Ann Southern (1909 - 2001) was an astonishing 92 year old in 2001, and the MAISIE series shows her dazzling personality close up!
by David "Tex" Allen, January 2, 2014
I screened MAISIE (1939) starring Ann Southern and many memories of seeing the incredible star of that movie over the years of my life (I turn 70 in 16 days!) returned. The memories were/are all pleasurable.
The late Ann Southern (1909 - 2001) was born Harriet Lake in North Dakota and died at age 92 in Idaho. Not a typical Hollywood movie star, but really.....who is or ever was! Movie stars are all like snow flakes, every one different and distinctly unique (to be redundant intentionally....emphasizes my point!).
Her only child, actress Tisha Sterling (c. 1948 - ), is about my age (I was born in 1944), and starred with young Clint Eastwood in one of his early 1960's hits titled COOGAN'S BLUFF (1969). Tisha played a hippie girl.....I also spent some time (not much) as sort of a hippie in NYC during the 1967 "Summer Of Love." Ann Southern's daughter did a good job in COOGAN'S BLUFF, and I watch that movie often when I want to remember hippie NYC in the 1960's.
The electric Ann Southern is best revealed in MAISIE (1939) and other movies in that series which went on until 1947.
The MAISIE series was a "B" movie effort always made cheaply, and which depended on the dazzling and wonderful and always interesting (and oddly sexy......tiny girls only 5'1" tall are usually not sex stars) Ann Southern.
It is a pleasure to sit back and watch Ann "do it," like a sure fire Al Jolson type stage entertainer so packed with predictably crowd pleasing electricity, the audience was always happy, the performances always a success.
Ann Southern was the quintessential performing artist......AND....pay attention....she lived to a VERY old age, She might have lived another 10 years to age 102 if she hadn't lived in Idaho in her 90's, rather than, say LA Calif. or NYC.
Smart lady, and it shows in the MAISIE (1939) movie which is all about Ann Southern at age 30 being magnetic in a "B" movie and stuck with dull but reliable Robert Young as a leading man/ straight man (latter cast as Marcus Welby, M.D., and FATHER'S KNOWS BEST's leading man father......two likable but dull and predictable guys people could rely on).
I admire movie stars who make it into old age....girls mostly like Kate Hepburn, Lillian Gish, Gloria Stuart, others who got past age 90....and very few males...Bob Hope, George Burns, Eli Wallach. Woody Allen is not yet 80 in 2014, but is sure to make it past 90.....both his parents lived past 90 and his Dad made it to age 100.
Ann Southern was 18 when she did her first silent movie extra work, and her stardom period began in 1939 when she was 30 with MAISIE (1939.....the most important year in the history of Hollywood movies, maybe any movies!).
She got to MGM in 1939 after work with other studios during the late 1920's and 1930's.
At MGM, she was given the lead in a "B" comedy about a brassy, energetic showgirl --originally intended for Jean Harlow (who had just died, and thus couldn't "do" the role)--that wound up becoming a huge hit and spawned a series of sequels that ran until 1947.
Ann also appeared in such well received features as Brother Orchid (1940), Cry 'Havoc' (1943) and A Letter to Three Wives (1949). After 1950 the roles dried up and Ann turned to television and another hit series, playing the meddlesome Susie in the 1953 series Private Secretary (1953). I remember seeing this show on black and white TV when I was 9 years old.....
By the 1950's, Southern had gained a lot of weight, and always wore solid black dresses which de-emphasized her portly body, and showed off her always lovely, interesting, and reliably beautiful face.
Being fat in her middle age didn't stop her from being one of the biggest TV stars of the 1950's...the rightly labeled "Golden Age Of Television."
The PRIVATE SECRETARY series was canceled in 1957 and Ann came back in The Ann Sothern Show (1958), which ran from 1958 to 1961.
In 1987, when Ann Southern was 78 years old (!), she would be nominated for an Academy Award for her role as the neighbor of Lillian Gish and Bette Davis in The Whales of August (1987).
Both her co-stars were older than Ann in this famous movie starring geezer pre-WWII movie star actresses (Gish had starred in BIRTH OF A NATION in 1915!).
Ann Southern's famous words about her co-stars in "The Whales of August" (1987) were "Lillian is a person first and then a movie star. Bette is a movie star." (Compliment about Lillian Gish, bad review of Bette Davis, in case you can't read between the lines).
RIP, Ann Southern (aka Harriet Lake of both North Dakota and Idaho!).
You were one of the best of the best and the MAISIE (1939) movie proves it......among other movies and TV shows you did (and songs you sang....Ann sung THE LAST TIME I SAW Paris in a 1941 movie which song got the Best Song Academy Award in 1941, thanks importantly to Ann!).