Monday Glamour Starter --- Ann Sheridan --- Part One
Ann Sheridan may have had too much "oomph" for her own good. Like so many pretty faces, she suffered the indifference of studio bosses who assumed she couldn’t act, or felt her profit potential could best be served with grass skirts and evening gowns. She had to ride out a lot of bad pictures at Warners, or as she more accurately put it, I had to give them two bad ones for every good one they gave me. Sheridan had a wry appreciation for the absurdity of stardom, which was borne out of a stable upbringing and sensible values. Nobody ever got to beat her up or steal her money. She only made it to 51, but she'd come by more wisdom in that short time than most of her contemporaries ever would. Annie might have been another Bette Davis had it not been for Bette Davis. How do you get decent parts when the Queen Of The Lot cherry picks them all? According to Sheridan, any script that came to her bore Bette’s paw prints, and everyone from Jack Warner and Hal Wallis on down knew that meaty roles were wasted on oomph girls anyway (Ida Lupino was another Warner actress obliged to make do on Davis’ leavings). King’s Row may have been actor’s Heaven for Annie and the entire ensemble cast, but that was a real anomaly --- most of the screen work she did benefited her leading men far more than Sheridan.
Having come up by way of beauty pageants, Sheridan understood too well hopes that can be dashed against those studio walls. Her own Paramount contract, at $50 per week, was the result of winning a "Search For Beauty" contest cynically conducted by the studio as a means of garnering cheap local publicity. Young people from all around the country were drawn into the hope-for-stardom net, and it captured Sheridan in Texas, where she’d been raised. Thirty-three boys and girls were awarded the time-honored Free Trip To Hollywood, but only six would remain. Sheridan described their routine in a mid-sixties interview in which she reminisced about life at Paramount in the mid-thirties. Most days were spent filling extra spots --- bits if you were lucky --- standing in for someone’s hands or feet perhaps (or a Randy Scott western, as seen here in 1935’s Rocky Mountain Mystery). There was a "stock company" for the youngsters --- they’d put on plays for lot producers and front-office types who’d size them up for more substantive work. The group picture shown here includes Ann Sheridan on the right, Ida Lupino fifth from the right, and the one cast member with screen experience, Larry "Buster" Crabbe, fourth from the left. The play was The Double Door, and most of these youngsters would be sent packing within a few months. Out of the six contract winners in the "Search For Beauty" contest, Ann Sheridan would be the only one to achieve stardom. As to the rest, we can only speculate. Julian Madison, Colin Tapley, Gwenllian Gill, Alfred Delcambre, Eldred Tidbury --- what became of them? Did they go back to their (no doubt) small towns and sell insurance? Teach school, drama classes perhaps? People only remember the winners --- here I am writing about one of them --- but wouldn’t it be great to hear Colin’s story, or Eldred’s? I’d sure like to know what Gwenllian’s homecoming was like. All that build-up and expectation. I’ll bet a lot of them never went back home at all. It would have been just too painful.
Perhaps on the theory that oomph girls needed less to eat, Warners paid Sheridan just $700 a week, even after she’d hit the big time following several years servitude in "B’s." Paramount had let her go, and a resourceful agent got her on at WB. From this point, she’d at least have billing for everything she did, however low. The glamour quotient was low too --- mostly she was a wife or girlfriend --- put upon and pointing the way toward the villain’s whereabouts (as in Black Legion, shown here). Her lot was no worse than anyone else’s, and maybe it was conditions on the Warner lot that made her sad girl performances so convincing. Angels With Dirty Faces found her beaten down by the streets as usual, but this time it was opposite Cagney (shown here), and they had something together --- or maybe he just made all the leading ladies opposite him look good. Any doubts about their teamwork would be removed with Torrid Zone --- she’s the only Howard Hawks woman to appear in a movie not directed by Howard Hawks --- she and Cagney played more seriously to City For Conquest, and yes, it’s overwrought at times, but when the power’s on in this one, it delivers a shock (Googie’s death scene as enacted by Elia Kazan --- priceless!). Her bawdy dialogue with George Raft in They Drive By Night traded on the massive publicity garnered by the "oomph" label, all well and good for a Raoul Walsh action show, but Warners was selling King’s Row the same way, emphasizing Sheridan’s newly minted sex image with atrociously lurid ads. Bad pictures and poor wages led to rebellion, suspension, the usual Warner Bros. saga --- then independence, television, summer stock, and soap operas to follow --- all subjects for tomorrow’s Part 2.