Actress, comedian, musician and all-around entrepreneur, Ann Sothern wore many hats in her lifetime. In her time in the entertainment industry, Sothern appeared in about 120 projects cutting across stage productions, radio, television, and film. Heralded in many circles as one of the best comediennes of her time, the native of North Dakota is the picture of perseverance; she battled everything from illnesses to on-set accidents but still managed to live out an illustrious career spanning six decades.
Sothern is most known for her portrayal of showgirl Maisie Ravier in the Maisie movie franchise that spanned ten films from 1939 to 1947. She is also known for her involvement in sitcoms like The Ann Sothern Show and Private Secretary. The actress has two stars in her honour on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sothern retired in 1987 after her last movie The Whales of August.
Who Was Ann Sothern?
The actress was born Harriette Arlene Lake in Valley City, North Dakota as the first of the three children of her parents Walter J. Lake and Annette Yde. As a kid growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ann took a liking to music, thanks to her mother’s occupation as a concert singer. By the time she was 14, Sothern had trained extensively in the areas of voice and she was also a music and piano composer.
After her high school education, Ann moved to Seattle where she enrolled in the University of Washington. She dropped out after completing her freshman year and subsequently moved to California where she began her acting career, signing a six-month contract with MGM. After leaving MGM, she moved to New York where she played leading roles in Broadway projects like America’s Sweetheart and Everybody’s Welcome.
After a stint with Columbia Pictures and RKO Radio Pictures, she was recalled by MGM to portray the lead role Maisie Ravier in 1939’s Maisie. The film was a massive success and brought her much needed recognition. Ann Sothern got her own radio show The Adventures of Maisie which started airing on CBS in 1945. She was also involved in the film readaptation of the Broadway production Panama Hattie. Apart from a few movies like Cry “Havoc” (1943) and April Showers (1948), the 1940s were a relatively slow period for the actress’s career and saw her show up mostly on her Maisie movies.
As a means of reviving her waning career, the actress turned towards television productions. In 1953, she started playing Susan Camille in the sitcom Private Secretary. She fulfilled the role in four seasons of the series but fell out with the producer at the start of the fifth. Sothern received four Primetime Emmy nominations during her time on the show.
She starred on The Ann Sothern Show starting in 1958 and the series clinched a Golden Globe award the following year for “Best Comedy or Musical Television Series”.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the actress continued to appear on television and film projects. These included The Best Man (1964); Lady in a Cage (1965); My Mother the Car (1965 – 1966); and The Killing Kind (1973). She called time on her career with 1987’s drama, The Whales of August, where she played Tisha Doughty. This movie gave Ann her first and only Academy Award nomination.
Throughout her eventful career, the actress received a total of ten award nominations, with one of them culminating in a win. She also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; the first on 1612 Vine Street for motion picture, and the second on 1634 Vine Street for her television work.
Ann Sothern also owned and managed several business ventures and production companies. These included Ann Sothern Sewing Center, A Bar S Cattle Company, Vincent Productions, and Anso Productions. She also released her first studio album Sothern Experience in 1958 under her music company, A Bar S Music Company.
The Idaho native grew up in a time when actors weren’t paid asinine amounts of money the way they are in more recent times. However, for her nearly sixty years of service to the industry, Sothern managed to make some good bucks for herself. Factor in her several businesses, her music venture, and her acting career and it will justify why many online sources set her net worth at $16 million.
Ann Sothern’s Spouse and Kids
Sothern first found love in the arms of actor and musician Roger Pryor. The couple tied the knot in September 1936. Sadly, they couldn’t keep the union together for long and in September 1941, they separated. Ann filed for divorce early the following year and by May 1943, the divorce proceedings were done and the marriage was officially ended. The actress didn’t have any children with Roger.
Sothern did not waste any time to find love again. Barely a week after the dissolution of her first marriage, she walked down the aisle with another actor, Robert Sterling. Ann would again see her marriage end after a few years. The couple split in March 1949. During their time together, Ann had one child, a daughter with Sterling. They named her Patricia Ann “Tisha” Sterling.
The blue-eyed blonde actress was not on the big side. She stood at a petite height of 5 feet 1 inch (156 cm) and maintained a weight of 60 kg (132 lb). The actress, during her active days, had a bust size of 35 inches (89 cm); waist size of 26.5 inches (66 cm); and hip size of 36 inches (91.4 cm).
Setbacks and Death
The actress’s career wasn’t always smooth sailing. In 1949, shortly after she completed work on A Letter to Three Wives (1949), she travelled to England where she was involved in the production of one of her plays. While here, she was given a serum to prevent infection but it was later discovered after she contracted infectious hepatitis, that the serum was impure. This led to MGM terminating the contract she had with them at the time while the actress battled the disease for three years confined to her bed.
While on a set of production in 1974, Ann Sothern suffered a severe injury when one of the props – a fake tree – fell on her from behind. She sustained a fractured lumbar vertebra and nerve damage in her legs. She was hospitalized and subsequently had to wear back braces. During her recuperation, Sothern gained weight and battled depression. She would eventually recover but experienced numbness in her feet and had to walk with a cane for the rest of her life.
After her last movie in 1987, the actress retired to her home in Ketchum, Idaho, where she died of a heart attack on March 15, 2001, at the age of 92.