Never a big star but still name above the title. And what a lengthy and productive career.
She was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith in Kent in 1913, the daughter of an English rector and the goddaughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite family pedigrees, Anna Lee was encouraged to be an actress, and found herself as a teenager in the early Thirties onstage in England and making films.
Her career extended from 1932 to pretty much right up until she died (at age 91) in 2004. Contemporary audiences probably best remember Lee as wealthy matriarch and voice of reason (Lila Quartermain) in General Hospital, one of the most popular and influential daytime soap operas ever.
The series began on ABC in 1963, and is still running (although production was paused during the covid pandemic). Lee joined the cast in 1978, soon after she was left paralyzed from the waist down after a serious auto accident. She carried on, staying with General Hospital for more than two decades. Her character was finally killed off (death while sleeping) in 2003, the year before her actual death.
Lee’s Hollywood career began in the late Thirties when with World War II looming, she and her first of three husbands, Robert Stevenson, emigrated. She was foolishly dubbed back then as “The British Bombshell.”
Among her notable films were three directed by John Ford, How Green Was My Valley, Two Rode Together and Fort Apache. (There she is below with the Duke in the latter.)
We enjoyed her rambunctious performance in producer extaordinaire Val Lewton’s 1946 horror-thriller, Bedlam, opposite Boris Karloff.
Also, Lee sparked up 1943’s Hangmen Also Die, directed by Fritz Lang.
Lee did her best in the 1959 policier, The Crimson Kimono directed by Sam Fuller. But her turn as a wise, hard-drinking, seen-it-all denizen of the urban demimonde, doesn’t quite work. More Fuller’s lapse than Lee’s. (There she is below with costar Victoria Shaw.)
Here she is as Nazi-thwarting Sister Margaretta in 1965’s The Sound of Music.
And, as the neighbor to Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Anna Lee — what a long and lustrous career.