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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

STAR OF THE MONTH: Ann Sheridan - Prologue

Clara Lou Sheridan! (Now, please pardon me while I go question 
my sexuality...).

Ann Sheridan is a hard lady to get a hold of. While she was very warm and accessible to friends during her lifetime, she was also a woman who cleverly only played the Hollywood game half way. She would pose for the necessary cheesecake photos; she would adhere to the publicity gags. Most of all, she would do her job and do it well, creating with her own sharp, down-to-earth personality a new brand of female who was part Stanwyck and part Harlow. Unlike Stanwyck, there was bark but no bite. Ann was more the eye-rolling, “Yeah, whatever Bub,” kind of girl. Unlike Harlow, to whom her photographs are often compared, she was sexual but not objective—her sensuality was mature and mysterious, whereas Jean’s was much more innocent and inviting. However, Ann's palpable veil of cynicism and distance, which made her incredibly popular during her lifetime, is the very thing that makes her puzzling to historians. In all honesty, I have been on ­­my own eternal quest to find out who this incredible woman was. The title of this article might as well be “Searching for Ann: Mission Impossible!” It began with my cemetery jaunts. Ann found her way onto my list of “Celebrities to Find” when I began my Hollywood grave-hunting, but I actually had little knowledge of her. I had heard her name, and surely I had seen her face without knowing it, but my self-education was not yet as overflowing as it is now. I learned that Ann was unfortunately tucked away in Chapel of the Pines, hidden from visitors. I shrugged my shoulders, said “Oh well,” and directed my attention to Mae Busch across the hall instead. 

Then, via my introduction to Ann in films like Dodge City and Angels with Dirty Faces, I began asking myself: “Who is that actress? She’s fun!” I learned a little—a very little—about Ann when she was  mentioned in others’ biographies, but literature devoted entirely to the actress seemed scarce, aside from an old Bio-bibliography by Margie Schultz that was about $100+ bucks on Amazon. (Eek. I mean, I bought it when the price took a dip, but still...). Needless to say, I had to put Ann on hold again and again, awaiting the arrival of new information, which could possibly guide me through her life. A bit of good luck came my way when I learned that Ann’s ashes had been unearthed from the bowels of Chapel and had been given a plum position at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the Chapel Columbarium. “Great! Now I can at least pay my respects!” Hardly. Every time I went the cemetery, the Columbarium was either locked or in the middle of an expected funeral service. (Son of a B). I had to come and go, trying several times to visit Ann. Finally, one day, I had a chance. I crept up the Chapel steps to peer into the window of her plot—complete with urn, pictures, and the Life Magazine cover she graced in 1939. Strangely, I felt better-- better that she was out in the open were she can be better remembered by those as invested in our cinematic, cultural history as I. I still felt attracted to her somehow, but this, I realized, was as good as I was ever going to get. As much as I may want to be best buds with Ann, she is long since gone. As much as I may want to learn more about her private life and personality, I am only afforded vague snippets. Just as her tomb, I am left with my nose pressed against a pane of glass, where—just as her daring, impenetrable gaze in those incredible George Hurrell photos—I am left fascinated but unsatisfied. What is she hiding???

That’s how Ann wanted it, I suppose. Despite her tom-boy, good time gal demeanor, she played the best version of celebrity possible. She put on a good show while holding just enough back to keep for herself. It is on the silver screen where you enjoy her company, then she draws the shade and dwells in her own private world. The mix of her innate amiability and clever tactics of “withholding information” worked perfectly together on the screen. This becomes apparent when reading review after review of her work, which consistently commended her for her “naturalness” and “honesty.” The tricks she had up her sleeve lent her an incredible depth that continues to make modern audiences fall in love with her. Who was she??? I'd say, One Hell of a Dame! In specifics, I’m less certain, but I will do my best to build a portrait.

What's lurking in Ann's past? Tune in tomorrow for more!!!

To Be Continued...

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