Tribute By Monica Sullivan
More than any other Golden Age actress, Ann Sothern was in love with the present every day of her long life. She began as Harriet Lake in a 1929 Warner Bros. musical, the first of 16 she would make through 1950's "Nancy Goes To Rio" at MGM. She had a musical voice even when she wasn't singing, kind eyes, a glowing personality & beauty, which she always seemed to downplay. By being a wise soul & a good sport, she undoubtedly prolonged her career by adjusting to every new trend with humor & enthusiasm. When musicals laid an egg at the box office, she switched to comedies, & later, to dramas & mysteries.
An MGM series planned for Jean Harlow was sidelined when she died on June 7, 1937. The following year both Joan Bennett & Ann Sothern made a splash in Tay Garnett's "Trade Winds," Bennett for evolving into a sophisticated brunette after nearly a decade as a pale blonde ingenue, & Sothern for her snappy delivery of witty dialogue. Louis B. Mayer had found his replacement for Harlow & Sothern was cast as "Maisie" in her very next film. There were 10 "Maisie" episodes over the next 8 years & Sothern stayed the course by being a sweetheart with bite. She took no nonsense from anyone, was impervious to wolves, loved guys she could help in some way, was a great friend to other women: Who wouldn't want "Maisie" around?
When the studio system collapsed, Sothern adjusted, but not before a big screen splash that electrified 1949 audiences. She played a radio writer married to teacher Kirk Douglas & trying to juggle the demands of her difficult employer with the wounded feelings of her sensitive husband. He loves their marriage, her job & everything about her, he just wants someone in his corner when the clod who employs her insults his lack of ambition. It was different for a movie to look at three interesting, but very different marriages in "A Letter To 3 Wives" before the family became a model of dull comformity throughout the 50's, 60's, 70's & 80'5. Maybe that's why Sothern chose to be Susie McNamara, "Private Secretary" & Katy O'Connor, Assistant Hotel Manager in "The Ann Sothern Show." The two comedies ran for seven years between 1953 & 1961. She worked with Don Porter in both series & was nominated for an Emmy five times. Oscar recognition was coming, too, although she was in her late 70's when she received her only nomination for Lindsay Anderson's "THE WHALES OF AUGUST," in which her daughter, Tisha Sterling, also appeared. Even when we see Sothern in creaky, badly dated vehicles, her work & she never date. That's partly because she always worked hard at being a real actress, but also because she herself was the genuine article.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 3/22/01
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