I recently saw a Gary Cooper/ Anne Sheridan picture called GOOD SAM (1948), directed by Leo McCarey (who gave us DUCK SOUP (1933), THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), and many others). The picture was in line with Cooper’s everyman image, with tender moments reading the children bedtime stories. The picture is filled with “Capra like” laughter and folksy humour; both literally and figuratively. I was surprised by onscreen TCM host Robert Osbourne’s comment that the picture was not a success when released. Anne Sheridan felt that there was no chemistry between her and Cooper on screen in spite of her ability to achieve this with people like Cagney, Flynn and Bogart. The public sensed this and apparently stayed away in droves. I enjoyed the picture for what it was worth as I am a big fan of Anne Sheridan.
The ‘Oomph’ girl as we know in my opinion is a vastly underrated performer of that time. She was the lucky elusive Hollywood dream personified having won a local beauty contest prize of a bit part in a film in native Texas. She was never a huge star yet always gave some very credible performances in pictures like THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1938), TORRID ZONE (1940), ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938), and NORA PRENTIS S (1947) and the seldom seen JUKE GIRL (1942) with Ronald Reagan. She was also a popular pin up girl in the 1940’s.
You cannot teach how to act still nor can you teach how to act with your eyes yet Anne Sheridan had this ability in spades. She had that voice that could deliver the wise cracking dialogue but be tender. She was equally at home in a Western or a boarding house comedy yet she never achieved huge stardom. Sheridan was a face in the films having the ability to work steadily for years.
I recently viewed an episode of Pistols and Petticoats, the 1966 Western Comedy series by the creators of THE MUNSTERS that Sheridan was working at the time of her death. It’s not a pretty sight to see her at that time mind you the camera does it best to accentuate what is left of her once startling face. She is noticeably gaunt yet she carries herself well and her eyes are still there, flashing and smiling.
One other person of that style that I am currently enjoying now is the work of Anne Sothern. My first memory of her is a recurring role on THE LUCY SHOW as “Countess Framboise,” whom Gale Gordon’s Mr. Mooney would bend over backwards to please.
I am finding the series of Maise films she did in the early forties a pleasure to watch even if the stories are often silly with many of the same plot devices repeated. This is a first exposure for me to Sothern’s talents and the Maise series is a showcase for romantic comedy, rapid fire dialogue, mistaken identity, hearts broken and healed plus the ever popular song and dance. Scanning Sothern’s career you find it is wide and varied with film extra work to her own television series. Sothern was fortunate to have aged gracefully into roles as the media and times changed yet she was like Anne Sheridan, never a big star.
This brings to mind the ‘acting chops’ in today’s film and television world of generic personalities. The mechanics of acting can be taught, a process can be instilled to achieve something yet the intangible talent is elusive. Anne Sheridan, Anne Sothern and countless others are like treasures that you can experience again and again. That ‘spark’ that happens between people on screen and on stage cannot be made to happen; it simply happens.