Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sothern Style

Sothern (r.) with longtime pal Lucille Ball.
Happy birthday to the woman Lucille Ball herself called "the best comedian in this business, bar none" -- movie, TV, and radio star Ann Sothern, born January 22, 1909 in Valley City, North Dakota. A popular movie performer of the 1930s and 1940s, she launched a successful television career with her sitcom Private Secretary (1953-57), which depicted the life of a working woman long before Mary Tyler Moore's classic show. As Ann told an interviewer in 1954, "When we first started the [series] I nearly collapsed after nine days. We tried to shoot three films in that time ... Now we do one a week, and the pace is still terrific. It's grueling, exacting and demanding -- but I love it."

After four years of Secretary, Ann returned to weekly television in 1958, playing Katy O'Connor, assistant manager of a New York City hotel, in CBS' The Ann Sothern Show. That series never became a Top Ten hit, but ran until 1961 and was seen afterwards in syndicated reruns. Perhaps Ann's most notorious role found her providing the voice of an antique automobile in NBC's short-lived My Mother the Car (1965-66). Late in life, she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her final film, 1987's The Whales of August. After a long and productive life, she died on March 15, 2001 at her home in Idaho.

You can read more about Ann in my book The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Go to YouTube to see Ann and her pal Lucy working together on a 1959 episode of The Ann Sothern Show.

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