Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Oomph Girl Turns 100: A Pictorial Tribute to Ann Sheridan

It was 100 years ago today that Ann Sheridan was born Clara Lou Sheridan in Denton, Texas. Today she is probably best known for her appearances in such films as Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), They Drive by Night (1940), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Kings Row (1942), and I Was a Male War Bride (1949). In the early Forties she was receiving as many as 250 marriage proposals a week from starstruck, lovesick fans. During World War II she was one of the most popular pin-up girls.

Ann Sheridan circa 1934
As a young girl Clara Lou Sheridan was very athletic. She was quite adept at riding horses and had an interest in both football and basketball. In her own words, Miss Sheridan could "....whistle through my fingers, bulldog a steer, light a fire with two sticks, shoot a pistol with fair accuracy, set type, and teach school..." She attended Robert E. Lee Grade School and Denton Junior High School in Denton, Texas. While in school she tried out for many school plays, but she always wound up the understudy. After graduating high school she enrolled in North Texas State Teachers College in Denton (now the University of North Texas) with the intention of becoming a teacher. All of this would change when her eldest sister Kitty sent a bathing suit picture of Clara Lou as an entry in a beauty contest held by Paramount Pictures. Clara Lou won the contest and with it a bit part as a beauty contestant in the film Search for Beauty (1934). The film marked her big screen debut.

Despite Clara Lou Sheridan's obvious good looks, Paramount cast the starlet only in bit roles for the most part. Even changing her stage name to "Ann" after being told "Clara Lou Sheridan" was too long to fit on a cinema marquee did not improve the roles that Paramount gave her. Ann Sheridan then left Paramount for Warner Bros. in 1936, where she would be much better utilised. It was not long before she was appearing in such films as Angels with Dirty Faces, Dodge City (1939), Torrid Zone (1940), and They Drive by Night (1940).  It was not also long before Ann Sheridan became known as "the Oomph Girl". In 1939 in his column Walter Wincell wrote of Miss Sheridan, "she's got an 'umphy' quality." Warner Bros. head of publicity  Bob Taplinger seized upon this and dubbed Ann Sheridan "the Oomph Girl". Despite the popularity of the nickname, Ann Sheridan never liked being called "the Oomph Girl" as she thought it was demeaning.

Ann Sheridan in the Early Forties
Arguably Ann Sheridan was at the height of her career in the Forties. It was during this period that she was receiving 250 marriage proposals from fans a week and she was one of the most popular pin-ups with G.I.s serving in World War II. It was during this period that she also played what may be her best known role, that of vain actress Lorraine Sheldon in The Man Who Came to Dinner. During the Forties she also appeared in such films as Kings Row (1942), George Washington Slept Here (1942), Nora Prentiss (1947), I Was a Male War Bride (1949) and Stella (1950).

Ann Sheridan circa 1952
Sadly Ann Sheridan's career had begun to decline in the late Forties. Despite the success of  I Was a Male War Bride  in 1949, it continued to decline in the Fifties. As the Fifties progressed, then, she appeared more and more on television. Throughout the decade she appeared on such shows as Schlitz Playhouse, Four Star Revue, Celebrity Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The United States Steel Hour. Miss Sheridan did continue to appear in films during the decade, including Steel Town (1952), Take Me to Town (1953), Come Next Spring (1956), The Opposite Sex (1956), and The Woman and the Hunter (1957).

Ann Sheidan in a publicity still for Pistols 'n' Petticoats
By the Sixties Ann Sheridan's career was entirely in television. She guest starred on the popular Western Wagon Train and had a regular role on the soap opera Another World. It was in 1966 that she took the lead role of Henrietta Hanks in the Western parody Pistols 'n' Petticoats. Unfortunately it was during the shooting of the series that it was learned Miss Sheridan had developed oesophageal and liver cancer. She died on January 21 1967 at the age of 51.

In an interview with film historian John Kobal, Ann Sheridan once said, "That's the only thing I ever wanted to be. A good actress. But I suppose I can't get away from that Ann Sheridan Oomph thing. I wish I could." Miss Sheridan was right that she was never able to get away from that "Oomph thing". To this day she is still known as "Oomph Girl". With a face and figure like hers it is little wonder that she is still known that way. That having been said, I believe that she is regarded by most classic film buffs as a good actress. Her performance as Lorraine Sheldon in The Man Who Came to Dinner remains well loved to this day. Her performances in such film as Angels with Dirty Faces, King's Rowk, and I Was a Male War Bride also remain respected to this day. In the end Ann Sheridan was a pin-up girl who could act. And for that she has remained among the most beloved stars 100 years after her birth.

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