972)
Mother Bonaventure
A Death of Innocence (1971)
Annie Lacossitt
Congratulations, It's a Boy! (1971)
Chubasco (1968)
Angela
Sylvia (1965)
Mrs. Argona
The Best Man (1964)
Mrs. Gamadge
Lady in a Cage (1964)
Sade
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Crystal Carpenter
Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)
Frances Elliott
Shadow on the Wall (1950)
Dell Faring
The Judge Steps Out (1949)
Peggy
A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Rita Phipps
April Showers (1948)
June Tyme
Words and Music (1948)
Joyce Harmon
Undercover Maisie (1947)
Maisie Ravier
Up Goes Maisie (1946)
Maisie Ravier
Cry 'Havoc' (1944)
Pat [Conlin]
Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)
Maisie Ravier
Thousands Cheer (1944)
Swing Shift Maisie (1943)
Maisie Ravier
Panama Hattie (1942)
Hattie Maloney
Maisie Gets Her Man (1942)
Maisie Ravier
Three Hearts for Julia (1942)
Julia Seabrook
Lady Be Good (1941)
Dixie Donegan [Crane]
Maisie Was a Lady (1941)
Maisie Ravier
Ringside Maisie (1941)
Maisie Ravier
Brother Orchid (1940)
Flo Addams
Gold Rush Maisie (1940)
Maisie Ravier
Congo Maisie (1940)
Maisie Ravier
Dulcy (1940)
Dulcy Wardrobe
Fast and Furious (1939)
Garda Sloane
Maisie (1939)
Maisie Ravier
Elsa Maxwell's Hotel for Women (1939)
[Ellen Connelly] in Room 734
Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President (1939)
Ethel Turp
Trade Winds (1938)
Jean Livingstone
Dangerous Number (1937)
Eleanor [Breen Medhill]
She's Got Everything (1937)
Carol Rogers
There Goes My Girl (1937)
Connie Taylor
Super-Sleuth (1937)
Mary Strand
Fifty Roads to Town (1937)
Millicent Kendall
There Goes the Groom (1937)
[Bettina] Betty Russell
Danger - Love at Work (1937)
[Antoinette] Toni Pemberton
Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
Herself
Smartest Girl in Town (1936)
Frances "Cookie" Cooke
Walking on Air (1936)
Kit Bennett
Hell-Ship Morgan (1936)
Mary Taylor
My American Wife (1936)
Mary Cantillon
Don't Gamble with Love (1936)
Ann Edwards
You May Be Next! (1936)
Fay Stevens
The Girl Friend (1935)
Linda [Henry]
Grand Exit (1935)
Adrienne Martin, also known as Adeline Maxwell
Hooray for Love (1935)
Patricia Thatcher
Eight Bells (1935)
Marge Walker
Folies Bergère de Paris (1935)
Mimi
Kid Millions (1934)
Joan Larrabee
The Hell Cat (1934)
Geraldine Sloane, also known as Mary Todd
The Party's Over (1934)
Ruth [Walker]
Blind Date (1934)
Kitty Taylor
Melody in Spring (1934)
Jane Blodgett
Let's Fall in Love (1933)
Jean [Kendall, also known as Sigrid Lund]

Cast (Special)

Collecting America (1988)
Narration
Fol-De-Rol (1972)
Always April (1961)
The Desilu Revue (1959)
Holiday in Las Vegas (1957)
Lady in the Dark (1954)

Cast (Short)

King & Queen Meet the Stars (1954)
Herself
You, John Jones! (1943)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Captains and the Kings (1976)
Captains and the Kings Part 5 & 6 (1976)

Life Events

1929

Had bit in early sound musical, "The Show of Shows" (as Harriet Lake)

1930

Broadway debut in chorus of Florenz Ziegfeld's "Smiles"

1931

First leading role on Broadway in Rodgers and Hart's "America's Sweetheart"

1933

Returned to Hollywood and appeared (unbilled) in "Broadway Through a Keyhole"

1933

Signed contract with Columbia; dyed hair from red to platinum blonde

1934

Began achieving success in leading roles

1936

Left Columbia and signed seven-year contract with RKO; acted opposite Gene Raymond in several popular comedies and musicals

1939

Sought to be released from RKO contract and joined MGM in first of series of "Maisie" films

1947

Last film as Maisie, "Undercover Maisie"

1950

Left MGM; last films there, "Nancy Goes to Rio" and "Shadow on the Wall"

1987

Returned to films to play supporting role in "The Whales of August"; received Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination

Photo Collections

Maisie - Movie Poster
Maisie - Movie Poster
Cry 'Havoc' - Movie Poster
Here is the original one-sheet movie poster for MGM's Cry 'Havoc' (1943), starring Margaret Sullavan, Joan Blondell, and Ann Sothern. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
A Letter to Three Wives - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Fox's A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Shadow on the Wall - Movie Poster
Here is an original-release One-Sheet movie poster from MGM's Shadow on the Wall (1950), starring Ann Sothern and Zachary Scott.
Lady Be Good - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Lady Be Good (1941), starring Eleanor Powell, Robert Young, and Ann Sothern. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Brother Orchid - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster for Warner Bros' Brother Orchid (1940), starring Edward G. Robinson, Ann Sothern, and Humphrey Bogart. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Killing Kind - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Killing Kind (1973), directed by Curtis Harrington. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Nancy Goes to Rio - Movie Poster
Here is the original-relese One-Sheet movie poster from MGM's Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), starring Jane Powell, Ann Sothern, Barry Sullivan, and Carmen Miranda.
Panama Hattie - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's Panama Hattie (1942), starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
Panama Hattie - Movie Poster
Here is the American Insert Movie Poster for Panama Hattie (1942), starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern. Inserts measured 14x36 inches.
Words and Music - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for the MGM musical Words and Music (1948). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Letter To Three Wives, A -- (1948) - Pomp And Hysteria Now well inside complex flashbacks, radio soap opera writer Rita (Ann Sothern), with husband George (Kirk Douglas), who's not excited about the dinner she's planned, gets a gift from local vixen Addie (voice by Celeste Holm), in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter To Three Wives, 1948.
Whales Of August, The (1987) - You Didn't Answer Me Continuing their leisurely day on the Maine coastal islands (shot on Cliff Island) ca. 1954, older sister Sarah (Lillian Gish) and blind younger sister Libby (Bette Davis) share memories and ideas, in director Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales Of August, 1987.
Gold Rush Maisie (1940) - Plenty Of Tears Ann Sothern (title character) is leaving town, from the diner where Harry (Irving Bacon) is sharing the big news, one customer (Henry Roquemore) leaving as another (Eddie Gribbon) arrives, and young Jubie (Virginia Weidler) appears seeking aid, in Gold Rush Maisie, 1940, the third in the MGM series.
Gold Rush Maisie (1940) - I Wanna Be Just Like You! Now all-in with the family of hard-luck dirt farmer turned gold prospector Bert (John F. Hamilton), Ann Sothern (title character) meets friend Elmo (Louis Mason), who boasts of success, then chats with admiring daughter Jubie (Virginia Weidler), in Gold Rush Maisie, 1940.
Gold Rush Maisie (1940) - What Kind Of A Town Is This? Third movie in the MGM series, this time the title character (Ann Sothern) has had a breakdown near an Arizona desert town, where, with some difficulty, she meets Lee Bowman as grumpy rancher Bill, who’s not much inclined to help, in Gold Rush Maisie, 1940, co-starring Virginia Weidler.
Maisie (1939) - The Chiffon Girl The first scene in the first picture in the series of ten from MGM, Ann Sothern is the title character, getting bad news (from Frank Darien as Pops) about her showbiz gig in Big Horn, Wyoming, from a script first written for Jean Harlow, opening Maisie, 1939, co-starring Robert Young.
Shadow On The Wall(1950) - It's My Time To Live! Wild turns, as cheating spouse Celia (Kristine Miller), who just knocked out her husband (now-unconscious Zachary Scott) as he held a gun on her, gets lucky because her sister (Ann Sothern as Dell, whose fiancè she was cheating-with) turned up, intending one kind of confrontation, but improvising another, in Shadow On The Wall, 1950.
Shadow On The Wall (1950) - Open, Twice A Minute Clever-ish opening, credits, then the introduction of Gigi Perreau and Zachary Scott, both billed above the title with Ann Sothern, as father and daughter David and Susan, appearing nothing but innocent, in the little-noticed MGM Noir Shadow On The Wall, 1950, co-starring Nancy Reagan.
Shadow On The Wall (1950) - Black Harvest Joining the first scene for Ann Sothern as Dell, sister of the hostess, Kristine Miller as Celia, whom we know is having an affair with Ann’s fiancè Crane (Tom Helmore) which is revealed after dinner and many drinks, by husband and brother-in-law David (Zachary Scott), who’s realized their stories about that afternoon don’t match, in MGM’s Shadow On The Wall, 1950.
Congo Maisie (1940) - That's French For Star Of Africa Doctor turned rubber plantation-owner Shane (John Carroll) is sick of Africa, leaving, when he finds Ann Sothern (title character) hiding in his cabin, boat captain Finch (J.M. Kerrigan) offering a compromise, in the second feature in the MGM series, Congo Maisie, 1940.
Congo Maisie (1940) - She Do Big Magic Complete with a degrading depiction of African natives, acceptable by Hollywood standards of the time, well-intentioned Shane (John Carroll) protects the compound, rescued when Ann Sothern (title character) goes into showgirl mode, in Congo Maisie, 1940.
April Showers (1948) - Can't Make Empty Seats Laugh! Opening from a screenplay by Peter Milne based on a story by the vaudevillian turned radio and Broadway raconteur Joe Laurie Jr., introducing leads Jack Carson and Ann Sothern as the fictional “Two Tymes,” performing a chestnut by Percy Wenrich and Edward Madden, in Warner Bros.’ April Showers, 1948.

Trailer

Letter to Three Wives, A - (Original Trailer) In A Letter to Three Wives (1949), a woman claims to have run off with one of their husbands. But which?
Lady Be Good - (Original Trailer) None of the plot but all of the Gershwin songs like "Fascinatin' Rhythm" in MGM's version of Lady Be Good (1941).
Gold Rush Maisie - (Original Trailer) For the third of the series Ann Sothern becomes Gold Rush Maisie (1940) after her car breaks down in Arizona.
Dulcy - (Original Trailer) Ann Sothern plays Dulcy (1940), the scatterbrained beauty who tries to help her fiance's career by throwing a big party.
Dangerous Number - (Original Trailer) Robert Young marries a Dangerous Number (1937) in a comedy that somehow involves daylight savings time and dissolvable silk.
Congo Maisie - (Original Trailer) For the second "Maisie" movie, Maisie (Ann Sothern) ends up stranded in Africa in Congo Maisie (1940).
Best Man, The - (Original Trailer) Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson are two presidential hopefuls forced to consider dirty politics in Gore Vidal's The Best Man (1964).
Words And Music - (Original Trailer) Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Perry Como perform the songs of Rodgers and Hart in Words And Music (1948).
Cry Havoc - (Original Trailer) Cry Havoc (1943) as a group of nurses stay behind to treat the wounded after the Japanese seize Bataan during World War II.
Undercover Maisie - (Original Trailer) Maisie the showgirl joins the police force and risks her life to expose a phony psychic in Undercover Maisie (1947).
Fast and Furious - (Original Trailer) Married book-dealers Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern get mixed up with murder during a beauty pageant in Fast and Furious (1939).
Ringside Maisie - (Original Trailer) A Brooklyn showgirl (Ann Sothern) sets pulses racing at a boxers' training camp in Ringside Maisie (1941).

Family

Annette Yde-Lake
Mother
Concert singer, diction coach. Worked in Hollywood in early sound era as diction and vocal coach.
Tisha Sterling
Daughter
Actor. Born December 10, 1944; father Robert Sterling; survived her.

Companions

Roger Pryor
Husband
Orchestra leader. Maried in 1936; divorced in 1942.
Robert Sterling
Husband
Socialite, actor. Married in 1943; divorced in 1949; father of Tisha Sterling.

Bibliography

"Ann Sothern: A Bio-Bibliography"
Marie Schultz, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Sothern's agents reportedly turned down an offer for the actress to play the older courtesan in "Zorba the Greek" when Simone Signoret withdrew from the project. The part went to Lila Kedrova who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

"I guess in the old days we just got by on glamor. 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". --Ann Sothern (in 1970s)