Ann Sheridan --- Part Two
Periods of suspension could be weeks or months in hell, particularly when your employer was Warner Bros. Ann Sheridan recalled that during such periods, others on the studio payroll were instructed to ignore the outcast --- it was like having rabies minus foam around your mouth. The money faucet was cut off as well, and then as now, folks lived from check to check. Stars with hungry familial mouths to feed were quickly brought to heel --- Davis and Bogart were two who could ill afford to remain outside studio gates for long. Suck-up Hollywood columnists would always side with bosses --- it was all too easy to tar recalcitrant stars with the ingratitude brush. Who do these pampered, overpaid crybabies think they are, wanting more money while the rest of us are getting by on a fraction of what they make? Eventually you were either starved out or shamed into submission. Not that movie stars were the best judge of material --- Ann Sheridan turned down Mildred Pierce, and I can well envision her standing in front of her vanity mirror repeating Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! on Joan’s Oscar night. The bad had it over the good about two to one by the forties (her calculation was right on that score) --- there was Edge Of Darkness, which was good (here’s she and Flynn taking a break from that one), Navy Blues which wasn’t --- and then she says no to The Strawberry Blonde, so there were miscalculations on both sides. Late-in-life Raoul Walsh remembered the drinking she and Flynn had done on Silver River, and that helped run the negative up to $3.2 million, impossible to get back for a black-and-white western with two stars past their prime. Cessation of hostilities meant cessation of Sheridan’s wartime following. People just weren’t going to movies like they used to, let alone to see her. Buying her way out of Warners, she had to face the encroachment of age (on Sheridan, the mid-thirties looked to be at least that plus ten more), and an unemployment line filled with one-time contract names now on their uppers.
The free lance route had some potholes. I Was A Male War Bride was a nice break, but the move to Universal found her diving headfirst into a dry percentage well. It had flowed for the big names --- James Stewart had his legendary share of the gross for doing Winchester ’73 in 1950, then Tyrone Power netted over three quarters of a million for his piece of The Mississippi Gambler in 1953. Maybe those guys had better accountants watching the U-I books on their behalf, or perhaps it was just the fact that they were James Stewart and Tyrone Power and thus commanded greater respect. All Ann Sheridan got was a lot of big-money promises (toward getting her to forfeit up-front money) and four indifferent pictures of which only one paid out (Universal finally had to, she said later). She got her fee for Come Next Spring before the cameras turned, but producer/star Steve Cochran didn’t, and he’d chase Republic bookkeepers round and round for several years before finally giving up. This may be Sheridan’s best fifties work. Its latter-day obscurity is undeserved, for this is one beautiful slice of Americana. I didn’t know until reading Annie’s interview that Cochran had masterminded it --- and here I was thinking old Steve was good for nothing except cuckolding Dana Andrews and trying to bump off Jim Cagney (and both times for the sake of Virginia Mayo!). According to Sheridan, Republic made no effort toward good bookings for Come Next Spring, as they didn’t own it outright, so down it sank like a stone. Good luck seeing it now.
What’s an aging actress to do in the sixties other than Summer stock, horror films, or soap operas? Annie missed out on the shockers, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. She was happy enough to do one (or more), but no offers came her way, other than preliminary feelers for Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but what actress of a certain age wasn’t considered (and eventually passed over) after Crawford took her powder? Sheridan was one of those who’d work round the clock if they’d let her. Another World at NBC was a mid-sixties address, and she happily rose at 4 a.m. to drive into Brooklyn for tapings. Stage work was a grind she didn’t mind; though she was wary of shark promoters anxious to trade on her name and run her through tank towns for a fast buck. Summer stock marathons tried her trouper patience when she found herself sharing footlights with local amateurs barely conversant with dialogue and likely as not to fall asleep on their cues. It must have been some thrill for a community player in Podunk to trod boards with Ann Sheridan, but it sure as hell wasn’t doing Ann Sheridan any favors --- that plus Howard-Johnson’s and blue plate specials --- she had to love her craft to endure this. By all accounts, she did indeed. Even when cancer took hold in 1966, she managed a series for CBS called Pistols n’ Petticoats, which Sheridan did despite the pain --- she died January 21, 1967.
A note on these stills, and a few of Ann Sheridan’s observations on the films. She said Cary Grant ended up winging much of his dialogue for I Was A Male War Bride, and pretty much ran the show as far as their shared comedy bits (not that Sheridan minded --- she knew it would help). Good Sam was a snake-bit pairing with Gary Cooper. She got along with him, but knew they had not one drop of chemistry. Funny how that can happen even when two actors as good as these get together. Nora Prentiss was a Warners effort to shoehorn Annie into a Mildred Pierce knock-off, but maybe she was better suited to a lighter touch, like the one she employed with Jack Benny in George Washington Slept Here. Did I read somewhere that these two had an off-screen dalliance during that one? Yeah, I think I did! Anyway, The Doughgirls with Charlie Ruggles, Jane Wyman, and Alexis Smith was one of those "bad" ones she talked about in the interview, but she loved working with Wyman and Smith. Women seemed to get along with Sheridan. She wasn't into the tooth-and-claw thing --- even Bette Davis calmed down on The Man Who Came To Dinner once she realized Annie had no interest in a rivalry. One odd postscript --- she raised and sold poodles (as in dogs) for over ten years (1948-59) in partnership with a vet friend. Profits were minimal as she kept giving the animals away to people she liked. Good-hearted woman. Nice writing about one of those.
That pioneering career article with Ann Sheridan was conducted by writer Ray Hagen and appeared first in Screen Facts magazine (Issue 14 --- published 1966). It has since been reprinted in an excellent collection of essays, Killer Tomatoes: 15 Tough Film Dames, which covers actresses of the Classic Era, including Sheridan, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Gloria Grahame, and many others. Highly recommended!