"All right. That's enough of the x-ray treatment."
- Cassie Hartley, "They Drive by Night"
Ann Sheridan started out as a happy little girl from an average American small town, growing up with aspirations of someday going to college, earning a degree in teaching, and probably settling down in life with a husband and a family of her own. However, Ann's remarkably good looks and a twist of destiny changed all that, and for a while she became one of Hollywood's favorite sirens and was awarded the title "Oomph Girl". "Oomph" has remained in the vocabulary, though probably not used by anyone who knows or remembers Ann Sheridan.
As Clara Lou Sheridan, she was born February 21, 1915, in Denton, Texas. Clara Lou was the daughter of an automobile mechanic and his homemaker wife. The youngest of five children, she grew up in a normal childhood environment, surrounded by a loving family in pleasant small town. Denton even boasted two of Texas' most important colleges, so Clara Lou did not grow up in a culturally impoverished or backward town. In addition, Denton in those days was about an hour's drive from Dallas and was also connected by light rail. Traveling to the city was cheap and easy.
Ann described herself as a tomboy and enjoyed athletics. She played on the girl's basketball team for North Texas State Teacher's College, where she planned to enter the teaching field. Her sister thought her beautiful enough to send in a picture of Ann in a bathing suit to Paramount Studios. Paramount was sponsoring the "Search for Beauty" contest which carried, as the prize, a screen test and a bit part in a movie. Clara Lou won the contest and was signed to a contract at the age of 19.
Her first film was the prize bit role in "Wagon Wheels" in 1934. Performing under her real name of Clara Lou, she participated in 12 more films that year. Most of these were designed to showcase her beauty along with other starlets that Paramount had signed. Twelve more bit parts followed in 1935. The following year, she left Paramount and signed with Warner Brothers, where more of the same followed.
In 1938 Clara Lou, now Ann, landed a role with substance as Laury Ferguson in "Angels with Dirty Faces". Known as the "Oomph Girl", a nickname she detested, she became one of the most glamorous women in Hollywood. In describing Ann, Rex Harrison said, "I was struck by her extraordinary magnetism and directness." He remarked on her"distinctive quality of earthiness that never transcends to blatant sexiness." Her beauty made her a favorite pin-up along with Betty Grable. She ultimately was allowed to mature into a leading star who could adapt to any role. Ann was in a lot of comedies and dramas, which were rather forgettable. But the public loved her and wanted more.
By 1940, Ann had performed magnificently in "They Drive by Night" (as Cassie Hartley, see quote above) and "Torrid Zone". Both films caused critics to sit up and take notice of her talent. She was also magnificent in "King's Row"(1941) the melodramatic story about small town life at the turn of the century. She co-starred with Ronald Reagan, then one of America's favorite leading men. In 1948, she appeared in Howard Hawks great film, "I was a Male War Bride". She continued making movies into the fifties when her career went into a decline.
New actresses, as always, moved onto the Hollywood movie horizon and Ann found herself no longer in demand. Her last film was "The Woman and the Hunter" in 1957.
She moved to New York and took acting jobs where they were available. Ann worked on both stage and television. Soap opera fans may remember Ann in "Another World" in 1964. But she is best remembered by TV audiences as Henrietta Hanks in the western comedy, "Pistols-n-Petticoats". Her career was taking off again, but the success was short-lived.
Ann died on January 21, 1967 in San Fernando Valley, California, of cancer. She didn't get to live out her series' first season. She was 51.