“I can whistle through my fingers, bulldog a steer, light a fire with two sticks, shoot a pistol with fair accuracy, set type and teach school.” So boasted Clara Lou Sheridan of Denton, Texas, known to the world as Ann Sheridan, glamour girl.
Clara Lou grew up a tomboy, playing touch football, and taking on bullies twice her size. When she was 17, Clara's older sister enrolled her in a national contest, publicity for Paramount's upcoming movie, “Search for Beauty.” Clara was one of 30 finalists who got to go to Hollywood for a screen test. She changed her name to Ann in 1935.
Her career didn't really take off until a 1939 publicity stunt by Warner's, her home studio since the mid-1930's, named her the “Oomph Girl.” Shortly thereafter, she became one of the most popular pin-up girls of the 40's. Although the nickname brought her more attention from the public, she loathed the name, saying, “Just being known by a nickname indicates that you're not thought of as a true actress...it's just crap!”
Ann was a true actress, with great range, and fought to show it. She was placed on suspensions several times by the studio for refusing assignments, and sat out most of 1946. Two events, a writers strike and the expiration of he contract with Warner's, gave her leverage to bargain. In the end she was given a six-movie deal, script approval and more money. The first film of the deal was “Nora Prentiss.”
As her movie career slowed down, Ann moved to television, performing live on anthology series, and joining the cast of NBC's “Another World.” She was starring in the first and only season of the Western sitcom “Pistols and Petticoats” when she died of esophageal cancer on January 21, 1967, at the age of 51.
What to watch:
“King's Row” (1942): One of Ann's best known parts is that of tomboy Randy Monahan in the movie based on Henry Bellamann's best-selling novel about “the town they talk of in whispers.” The all-star cast includes Ronald Reagan as Drake McHugh, arguably his best role. The all-star cast includes Robert Cummings, Betty Field, Harry Davenport and Charles Coburn.
“George Washington Slept Here” (1942): Ann costars as Jack Benny's wife in this comedy about the trials a city couple experience renovating an old home in the country. Originally a stage play, Jack Benny insisted that one of the stage actors be brought to Hollywood for the movie version. That character actor was Percy Kilbride. Ann and Jack were barely able to get through a scene with Percy without laughing; Jack finally began going without sleep at night so he'd be too tired to laugh on set. Ann was given many opportunities to show her skill in comedy, but this is one of her best.