Saying Goodbye to Another Acting Great

Veteran actress Ann Sothern died of heart failure late Friday at the age of 92.

Sothern worked in show business for more than 70 years — from B-movies to a television star to an Oscar-nominated performance in the 1987 The Whales of August.

Born Harriette Lake in Valley City, North Dakota, in 1909, Sothern started her career singing on stage until she was spotted by Columbia Pictures. They signed her on as a bit player in 1934, and she eventually changed her name and worked her way into lead roles in B-movies.

But her big break came when she was cast as the lead in MGM’s 1939 Maisie, about a spirited showgirl and her adventures — a part that was originally written for Jean Harlow. It became a huge success for the studio, and they went on to make nine more Maisie films, turning Sothern into a household name and creating one of MGM’s most successful film series.

Displaying a true talent for playing strong, independent women, Sothern turn her sights on the small screen, creating two hit television series in the 1950s, Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show, which ran until 1961. Sothern was the first working woman to appear in a situation comedy. She was nominated for five Emmys for the two shows, which she also produced, and she won a Golden Globe.

After the TV series went off the air, Sothern went into semi-retirement, but she came back into the spotlight in 1987 when she starred in The Whales of August with Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. Sothern received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance as the cheery neighbor who must play peacemaker between the two sisters, played by Gish and Davis, who live next door to her.

Sothern, who was married twice, once to the actor-musician Roger Pryor and once to actor Robert Sterling, is survived by a daughter and sister.