Carole Wells remembers Ann Sheridan
By Nick Thomas
Born 109 years ago this February, glamorous actress Ann Sheridan (1915-1967) was destined for branding as the “Oomph Girl” following a mock contest organized by the Warner Brothers publicity department in 1939.
Stunning on-screen and becoming a favorite pin-up girl of World War II troops, Sheridan could play any character – tough or tender, funny or flirty, sassy or seductive. She delighted audiences with her witty wisecracks and clever comebacks. While she certainly possessed an abundance of entertainment oomph, her feelings were mixed about the public label throughout her life.
The Texas native starred in some memorable films of the 40s such as “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and “I Was a Male War Bride,” but never really landed a lead role in a true Hollywood blockbuster in her more than 80 feature films.
In declining health at just 50, Sheridan ended her career in the little-remembered TV comedy western “Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats” that ran for one season in the 1960s. Co-starring with Carole Wells, the former “National Velvet” series actress was one of the last to work with Sheridan and played her daughter in the CBS show.
“I’d never met her before that,” Wells told me in 2020. “In fact, I didn’t really know who she was – she had been a star before I was born.”
The two first met the first day on set.
“We sat around a big table and read the script with the producers, writers, and director, and she was very charming but rather quiet,” recalled Wells. “We would do this every week before filming and she was always just a down-to-earth sort of person.”
Wells says the two chatted often but never became very close during the months they worked together.
“I’d see her in the mornings in the make-up department and give her a hug and say, ‘How ya doin’ Annie?’ And she’d say something like ‘wish I felt as good as you sweetie’ – she called everyone sweetheart or sweetie. She was never well from the beginning of the series.”
In the mornings Sheridan was usually okay, according to Wells, but by noon usually couldn’t work.
“It took a lot out of her and she would have to go back to her dressing room,” said Wells who would spend lunch hour learning Sheridan’s lines that would be rewritten for Wells to work into the script if Sheridan couldn’t make it back to the set. “But I didn’t care because I knew she was ill.”
Wells also remembers Sheridan as a chronic smoker.
“As sick as she was with cancer and emphysema, she was never without a cigarette in her mouth except while filming,” said Wells. “She was very frail and thin and kept getting thinner as the series progressed. Basically, I watched her die in front of me. But with all she was going through, I never heard her complain and she was always very kind and respectful to me.”
Sheridan struggled through most of the series but was too ill for the final half-dozen episodes.
“I knew she wasn’t going to be around much longer,” said Wells. “One day she was on the set, then the next day she wasn’t and we never saw her again. When we heard she had passed away, the cast had a lunch to memorialize her.”
Wells believes doing the show was good for Sheridan who still bravely displayed plenty of ‘oomph’ despite her failing health.
“Before the series started, she had a facelift and got herself together,” says Wells. “I think being part of the show might have helped her live a little longer.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous newspapers and magazines (see www.getnickt.org).