Friday, January 22, 2010

Sothern Style

The delicious Ann Sothern had a six-decades-long career which, in many ways, mirrored that of her chum, contemporary and cohort, Lucille Ball. Like Ball, Sothern got her start on the New York stage, and was also one of the famed "Goldwyn Girls" - both ladies appeared in the chorus behind Eddie Cantor in two lavish pictures, Ball in Roman Scandals (1933) and Sothern in Kid Millions (1934). Both toiled, unsatisfactorily, at RKO Studios in a string of unsuitable pictures; both made the upwardly mobile move to MGM, where their fortunes improved; and both would find their greatest success in 1950's television.

Hailed by Time magazine as "one of the smartest comediennes in the business," Sothern also combined a brittle, Constance Bennett-like glamour with a wink-and-a-nod; when she put on the flounces and airs, you knew she was kidding the image. For much of the 1940's, Sothern appeared in the successful Maisie series: ten films starring Sothern as the brassy, scrappy burlesque queen. Sothern also took the Ethel Merman role in the film adaptation of Panama Hattie (1942); earned rave reviews for her dramatic turn in Cry Havoc (1943); and wound up the decade with a superbly sly performance in the Oscar-winning A Letter to Three Wives (1949).

Oddly, given her popularity and talent, MGM seemed completely clueless as to what to do with Sothern once the Maisie series ended in 1947; her only worthwhile picture since had been Letter, which was made on loan-out to Fox. Perhaps Jeanette MacDonald should have sent a warning telegram when Sothern, top-billed, played mother to upstart songbird Jane Powell in Nancy Goes to Rio (1950); it was Sothern's second-to-last film at Metro before being dropped, just as Three Daring Daughters (1948) had finished off MacDonald's MGM stay - top-billed as Jane Powell's mother.

Compounding Sothern's troubles was a bout with hepatitis which altered her looks and began the onset of a weight problem which would follow her for the rest of her life. With film roles drying up, Sothern returned to the stage and, finally, television: as sassy Susie MacNamara in Private Secretary (1953-1957) and The Ann Sothern Show (1958-1961), Sothern won her largest audience and acclaim, garnering four Emmy Award nominations along the way. Sothern reprised her role as MacNamara in a guest appearance on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in 1957, which paved the way for a fondly-remembered recurring guest spot as "Countess Framboise," aka Rosie Harrigan, on Lucille Ball's second series, The Lucy Show, in 1965.

While the 1960's were a busy time for Sothern, with a flurry of television guest spots and the occasional film role (most memorably as the doomed hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold in Olivia de Havilland's 1964 trash classic, Lady in a Cage), the 1970's and 1980's were relatively quiet. The quintessential show biz trouper had one last hurrah in The Whales of August (1987), a feature film also starring fellow legends Lillian Gish, Bette Davis and Vincent Price. Sothern earned her very first Oscar nomination, as Best Supporting Actress, for her work. She spent the rest of her life in happy retirement in Idaho, where her daughter resided. Ann Sothern passed away, at age 92, on March 15, 2001.

January 22, 1909 - March 15, 2001

"Good night . . . and stay happy."


  1. she was beautiful! wow.. i'm adding that movie The Whales of August to my netflix queue right NOW! Thanks!

  2. You just made me remember why I love her so.

  3. One of my favorites. In so many half-baked film comedies she always shone bright. The Maisie films are often ridiculous but always delightful. I love in CONGO MAISIE when she suddenly appears in full sequined regalia to scare away the natives by singing "St. Louis Woman" -- madness!

  4. I loved when Lucy would fall all over herself for the Countess.

    I have A letter to Three Wives on DVD. Just watched it the other day. Linda Darnell is pretty awesome too.

  5. I remember her from The Ann Sothern Show (must have been re-runs!), which aired back-to-back with The Bob Cummings Show. And I LOVED "Letter to Three Wives." Still remember the scene where Sothern is obsessively worrying a thought in her head--wondering if it's her husband that's unfaithful--and the drip-drip-drip of the water faucet joins in and amplifies her anxiety nightmarishly.

  6. Have you seen her in Blue Gardenia?
    Though she wasn't exactly the central character (that honor went to Anne Baxter) she raised the level of
    every scene she was in. Marvelous actress, one of the
    best. And one of most underrated~ except for enlightened folks like TJB and his merry band.


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