Baby boomers like myself grew up cutting our teeth on early ‘50s television, so when you say “Topper” we don’t think of Roland Young (from the 1937 movie), we think of Leo G. Carroll. Likewise Cary Grant wasn’t our George Kerby, it was Robert Sterling. And our Marion Kerby wasn’t Constance Bennett; it was Anne Jeffreys, who in real life was Mrs. Robert Sterling. Miss Jeffreys passed away on September 27 at the age of 94.
Always beautiful, Miss Jeffreys had a long and varied show business career, but for me, she will always be Marion Kerby, that sweet, beautiful “ghostess with the mostest,” as she was called on the show.
Anne Jeffreys was born Anne Carmichael in 1923 in Goldsboro, North Carolina. She trained in voice at an early age and received her first break in show biz after signing with the John Robert Powers agency in New York as a junior model. She studied for an operatic career and made her debut in a production of La Boheme in 1940, but that wasn’t the direction she was destined for.
In 1941 Anne won a role in the musical revue Fun for the Money, that was to be staged in Hollywood. This, in turn, led to her first movie role in the tuneful Rodgers & Hart adaptation of I Married an Angel (1942), starring her singing idols, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, in their last cinematic pairing.
Eventually she was put under contract respectively by Republic then RKO studios, and appeared more often than not as a gutsy, no nonsense heroine in a bunch of ‘40s “B” westerns and crime pictures, including Flying Tigers with John Wayne, and playing Tess Trueheart opposite Morgan Conway in the Dick Tracy series. She also had a co-starring role in Step Lively (1944), which starred Frank Sinatra.
Unfortunately Anne was never able to break out of the “B’s” into more prestigious pictures and her film work petered out by the end of the ‘40s. However, Anne honed her vocal skills with symphonic and stage appearances, including Tosca at the Brooklyn Opera House, Kurt Weill’s Street Scene and the Broadway musical, My Romance.
Divorced from her first husband in 1949, Anne met actor Robert Sterling during an extended run (887 performances) of Kiss Me Kate on Broadway. She and Sterling married in 1951 and had three sons. They certainly had one of the great Hollywood romances of all time, married for 55 years until Sterling’s death in May 2006. In the early ‘50s, in an attempt to revive their flagging careers, the singing couple played nightclubs and hotels with a highly successful club act. This led to them being cast as the sophisticated, impish married ghosts in TV’s Topper (1953).
In the ‘60s, Anne semi-retired to raise her family, but occasionally took on musical leads (Camelot, The King and I) both on Broadway and in regional productions. She later returned full-time to TV and became known for her chic, shrewd, but beautiful matrons on soap operas. She was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her supporting work in The Delphi Bureau (1972) adventure series, and appeared, occasionally, as the mother of David Hasselhoff on Baywatch (1989).
Alan Lerner persuaded her to take over the Broadway company of Camelot and tour with it for six months in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Some of her many other theatre performances include Carousel, Anniversary Waltz, Bells Are Ringing, Ninothcka, Desert Song, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Song of Norway, Most Happy Fella, No Sex Please, We’re British, Follies and The King and I.
Anne Jeffreys received the Women’s International Center Living Legacy Award in 1998 and she received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine St. in Hollywood on February 8, 1960. She also has the distinction of being the last woman to have danced with Fred Astaire on screen.
Throughout her life she always maintained an elegance and beauty that shined through in her smile. In addition, Annie holds a special place in the hearts of us political conservatives – she was a staunch conservative Republican. Beautiful and smart, too!
R.I.P. Anne Jeffreys.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.