The lovely and talented Ann Sheridan was born Clara Lou Sheridan 101 years ago today in Denton, Texas. She gained her entrée into show business in 1934 when her sister submitted Clara Lou’s picture to a promotional beauty competition that Paramount Pictures was running: the prize for the winner was a screen test and a bit part in a movie.
Sheridan was named the winner and her screen test must have impressed, as she signed a contract with Paramount and was given tiny, often uncredited roles in more than a dozen pictures that year and 11 more in 1935.
Paramount seemed to have no bigger plans for Sheridan, however, so in 1936, she signed with Warner Brothers. Her run of small roles continued, however, and Sheridan, now known as Ann, was even called upon to serve as a body double for other actresses. “I used to go to Grauman’s Chinese or Pantages and sit there waiting to see my faceless body on the screen,” she once said of the years she waited for her big break. “Texas began to look awfully near and awfully good, and ‘Clara Lou’ had a sweet sound to my ears.
Sheridan did not return to Texas, however, and in 1938, she finally found her breakout role, as Laury Ferguson in Angels with Dirty Faces.
A reluctant sex symbol, Sheridan’s blend of girl next door attractiveness and spunky intelligence earned her a nickname she never embraced: The Oomph Girl. “They nicknamed me ‘The Oomph Girl,’ and I loathe that nickname!” she once said. “Just being known by a nickname indicates that you’re not thought of as a true actress.”
Sheridan, a rough-and-tumble tomboy as a child, had no interest in being pigeonholed as merely sexy; she had too much else to offer: “I can whistle through my fingers, bulldog a steer, light a fire with two sticks, shoot a pistol with fair accuracy, set type, and teach school…”
And act. She could definitely act. She displayed a versatility that served her well, starring in dramas, films noir and comedies in the 1940s, such classic pictures as Kings Row, They Drive by Night, Nora Prentiss, Woman on the Run, The Man Who Came to Dinner and I Was a Male War Bride. But in the 1950s, her film career in decline, she moved to New York intent on working on television or in theatre. She did find work on TV, guesting on various series and anthology drama programs. She appeared on the soap opera Another World in the mid-’60s and starred on a comedy western series called Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats.
Ann Sheridan was married three times, each very briefly, to a trio of actors: Edward Norris, George Brent and Scott McKay, who had been married to her for just seven short months when Sheridan died from cancer in January 1967, a month short of her 52nd birthday.
Happy birthday, Ms. Sheridan, wherever you may be. You had plenty of oomph, it’s true, and so much more.