Long before her television career Ann Sothern was a top film star. (In this she is much like Red Skelton, with whom she appeared on the tube in 1953.)
In fact, Sothern started making movies in Hollywood as an extra in 1927, before sound came in. In the ensuing years she rolled up more than 100 film and tv credits taking her career all the way to 1987. She died in 2001 at age 92 — a long and productive life.
What may not be generally known about Sothern is what a smartly industrious performer she was.
She embodied the hip-swinging, sassy blonds of the 1940’s who took no guff from oafish wolves — strong, resilient women presented long before the feminist movement took flight. She also was a smart business woman, one of the first who produced — and owned — her successful tv offerings.
That professional independence cost her, she later said. How dare a woman be competitive or producer her own shows? she asked rhetorically. I think Hollywood has been terrible to me.
She was often seen on the big screen in lighthearted comedies, performing with warmth and vitality. Her range covered B pictures for Columbia and RKO, and a big hit series for MGM. Along the way there was the stage and, later, television.
If you have to see Sothern in just one of the Hollywood movie outings, we suggest you make it MGM’s unusually good 1950 film noir, Shadow on the Wall. Ann costars with Zachary Scott and Nancy Davis, two years before she became Mrs. Ronald Reagan. While Davis plays to her strengths (as a trim, efficient but kind hearted clinical psychiatrist) Sothern plays against type. Ann is cast here as a child threatening villain, who propels the whole movie. Catch it if you can.
Now to an assortment of Sothern tidbits:
— Sothern was a singer and occasional dancer in addition to being a talented actress. She was trained from an early age as a classical singer by her concert-soprano mother, and sang with a touring band led by her first husband, Roger Pryor.
— Sothern was Oscar nominated as best actress for her role in 1987’s The Whales of August, costarring Lillian Gish and Bette Davis.
— Sothern’s actress-daughter (via second husband Robert Sterling) — Tisha Sterling — plays a younger version of her mother in The Whales of August.
— Sothern suffered a bout of hepatitus in the Fifties which left her visibly overweight. To compensate, she wore black outfits in her tv sitcoms.
— From 1939 to 1947, Sothern successfully starred as the ditzy blond heroine in a series of 10 MGM movies. Her feisty character’s name was….