Ann Sothern, popular movie star during the 1930s and ’40s whose wise-cracking comedic flair also brought her into millions of homes during the 1950s as a TV star, died March 15 of heart failure at her Ketchum, Idaho home. She was 92.
Sothern was nominated for an Oscar late in her career when she played the neighbor of Lillian Gish and Bette Davis in “The Whales of August” (1987). When Davis heard she was cast, Davis said “She’s a good actress; she could steal the picture.”
A multitalented actress equally at home in musicals and dramatic films, she also rivaled Lucille Ball during the 1950s as a top TV comedienne with her hit series “The Ann Sothern Show” which ran from 1953 to 1961.
Sothern was born Harriette Lake in Valley City, North Dakota. She became a leading ingenue on Broadway in Ziegfeld’s “Smiles,” Rodgers and Hart’s “America’s Sweetheart” and the national touring company of Gershwin’s “Of Thee I Sing.”
Harry Cohn signed her to a studio contract in 1934, changed her name to Ann Sothern and starred her in Columbia’s “Let’s Fall in Love.” That same year she was loaned to Goldwyn, where she co-starred with Eddie Cantor in the hit musical “Kid Millions.”
Moving to MGM in 1939, she achieved a new level of popularity portraying the street-smart blonde heroine in the comedy-adventure “Maisie” series, in which she starred 10 times in eight years.
During the 1940s she demonstrated her musical ability in such musicals as “Panama Hattie” and “Lady Be Good,” in which she sang the Oscar-winning tune “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (1942), and showed undeniable dramatic depth in “Cry Havoc” (1943) and “A Letter to Three Wives” (1949).
In 1948 she starred in “April Showers” for Warner Bros. and a few years later established herself as a television star. She continued in theater, film and TV through the 1980s.
In 1975, she was seriously injured onstage but persevered and returned to performing.
Sothern was twice divorced, from actor-musician Roger Pryor and actor Robert Sterling.
She is survived by her daughter, actress-designer Tisha Sterling, a granddaughter and a sister.