Ann Sothern

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Ann Sothern
Ann Sothern 1960.JPG
Sothern in 1960
Harriette Arlene Lake

(1909-01-22)January 22, 1909
DiedMarch 15, 2001(2001-03-15) (aged 92)
Resting placeKetchum Cemetery
Other namesHarriet Byron
Harriet Lake
Alma mater University of Washington
Years active1927–1987
Political party Republican [1]
(m. 1936;div. 1943)

(m. 1943;div. 1949)
Children Tisha Sterling

Ann Sothern (born Harriette Arlene Lake; January 22, 1909 – March 15, 2001) was an American actress who worked on stage, radio, film, and television, in a career that spanned nearly six decades. Sothern began her career in the late 1920s in bit parts in films. In 1930, she made her Broadway stage debut and soon worked her way up to starring roles. In 1939, MGM cast her as Maisie Ravier, a brash yet lovable Brooklyn showgirl. The character, based on the Maisie short stories by Nell Martin, proved to be popular and spawned a successful film series ( Congo Maisie , Gold Rush Maisie , Up Goes Maisie , etc.) and a network radio series ( The Adventures of Maisie ).


In 1953, Sothern moved into television as the star of her own sitcom Private Secretary . The series aired for five seasons on CBS and earned Sothern three Primetime Emmy Award nominations. In 1958, she starred in another sitcom for CBS, The Ann Sothern Show , which aired for three seasons. From 1965 to 1966, Sothern provided the voice of Gladys Crabtree, the title character in the sitcom My Mother the Car . She continued her career throughout the late 1960s with stage and film appearances and guest-starring roles on television. Due to health issues, she worked sporadically during the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1987, Sothern appeared in her final film The Whales of August , starring Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. Sothern earned her only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film. After filming concluded, she retired to Ketchum, Idaho, where she spent her remaining years before her death from heart failure in March 2001. Lucille Ball, whom she appeared alongside on Ball's program The Lucy Show on multiple occasions, called Sothern "the best comedian in the business, bar none." [2]

Early life

Born in Valley City, North Dakota, Harriette Arlene Lake was the oldest of three daughters born to Walter J. Lake and Annette Yde. She had two younger sisters, Marion and Bonnie. Her maternal grandfather was Danish violinist Hans Nielsen.

Annette Yde was a concert singer, while Sothern's father worked in importing and exporting. Harriette and her sisters were raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her parents separated when she was four years old (they would later divorce in 1927). At the age of five, she began taking piano lessons. She later studied at McPhail School of Music, where her mother taught piano. She began accompanying her mother on her concert tours when her school schedule permitted.

By age 11, she had become an accomplished pianist and was singing solos in her church choir. At age 14, she began voice lessons and continued to study piano and music composition. As a teen at Minneapolis Central High School, she appeared in numerous stage productions and directed several shows.

During her high school years, she entered the annual state-sponsored contests for student musical composers and won three years in a row. In 1926, she graduated from high school. [3]

Her mother moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a vocal coach for Warner Bros. studios. Sothern moved with her father to Seattle, where she attended the University of Washington, dropping out after one year. [4] [5]


Early years

While visiting her mother in California, she won a role in the Warner Bros. revue The Show of Shows . She did a screen test for MGM and signed a six-month contract. She appeared in bit parts and walk-on roles, but soon grew frustrated with only appearing in small roles. She then met Florenz Ziegfeld at a party. Ziegfeld offered her a role in one of his productions. When MGM decided not to pick up her option, she moved to New York City to take Ziegfeld up on his offer. [6]

On Broadway in 1931, she had leading roles in America's Sweetheart and Everybody's Welcome .

Films and radio

In 1934, she signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. Harry Cohn changed her name to Ann Sothern. "Ann" was chosen in honor of her mother and "Sothern" was chosen for Shakespearean actor E. H. Sothern. [7] While at Columbia, she mainly appeared in B-movie roles. After two years, the studio released her from her contract. In 1936, she was signed by RKO Radio Pictures and, after a string of films that failed to attract a large enough audience, she left RKO. She signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shortly after leaving RKO.

After signing with MGM, Sothern was cast as brassy Brooklyn burlesque dancer Mary Anastasia O'Connor, known professionally as Maisie Ravier, in Maisie (1939). MGM originally acquired the Maisie property for Jean Harlow, but Harlow died in June 1937, before a final script was completed. (The Harlow inspiration remained, as the second Maisie feature, Congo Maisie , was based on MGM's Red Dust . Sothern approximated the Jean Harlow role opposite John Carroll in the Clark Gable role.)

After years of struggling and appearing in supporting parts, Ann Sothern found major success with Maisie. The film was profitable for MGM, as were the string of Maisie comedy sequels that followed (box office proceeds from Maisie pictures financed MGM's more costly dramas). From 1939 to 1947, she appeared in 10 Maisie films. A review of Swing Shift Maisie (1943) by Time magazine praised Sothern and described her as "one of the smartest comediennes in the business". [8] The popularity of the film series led to her own radio program, The Adventures of Maisie , broadcast on CBS from 1945 to 1947, on Mutual Broadcasting System in 1952, and in syndication from 1949 to 1953. Due to her popularity from the Maisie films, MGM head Louis B. Mayer paid $80,000 to purchase film rights to the Broadway production of DuBarry Was a Lady especially for Miss Sothern. [9] When Sothern rejected the revised script, MGM decided to cast Lucille Ball (Sothern's best friend in real life). [10] Shortly after completing filming of Maisie Gets Her Man in 1942, Sothern was cast in title role in the film version of Panama Hattie (1942), opposite Red Skelton. Panama Hattie had been a hit on Broadway with Ethel Merman in the title role, but was plagued with production problems after MGM attempted to shoot the film version. After a disastrous preview in November 1941, MGM decided to delay release to retool the production. The film's original director was replaced, the script was rewritten, and several scenes were reshot. [11] While the film received mediocre to poor reviews, it was a smash box office hit with audiences. [12]

In 1943, she appeared in a seventh Maisie film Swing Shift Maisie followed by a role in the war drama Cry 'Havoc' . The following year, Sothern starred in the eighth Maisie film Maisie Goes to Reno before taking time off to have her first child. She returned to the screen in 1946 in Up Goes Maisie , followed by the final Maisie film Undercover Maisie . Sothern appeared in two musical films in 1948, April Showers opposite Jack Carson and Words and Music starring an all-star cast of MGM actors, singers and dancers. In 1949, she appeared in the Academy Award-winning film A Letter to Three Wives for 20th Century Fox. Sothern received excellent reviews for her performance but the acclaim failed to stimulate her career, which had begun to wane in the late 1940s. In 1949, Sothern contracted hepatitis which she would battle for the next three years. After Sothern became ill, MGM canceled her contract. [13]


Guest starring as "Susie McNamara" on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana", L-R: Ann Sothern, Rudy Vallee, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Cesar Romero, Vivian Vance and William Frawley (1957) Lucy Goes To Havana Lucy Desi Comedy Hour 1957.JPG
Guest starring as "Susie McNamara" on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour , "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana", L-R: Ann Sothern, Rudy Vallee, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Cesar Romero, Vivian Vance and William Frawley (1957)

By the early 1950s, Sothern was appearing only in supporting roles, in such films as crime drama The Blue Gardenia (1953). In need of money due to her mounting medical bills, she turned to television. [13] In 1953, she was cast as the lead in the series Private Secretary . Sothern portrayed Susan Camille "Susie" MacNamara, a secretary working for New York City talent agent Peter Sands (Don Porter). The series aired on CBS on alternate weeks with The Jack Benny Program . Private Secretary was a hit with audiences, routinely placing in the top 10, and Sothern was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her role on the series four times. In 1957, Private Secretary was renewed for a fifth season, but Sothern left the series after she had what she later described as a "violent fight" with producer Jack Chertok over profits from the series. [7] Sothern owned 42% of the show and later sued Chertok for $93,000 in back profits from the series. [14] [15]

She returned to television the following year in The Ann Sothern Show . Sothern starred as Kathleen "Katy" O'Connor, the assistant manager at the fictitious Bartley House Hotel. The series originally co-starred Ernest Truex as Katy's timid boss Jason Macauley, who was routinely outshone by Katy, and bullied by his domineering wife Flora (Reta Shaw). [16] Ratings for the series were weak, and after 23 episodes the show was retooled. Sothern's co-star from Private Secretary, Don Porter, signed on as Katy's boss James Devery. The addition of Porter added romantic tension to the series and helped to improve ratings. [17] In 1959, the series won a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. During the series' second season, Jesse White, who also starred in Private Secretary, joined the cast. Ratings for the series remained solid until CBS moved The Ann Sothern Show to Thursdays for its third season. Scheduled opposite the ABC series The Untouchables , ratings dropped substantially and The Ann Sothern Show was canceled in 1961. [18]

Later years

After The Ann Sothern Show ended, she returned to films in the political drama The Best Man (1964), opposite Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her work in the film. That same year, she portrayed a prostitute in the psychological thriller Lady in a Cage , starring Olivia de Havilland. In 1965, she had a recurring role on her friend Lucille Ball's The Lucy Show as the "Countess Framboise" (née Rosie Harrigan). After Ball's long-time co-star Vivian Vance announced plans to leave the show, the press speculated that Sothern would be Vance's replacement. Sothern denied the rumors and, ultimately, the series continued without Vance or Sothern. [19]

In 1965, Sothern co-starred in the TV comedy series My Mother the Car , opposite Jerry Van Dyke. The show was typical of then-popular situation comedies featuring a flying nun ( The Flying Nun ), a talking horse ( Mister Ed ), a domestic witch ( Bewitched ), or other surreal premises. Van Dyke played a struggling lawyer and family man who discovers a dilapidated, vintage 1928 automobile in a used-car lot. The antique auto speaks to him — in Ann Sothern's voice. It seems the car is the reincarnation of Van Dyke's mother. Van Dyke restores the car to its original condition and takes it home, where it bemuses his family and becomes the envy of a zealous collector. Sothern was never seen in the series; only her voice was heard, reacting tartly to zany happenings around her.

She continued the rest of the 1960s working in guest roles in television and the occasional film role. In an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, entitled "Water's Edge", Sothern turned in a most impressive performance. In 1972, Sothern appeared in the Sid and Marty Krofft television special Fol-de-Rol . The next year, she played the domineering mother of a homicidal son in psychological horror film The Killing Kind . In 1974, she traveled to Hong Kong to shoot the martial arts film Golden Needles . She portrayed the role of Ann, a mahjong parlor owner. [20] Sothern's next role was in the 1975 action/comedy film Crazy Mama starring Chloris Leachman. For the rest of the decade, health problems forced her to cut back on her career. She worked sporadically in television and in stage productions, [21] including a small role in the horror film The Manitou with Tony Curtis (1978).

Sothern returned to television in 1985 in the role of "Ma Finney" in an adaptation of one of her old films, A Letter to Three Wives . Sothern's final film was The Whales of August in 1987. Her role as the neighbor of elderly sisters, played by Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, earned her the only Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination of her career. [22] After filming, Sothern retired from acting and moved to Ketchum, Idaho, where she spent her remaining years.

Other ventures

Over the course of her career, Sothern also managed several businesses and production companies. In the 1950s, she opened the Ann Sothern Sewing Center in Sun Valley, Idaho, which sold fabric, patterns, and sewing machines. She also owned a cattle ranch in Idaho named the A Bar S Cattle Company. Sothern owned Vincent Productions, Inc. (named for Sothern's patron saint Vincent de Paul) which produced her first series Private Secretary, and Anso Productions which produced The Ann Sothern Show. [14] [23]

In addition to acting, Sothern pursued a musical career. During her hiatus from Private Secretary in 1954, she starred in her own nightclub act featured in clubs in Reno, Las Vegas, and Chicago. In the late 1950s, she formed the A Bar S Music Company and released Sothern Exposure, her first album in 1958. [24]

Personal life

Marriages and child

Sothern and Robert Sterling at a Hollywood Stars baseball game (1942) Sothern-Sterling-1942.jpg
Sothern and Robert Sterling at a Hollywood Stars baseball game (1942)

Sothern married actor and band leader Roger Pryor in September 1936. [25] They separated in September 1941 and Sothern filed for divorce in April 1942, charging Pryor with mental cruelty. [26] Their divorce became final in May 1943. Less than a week after her divorce from Pryor, she married actor Robert Sterling. [27] The couple had one daughter, Patricia Ann "Tisha" Sterling, before divorcing in March 1949. [28]

Health problems

Shortly after filming A Letter to Three Wives, Sothern contracted infectious hepatitis after getting an impure serum shot while she was in England for a stage performance. She was confined to her bed where she continued to work on the Maisie radio program while she recuperated. Sothern later said that her illness had restored her faith. With the help of friend Richard Egan, she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1952. [29]

In 1974, Sothern was injured while appearing in a Jacksonville, Florida, stock production of Everybody Loves Opal when a fake tree fell on her back. The accident left her with a fractured lumbar vertebra and damaged nerves in her legs. [30] [31] Her injuries required hospitalizations where she was put in traction. She was also required to wear back braces. Due to her forced inactivity, Sothern gained a considerable amount of weight. In addition to her physical pain, Sothern also developed depression. Sothern credited her "optimistic belief" and Roman Catholic faith for getting her through. [21] [30] For the remainder of her life, Sothern experienced numbness in her feet and required a cane to walk. [30]


On March 15, 2001, Sothern died from heart failure at her home in Ketchum at the age of 92. [31] She was buried in Ketchum Cemetery. [32]

Sothern has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for motion pictures, found on 1612 Vine Street; and television, on 1634 Vine Street. [33]


1927 Broadway Nights Fan dancerUncredited
1929 The Show of Shows Performer ("Meet My Sister" & "Daisy Bell")Credited as Harriet Byron
1930 The March of Time Chorus GirlUncredited
1930 Song of the West Bit partCredited as Harriet Lake
1930 Good News StudentUncredited
1930 Doughboys ChorineUncredited
1930 Whoopee! Goldwyn GirlUncredited
1933 Footlight Parade Chorus GirlUncredited
1933 Broadway Through a Keyhole ChorineUncredited
1933 Let's Fall in Love Jean Kendall
1934 Melody in Spring Jane Blodgett
1934 The Hell Cat Geraldine Sloane
1934 Blind Date Kitty Taylor
1934 The Party's Over Lucky Dubarry
1934 Kid Millions Joan Larrabee
1935 Folies Bergère de Paris Mimi
1935 Eight Bells Marge Walker
1935 Hooray for Love Patricia "Pat" Thatcher
1935 The Girl Friend Linda Henry
1935 Grand Exit Adrienne Martin / Adeline Maxwell
1936 You May Be Next Fay Stevens
1936 Hell-Ship Morgan Mary Taylor
1936 Don't Gamble with Love Ann Edwards
1936 My American Wife Mary Cantillon
1936 Walking on Air Kit Bennett
1936 Smartest Girl in Town Frances "Cookie" Cooke
1937 Dangerous Number Eleanor
1937 There Goes My Girl Reporter Connie Taylor
1937 Fifty Roads to Town Millicent Kendall
1937 Super-Sleuth Mary Strand
1937 Danger – Love at Work Toni Pemberton
1937 There Goes the Groom Betty Russell
1937 She's Got Everything Carol Rogers
1938 Trade Winds Jean Livingstone
1939 Maisie Maisie Ravier / Mary Anastasia O'Connor
1939 Hotel for Women Eileen Connelly
1939 Fast and Furious Garda Sloane
1939 Joe and Ethel Turp Call on the President Ethel Turp
1940 Congo Maisie Maisie Ravier
1940 Brother Orchid Florence Addams
1940 Gold Rush Maisie Maisie Ravier
1940 Dulcy Dulcy Ward
1941 Maisie Was a Lady Maisie Ravier
1941 Ringside Maisie Maisie Ravier
1941 Lady Be Good Dixie Donegan Crane
1942 Maisie Gets Her Man Maisie Ravier
1942 Panama Hattie Hattie Maloney
1943 You, John Jones! Mary JonesShort
1943 Three Hearts for Julia Julia Seabrook
1943 Swing Shift Maisie Maisie Ravier
1943 Cry "Havoc" Pat
1944 Maisie Goes to Reno Maisie Ravier
1946 Up Goes Maisie Maisie Ravier
1947 Undercover Maisie Maisie Ravier
1948 April Showers June Tyme
1948 Words and Music Joyce Harmon
1948 The Judge Steps Out Peggy
1949 A Letter to Three Wives Rita Phipps
1950 Nancy Goes to Rio Frances Elliott
1950 Shadow on the Wall Dell Faring
1953 The Blue Gardenia Crystal Carpenter
1964 The Best Man Sue Ellen Gamadge
1964 Lady in a Cage Sade
1965 Sylvia Mrs. Argona / Grace Argona
1968 Chubasco Angela
1969The Greatest Mother of Them AllDolly Murdock
1973 The Killing Kind Thelma Lambert
1974 Golden Needles FenzieAlternative title: The Chase for the Golden Needles
1975 Crazy Mama Sheba Stokes
1978 The Manitou Mrs. Karmann
1979 The Little Dragons Angel
1987 The Whales of August Tisha DoughtyNominated Academy Award for Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Final Film Role
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Episode: "Lady with a Will"
1952 All Star Revue Guest Comedic ActressEpisode #2.24
1953 The Red Skelton Hour Daisy JuneSegment: "Flugelmeyer's Secret Formula"
1953–1957 Private Secretary Susan Camille "Susie" MacNamara104 episodes
1954 Lady in the Dark Liza ElliotTelevision special
1955 The Buick-Berle Show Flora SibleyEpisode: "State of Confusion"
1955 The Loretta Young Show Guest HostessEpisode: "Man in the Ring"
1957 The Ford Television Theatre Christine EmersonEpisode: "With No Regrets"
1957 The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour Susie MacNamaraEpisode: "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana"
1958 The Steve Allen Plymouth Show Comedian-Mr & Mrs IQEpisode: "From Hollywood: The Photoplay Movie Awards"
1958–1961 The Ann Sothern Show Katy O'Connor93 episodes
1959 The DuPont Show with June Allyson MarthaEpisode: "Night Out"
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Helen CoxEpisode: "Water's Edge"
1964–1969 Insight Fran Henderson/The ActressEpisodes: "Boss Toad" and "Is The 11:59 Late This Year?"
1965 The Lucy Show Rosie Harrigan, the Countess Framboise7 episodes
1965 The Legend of Jesse James Widow FayEpisode: "The Widow Fay"
1965–1966 My Mother the Car Gladys CrabtreeVoice, 30 episodes
1967 The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Aunt MagdaEpisode: "The Carpathian Killer Affair"
1967 The Outsider Mrs. KozzekTelevision film
1968 Family Affair Florence CahillEpisode: "A Man's Place"
1969 Love, American Style Mrs. DevlinSegment: "Love and the Bachelor"
1971 The Virginian Della SpencerEpisode: "The Legacy of Spencer Flats"
1971 The Chicago Teddy Bears Episode: "The Rivalry"
1971 Alias Smith and Jones Blackjack JennyEpisode: "Everything Else You Can Steal"
1972 Fol-de-Rol Queen GertrudeTelevision special
1975Medical StoryMrs. MetulskiEpisode: "The Moonlight Heater"
1976 Captains and the Kings Mrs. Finch Miniseries
1985 A Letter to Three Wives Ma FinneyTelevision film
1945Old Gold Comedy TheatreEpisode: "Boy Meets Girl" [34]
1952 The Screen Guild Theater Episode: "Bachelor Mother" [35]

Stage work

Awards and nominations

YearAwardCategoryTitle of workResult
1987 Academy Award Best Supporting Actress The Whales of August Nominated
1959 Golden Globe Award Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy The Ann Sothern Show Won
1964Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture The Best Man Nominated
1988 Independent Spirit Awards Best Supporting Female The Whales of AugustNominated
1955 Primetime Emmy Awards Best Actress Starring in a Regular SeriesPrivate SecretaryNominated
1956Primetime Emmy AwardsBest ComedienneNominated
1956Primetime Emmy AwardsBest Actress – Continuing PerformancePrivate SecretaryNominated
1957Primetime Emmy AwardsBest Continuing Performance by a Comedienne in a SeriesPrivate SecretaryNominated
1959Primetime Emmy AwardsBest Actress in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Comedy SeriesThe Ann Sothern ShowNominated
2005 TV Land Awards Favorite Heard But Not Seen Character My Mother the Car Nominated

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