Author Ray Hagen, who has contributed to film publications such as Films in Review and Screen Facts, has kindly consented to answer a few questions about Ann Sheridan for Alt Film Guide.
In Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames (McFarland, 2004), which Hagen co-wrote with Laura Wagner, he devotes one chapter to Sheridan, whom he befriended in the 1960s. (Sheridan is the Killer Tomato on the cover.) Additionally, Hagen and Wagner are currently working on an Ann Sheridan biographical project. Anyone with information, leads, or tips on Ann Sheridan, please contact Ray Hagen at hagenray at earthlink dot net or Laura Wagner at whitingfan at yahoo dot com.
For the record: The 15 Killer Tomatoes are Lucille Ball, Lynn Bari, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Gloria Grahame, Jean Hagen, Adele Jergens, Ida Lupino, Marilyn Maxwell, Mercedes McCambridge, Jane Russell (who wrote the book's foreword), Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, Claire Trevor, and Marie Windsor.
You're currently working on a project about actress Ann Sheridan. Why Ann Sheridan?
Because she's among the most neglected and unappreciated actresses of her time and I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it. Plus I adored her, on screen and off.
Ann Sheridan underwent a long apprenticeship in the 1930s and early 1940s, going from extra to bit player to minor supporting player to major supporting player to lead in B-movies to second lead in A-productions to leading lady to – finally – star. Why did it take her so long to become an established player in Hollywood films?
That was true of many stars back then. Rita Hayworth toiled in Bs and bits for 6 years, and Betty Grable for 10 years, before their star potential became evident. In Annie's case it was a combination of reasons. Paramount and Warners did mishandle her, but it also took her awhile to hone her skills and develop her distinctive persona. (And, as she told me, “it takes years to develop a face on the screen.”)
She also correctly noted that “any executive or producer who didn't know me, had never worked with me or seen me work with a good director, would say, 'Oh my God, not a beauty contest winner! Oh, not the Oomph Girl!' Between the two I think it certainly was a hindrance to my getting good parts, or better parts.” Warners mostly gave her junk, but when she got the rare good script she always rose to the occasion.
Ann Sheridan was a Warner Bros. star in the 1940s. What was it like for her to work at the studio where Bette Davis ruled supreme? Were there many roles that Sheridan wanted but that ended up being played by Davis or Ida Lupino?
Annie hugely admired Bette Davis and never resented her Queen of the Lot position, nor did she consider herself to be in Bette's league. But she was well aware that there was a fierce amount of competition at Warners during her star years there, and it wasn't just Davis. Consider that Sheridan, Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Lauren Bacall, Jane Wyman, Olivia de Havilland, Alexis Smith, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Eleanor Parker were all at Warners at [about] the same time. Competition there was a way of life. The pictures she really wanted to do were made at other studios, and Warners refused to loan her out.
Did Ann Sheridan have a favorite film and/or director and/or co-star? How did she get along with her WB co-stars James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, and Dennis Morgan? In addition to Bette Davis in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
Her favorite of all her films was definitely Kings Row [above, with Ronald Reagan].
Among her favorite directors she named Norman Taurog [for whom she appeared in bit parts in two 1934 productions, College Rhythm and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch], Sam Wood [who directed her in Kings Row], Mitchell Leisen [for whom she appeared in bit parts in three 1934 productions, Behold My Wife, Bolero, and Murder at the Vanities], Henry Hathaway [for whom she appeared in a bit part in one more 1934 movie, Come on Marines], and Alfred Hitchcock [with whom she never worked].
In her words, regarding James Cagney and Pat O'Brien: “They raised me. I was a brat running around who they could pick on. I was certainly fond of them and they seemed pretty fond of me. All the people on the lot were pretty wonderful, we all got along.”
Regarding John Garfield: “John Garfield was a dear man. He was like the little guy who brought the apple for the teacher.”
[She] loved Humphrey Bogart, loved Errol Flynn.
Here's what she had to say about Bette Davis: “I think she was conditioned at the time to remain angry at Miriam Hopkins and think that anybody on the set was going to fight with her. I wouldn't fight with her at all. I agreed with her, with everything she said. Then she got very nice and today we're very friendly. She was just – temperamental? Who isn't temperamental? I'm as temperamental as all get-out if I feel I have to be. All of us had the greatest admiration for her. She was the queen, one of my greatest, greatest favorites. They always tried to start a feud between Bette and me, the Warner publicity boys. You never know who plants it.”
She did plenty of comedies, but none anywhere near as good as I Was a Male War Bride. When I asked her why she didn't team with Grant again she told me, “We tried to. We were going to make sequels. We talked to Mr. Hawks about it quite often, but there was just nothing that could come up to Male War Bride. We just never found another good comedy, that's all. It's a sin and a shame too, because I think we should have done two or three.”
I couldn't have agreed more.
Why did Ann Sheridan's film career peter out in the 1950s?
Because after Warners, when she was freelancing, she committed the one sin Hollywood could never forgive actresses for – she turned 40. And there was an entire generation of younger stars by then. All the stars who began in the 1930s had a rough time in the 50s. It's still true today.
Ann Sheridan did quite a bit of TV work in the 1950s and 1960s. What was that like? Did she also appear onstage?
She enjoyed doing TV. Regarding the rushed TV rehearsal and shooting schedules (as opposed to the luxurious feature film schedules), her technique was, as she put it, “I just visualize the page in my head, and when they stop talking, I talk.” She did stage tours of Kind Sir in 1958 and Odd Man In (“an atrocity!”) in 1959, and appeared in The Time of Your Life at the Brussels World Fair in '58. In all three she co-starred with future husband Scott McKay. [McKay was Ann Sheridan's third husband (from 1966 to her death in Jan. 1967). Sheridan had previously been married to actors Edward Norris (1936-1939) and George Brent (1942-1943).]
On-screen, Ann Sheridan was humorous, warm, decisive, smart. What sort of person was the off-screen Ann Sheridan?
Humorous, warm, decisive, smart. Exactly as she seemed to be in the movies, a great laugher without a trace of star ego. When I first met her I was in my twenties and was totally awed. After the second or third time I addressed her as “Miss Sheridan,” she slowly smiled, leveled that riveting no-bullshit gaze on me and said, “Look, please, call me Annie, because I'm much too old to call you Mr. Hagen.”