Here are 10 things you should know about Anne Shirley, born 103 years ago today. She made more than 65 movies before retiring at age 26.
We’re tardy by a day, but it’s still worth noting that actress Anne Shirley was born Dawn Evelyeen Paris 98 years ago yesterday in Manhattan. Her father died while she was an infant, and her mother, struggling to provide for her family, turned to her photogenic child, then 16 months, to help pay the bills, making young Dawn available as a photographer’s model.
From there, it was on to motion pictures. Dawn made her feature debut at the age of four and was soon showing enough promise in her film work that she and her mother made the move from New York to Hollywood, where she eventually played female stars of the pictures as young girls, among them Janet Gaynor in 4 Devils (1928), Frances Dee in Rich Man’s Folly (1931) and Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932). She also appeared in a series of short subjects for Vitaphone.
As the years passed, she grew into a lovely young teenager and her roles grew in size and importance. Eventually, she emerged from hundreds who were tested to play the role of Anne Shirley in the 1934 film adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. In the years prior, Dawn had worked primarily under the name of Dawn O’Day, but she now adopted the name of the character that had made her a star, Anne Shirley. (We can think of just one other example of an actor adopting the name of a character he or she played: Byron Barr had been acting for some years under his own name when he was cast in the 1942 film The Gay Sisters as a character named Gig Young; he was known professionally by that name for the rest of his life.)
Anne Shirley kept busy throughout her adolescence, but wasn’t given another truly standout role until, at age 19, she was cast as Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in Stella Dallas (1937). Both Shirley and Stanwyck were nominated for Oscars for their work in that picture (Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress, respectively), though neither would go on to win.
Shirley was now more in demand than ever, though her career has now entered a “one step forward, one step back” phase, with her films—and the roles she played in them—being of uneven quality. Her heart had never really been in her career—she had stuck with it largely to please her mother—and after appearing opposite Dick Powell in the classic film noir Murder, My Sweet (1944), she retired at age 26, never to return to the screen.
Anne Shirley remained in Hollywood for the rest of her life. She was married three times and had two children. She died on July 4, 1993, at 75.
Happy birthday, Ms. Shirley, wherever you may be!
Farewell, My Lovely (1975) is a neo-noir adaptation of Raymond Chandler‘s novel of the same name. Robert Mitchum, though a bit long in the tooth for the role, plays Philip Marlowe to a T, and the picture perfectly captures the mood of the era–and the cinematic genre–it portrays.
We were working as an usher at the North Park 4 Cinema when this movie came out, and watched it with delight in dribs and drabs—a scene here, a scene there, whenever we could elude the disapproving gaze of our manager. It was our introduction to Chandler’s work, and we could hardly have asked for a better one (except, y’know, Chandler’s work).
Part of what makes the picture work is the haunting “Marlowe’s Theme” that plays over the opening credits and reappears at various times throughout the picture. We’d like to live in the world that this music evokes.
The picture also features such stellar supporting players as Charlotte Rampling (channeling Lauren Bacall), Jack O’Halloran (as Moose Malloy), Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles (she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as an over-the-hill chorus girl), John Ireland, Sylvester Stallone (in a don’t-blink cameo as a hood) and even acclaimed noir author Jim Thompson in a small role.
Farewell, My Lovely has been unavailable on DVD in the U.S. for a good many years, but we were pleased to learn recently that Shout! Factory is releasing it again in mid-November (you can preorder it now). One might wish this beautiful picture were going to be made available in Blu-ray format (we do wish that very thing, as a matter of fact), but even a DVD reissue is cause for celebration.
There is an excellent 1944 adaptation of Chandler’s second novel—renamed Murder, My Sweet, it stars Dick Powell as Marlowe, along with noir icon Claire Trevor, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Anne Shirley, and Esther Howard—that is newly available on Blu-Ray, and it’s worth your time, too. In fact, it’s widely considered a classic. Frankly, you can’t go wrong with either of these movies; we recommend owning both.