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Wild Women of the West: Anne Jeffreys

In many of the films actress Anne Jeffreys made for Republic Pictures she played a damsel in perilous situations.

August 13, 2019

In many of the films actress Anne Jeffreys made for Republic Pictures she played a damsel in perilous situations.  Neither the studio nor the performer could imagine how much those movies would affect the lives of young, ticket buyers.  A letter from a fan written to the motion picture studio in the summer of 1945 expressed what many males were thinking about the talented Ms. Jeffreys.

“The first time I saw her [Anne Jeffreys] in a movie her lovely image was secured permanently,” the admirer wrote.  “She was not only staggeringly beautiful, but kind and warm, and understanding. If she only knew how many times I’ve swept her off a teetering bridge just before it collapsed; how many hoodlums I flattened with my powerful fists as they tried to force you, kicking and screaming, into their black limousine or into a stagecoach, for God knows what evil purpose; how many times, as you cradled my head in your arms (after I just saved your life AGAIN) and tearfully asked ‘Are you all right?’  I’ve replied: ‘It’s nothing, just a bullet wound in the chest.’

Born Anne Carmichael on January 26, 1926, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Anne was one of Republic Pictures most versatile leading ladies.  She played everything from a mobster’s girlfriend to a singing cowgirl. As a child she displayed outstanding musical talent. Her first professional appearance was on a radio program of mixed songs at Durhum, when she was ten.  Anne’s mother was encouraged to take her daughter to New York to audition for various theatre companies. There she sang before a number of vocal celebrities; all agreed Anne was an operatic find and offered to finance her further musical education.  Anne preferred however, to pay her own way by becoming a John Powers model.

The young North Carolina girl studied her music diligently, ultimately winning a scholarship with the Municipal Opera Association.

The Metropolitan, goal of all opera singers, seemed just around the corner when Mrs. Jeffreys decided her hardworking child had earned a vacation.  Mother and daughter boarded a bus for Hollywood.

Even in a community well people with charming blondes, Anne’s blonde beauty attracted the attention of cinema talent scouts.  Carefully trained by Lillian Albertson, a studio drama coach, Anne Jeffreys began appearing in motion pictures in 1942. In the beginning she played a number of background characters in such popular Republic Pictures as Moonlight Masquerade and The Flying Tigers.  In 1943 Anne finally got her chance to costar in two movies opposite Bill Elliott and Gabby Hayes.  The pictures, Calling Wild Bill Elliott and The Man from Thunder River, were westerns.  Newspapers across the country reported on the studio’s decision to cast Anne in the film’s main female role.

Anne’s debut in the Bill Elliott films was applauded by moviegoers everywhere and Republic Pictures was praised for the decision to use the gifted songstress in such an inventive role.

“Singing cowboys are not new to the Hollywood scene, but blonde and gorgeous Anne Jeffreys can honestly claim the distinction of being the first singing cowgirl,” an article in the August 7, 1943 edition of the Hollywood Reporter noted.  “She is Wild Bill Elliott’s leading lady in all his Republic Pictures now.  In each of the pictures in the Elliott series Anne breaks into song at one point or another.”

“Somebody out at Republic had a revolutionary idea,” the February 3, 1943 edition of the Hollywood Reporter read.  “They’d make a series of pictures without a singing cowboy, by cracky.  They’s make ‘em with a singing cowgirl!

“When I heard that, I got on my hoss and went jingle-jangle-jingle over the pass to see.  That’s how come I’m reporting today on Miss Anne Jeffreys, a North Carolina girl who always wanted to sing in opera and has made the grade in the hoss variety.

“ ‘It’s a start,” she said, “even if it’s horse opera.  If I make enough money in pictures, I’m going to take five years off and study and work like mad, and try for the Met.’

“It was disappointing, sort of, that Miss Anne the Singing Cowgirl wasn’t togged out in her ridin’-and-shootin’ outfit.  She’s a beautiful blonde, blue-eyed, and looked more like a glammer-gal than a prairie flower. She had on a fancy green dress and a fur jacket, and wore gold earrings, gold bracelet, gold wrist-watch and a finger ring with a stone an inch square.

“ ‘But I can really ride,” she said, justifying her new western role.  ‘Back home I had a pony as a child, and out here I love to ride horseback.  What I’m afraid of is I won’t get to ride a horse at all. I was always a tom-boy, and I always was Tom Mix when we kids played cowboys at home.’”

There were seven pictures in the Bill Elliott series in addition to Calling Wild Bill Elliott and A Man from Thunder River; there was Bordertown Gun Fighters, Wagon Trains West, Death Valley Manhunt, Blazing Action, and Hidden Valley Outlaws.  Audiences loved Bill Elliott’s leading lady and referred to her as the Diva of the Hoss Opera.  The Bill Elliot series contained enough shooting, fighting, hard riding, and singing to meet the demand of the western fans.

Anne and the other major players in the series made personal appearances at parades, rodeos, and department stores.  They also traveled the country helping to sell war bonds during World War II.

Anne’s time with Republic ended when the Elliott series was concluded.  She went on to star in several movies for various Hollywood studios, most without her horse.  She made the leap to television in the 50s, receiving renewed fame in the program Topper based on the popular film of the same name.  Her husband, Robert Sterling, starred with her in the series.  Anne guest starred in numerous television shows and performed on stage in theatres from Broadway to London.  From 1984 to 2004 she was a regular on General Hospital.  Singing cowgirl and spirited heroine of Republic Pictures westerns Anne Jeffreys, died on September 27, 2017, at her home in Los Angeles at the age of ninety-four.

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