My interview with Ray Hagen
about Ann Sheridan
In 1965 Ray Hagen interviewed Ann
Sheridan for Screen Facts magazine.
By all accounts, it was the longest and most in-depth interview
Ann ever gave.
Time went by and the transcript of their conversation became somewhat of a forgotten artefact
That is until 2004 when thankfully Ray resurrected it for inclusion in his book Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames (co-written with Laura Wagner). For more information about Killer Tomatoes: Fifteen Tough Film Dames click here.
Killer Tomatoes features 15 classic film actresses;
eight profiled by Ray (Ann Sheridan, Lynn Bari, Gloria Grahame, Jean
Hagen, Mercedes McCambridge, Jane Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, & Claire
Trevor) and seven profiled by Laura (Lucille Ball, Joan Blondell, Ann
Dvorak, Adele Jergens, Ida Lupino, Marilyn Maxwell, & Marie Windsor.)
Raised in Manhattan, Ray now resides in Washington D.C. Laura Wagner lives in New York where she is currently working on a book about Ann Sheridan.
On January 25th of this year, I emailed Ray and asked him if he'd be willing to speak with me about Ann Sheridan for this website. Thankfully he agreed.
Note: I'm embarrassed to say that at the time of our interview I did not own a copy of Killer Tomatoes, but had only read the excerpts from Ray's Ann Sheridan interview on Google Books. I have since purchased it.
What follows is the transcript of our call that took place the following night.
To get your own personal copy of the mp3s of Ray's interview, click here.
John: When did you first become a fan of Ann Sheridan?
Ray Hagen: By 1949 I was in full movie-addict mode at age 12. I started to accumulate my list of actresses who most fascinated me. There were about a dozen or so. I appointed my selected goddesses to whom I decided I was going to devote my life, and follow everything about their careers, as only a child can do. Annie wasn't on my list when I first started making up my mind about doing that. I knew who she was -- I knew who everybody in movies was -- even the supporting character players by that time.
That year I saw her in I Was a Male War Bride. Now up until then I'd known her as the "Oomph Girl" and she certainly was very photographable and quite gorgeous, but I hadn't seen her in a movie -- and then I saw I Was a Male War Bride and she immediately jumped onto my list. Because not only was she gorgeous, as I could tell from the magazines and newspaper coverage of her, but she could actually play comedy. Which, even at that young age, I realized was the hardest thing to do ... comedy.
Having spent my whole life as an actor and specializing in comedy, I was absolutely right. It is the hardest thing to do. She was right up there with Cary Grant, moment for moment. And I thought, "Wow, she's really good." And then I started to catch up on some of her older movies and, of course, followed every movie she made after that.
John: If someone came up to you and said I want to know about Ann Sheridan via her movies. What movies would you point them to, besides I Was a Male War Bride of course?
that some day Take Me to Town
would come out on commercial video because that would definitely be one
of them. Certainly
Kings Row and certainly
Torrid Zone. I guess
those would be the main ones.
I'd also include
Who Came to Dinner. And
I'd certainly include Thank Your
Lucky Stars but only because of the fabulous number she does in it.
The problem is, she didn't make an awful lot of good movies. Even Howard Hawks once said she was in some of the worst movies ever made, but the public liked her in spite of the bad movies.
John: I saw that quote. I guess one of her worst movies would be Honeymoon for Three.
god. Her relationship with
Warners was very strange.
They were strange. She was
strange. She made a lot of
bad choices, deciding to go on suspension at times when she should not
have. But this is all
She was not always her own best friend in terms of -- it's not that she had a huge ego and wanted to be the greatest of the greatest, she just simply did not want to be disrespected. She didn't want to be mistreated or treated like a child, which of course most of the contract players were. She didn't like being ordered to do things as if she were working in the filing department.
She had a very odd career. She never got over the Oomph Girl thing. Two other movies I'd recommend would be Nora Prentiss and The Unfaithful.
John: Yes true, I enjoyed those.
Ray: She was terrific in them. That was as late as 1947. They were big hits, and yet Warners was not treating her right. Now you could say that everybody there was in Bette Davis's shadow -- fine, but you don't keep giving them crap even if Bette got the best parts. Warners was a very strange studio. You have to remember that there was a time in the mid-forties when the competition at Warners was fierce because they had under contract at the same time Annie, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall, Jane Wyman, Olivia de Havilland, Alexis Smith, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Eleanor Parker...the competition was absolutely ridiculous.
John: A lot of talent.
Ray: Yeah, and strong women, not just dewy-eyed ingénues. I think that was the most exciting studio, my favorite studio if I had to name a favorite. Because they had all those tough broads. I loved the tough broads. Oh, I loved them. Anyone who would look comfortable holding a gun, I was immediately attracted to them. Men too, for that matter, but that's a different story.
Yes she had a kind of strange career.
She was Warner Brother's top sex symbol of the '40s though.
Ray: Pretty much. But they weren't doing sex symbol movies. Other studios did. Warners were doing strong dramas, that's what they're mostly known for. Their comedies were a little lame. It was an odd time for Annie and a very odd career. I don't think she had the respect, even from the fans, that she deserved.
It's odd to me about critics during the span of her stardom, like from '39 on. She would continue to do good work in all kinds of different movies and the critical reaction to her was always along the lines of "Ann Sheridan was surprisingly good."
How many years can you continue to be surprised? I never understood that. How much good work do you have to do and still be thought of as coming through with a good performance to everybody's surprise? It was bizarre.
John: Do you think looking back at her career that somehow -- I don't know where this "due" would come from -- but looking back at her career, and what she did in films, that people would give her more credit?
Ray: Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely. I mean people like Robert Osborne, you'll hear that from him when he's doing the intros and outros of her movies on TCM. But she didn't do fabulous movies that people like to watch over and over again, and are shown over and over again.
I just watched Torrid Zone again. It
was on Turner Classic Movies. I forgot how funny it was.
I'd seen it a number of years ago.
Ray: She hadn't done much work on that kind of level at that time, and, of course, Cagney put that line in at the end.
John: Great line.
Ray: I think it was "You and your 19 Karat Oomph."
I think he says 14 Karat .
whatever it was.
John: Was the first time you met her for the interview when you were working for Screen Facts? How did that come to be? Would they arrange that or would you phone her up?
Ray: The way it came about, I was writing for Screen Facts and for three, four or five other film magazines. I was doing a lot of that stuff. All the magazines were based in New York and all the people who were writing for those magazines, we all knew each other. So it was kind of a tight little island of movie-besotted child/men who were writing about their favorite movies and their favorite stars, directors and maybe getting to meet them if they were lucky.
So I had done a few things for Alan Barbour, the editor of Screen Facts, and I knew that Annie was living in New York at the time. She would do occasional television shows. She loved doing panel shows, she was on To Tell the Truth a lot, but she was keeping a very low profile, not going out to public events and all that stuff. So I didn't really know what I'd be in for if I met her. I said to Alan, "How would you like me to do something on Sheridan?"
He said, "Absolutely, absolutely. Fine. Love it."
I don't know how I found out how to
get in touch with her but I did.
Whether it was through her or through an agent, I don't remember,
but the deal was to send her copies of some back issues of the magazine
so she can see what we're dealing with here.
So Alan sent out a few issues of the magazine and she liked them
very much. One of them had a
huge career article on Bette Davis in it that she found fascinating and
she gave the okay.
So I called her. There was that voice on the phone. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! And we set up an appointment at Sardi's East at a certain day and time and I brought my portable tape recorder with me.
I did not know what to expect.
Maybe she's bored to death talking about the movie days.
Maybe she's not as interesting as she appeared on camera.
Maybe I wouldn't like her.
Maybe she wouldn't like me.
What was I ... 28 ... 29 years old at the time? She wasn't the first "goddess" I'd gotten to meet and talk with but it was always a heart-pounding event for me.
I always tried to behave like a
grownup and of course I had all the information about her.
And I think she appreciated that.
Most of the people I interviewed did, it was "Oh he's done his
homework" not just "Who's your favorite co-star?"
We sat there for hours. I was asking all about everything starting with the Paramount days -- even before that, when she'd won the "Search for Beauty" contest, and all the particulars of the Paramount movies and on to Warners and all that. So she knew that I knew all this obscure information, and when they know that they think, well if he knows that maybe he'd be interested in this, which is equally obscure.
And, of course, she was going on and on. I was just gurgling from the toes up. It was wonderful. And when she had to leave I wasn't even halfway through.
So we set up a second interview and it was the same thing. By that time we'd gotten kind of chummy because I'd phoned her a few times after the first one. So between these two long, long, long interviews and even a few phone calls, I gathered them all together and it was enormous. Typing every word ... Q & A. She was so funny and so smart and her personality just came through.
I didn't want to write a third
person article and use quotes. What I wanted to do, and which I wound up
doing, was to write an intro and then do a straight Q & A, gathering all
the stuff together, in her own words.
Question, Answer, Question Answer.
That turned out to be more difficult than it would have been to write a third person article because I had to take things from all the different interviews and, of course, when you're talking - maybe we'd be talking about something that happened in 1943 and she'd be reminded about something that happened in 1932 and start talking about that, and then we'd skip to 1958, going back and forth. I was keeping my notes in front of me so I'd know what I wanted to talk about next, but we kept jumping to different time periods so I had to go through all the interviews and put the whole thing into a more or less chronological order, which meant a lot of scissor work and a lot of scotch tape. We didn't have computers then, no word processors.
I finally got it all done and I sent it off to Alan. I told him I wanted to do it in the Q & A form because I thought her personality really came across in this. "I know it's too big. I know it's too long. I think everything in this is great, but cut it whatever way you want to cut it for space" -- which I fully expected him to do.
He got it, he read it and he called me up and said, "It's fabulous. I'm going to devote the entire issue to it."
I thought, "Wow that had never been done before."
So he got a whole ton of photographs and the whole issue was an Ann Sheridan issue (November, 1966). And then the magazine died and time went on and it became an obscure artefact until Killer Tomatoes.
I even got a letter from her husband Scott McKay thanking me for doing such a cool job on it.
John: Was this after she passed away?
Ray: Let me think. I don't remember. It might have been after she died.
John: Did she herself give you any feedback when she saw the issue?
Ray: No, because by the time it came out, she was in California doing Pistols 'n' Petticoats. The last time I spoke with her she had been doing Another World, a daily live soap opera, in New York. She loved soap operas and she was tickled to death to do it, and it was during this time on Another World that this Pistol 'n' Petticoats offer came along -- and then she went to Hollywood.
John: She seemed pretty optimistic about the future when she was talking to you. Did you get that impression?
Ray: Optimistic? Yes, but in a realistic way. She'd been through quite a few mills by then. She'd been around a lot of blocks a lot of times. She knew what the score was. How much of my interview did you read?
I don't know if you've seen
Google Books, but I read everything
-- I'm going to buy the book for sure --
Ray: She's on the cover too.
John: While you mention that, what was the reason you selected Ann for the front cover?
Ray: Because of all the photographs we had of all the women in book that was the hottest picture. I saw it and said "This is the one." Laura saw it and said "That's the one." And we sent them a whole lot of possibilities but that's the one they chose to use.
John: It's a great picture. In Google Books, they show certain pages. So I've read the pages that they show. But they don't show them all because they want you to buy the book obviously.
Ray: Do they show them in chronological order or do they skip through?
They show them chronological.
The Ann Sheridan interview just happens to be the one they show
the most, but there are pages missing.
Ray: You've read up to the '40s and '50s?
John: I've read to where you ask her about her position in film history.
Ray: That was pretty much the end of the interview.
John: I think there was a page or so after that maybe. While we're on that, she kind of discounted her place in film history when she said, "it won't mean a thing." She was being modest I guess.
Ray: She was being realistic. Do you know James Parish?
John: I've heard the name...
Parish is a writer. He's
written dozens and dozens movie books.
He funnelled it into a lifetime profession.
We were friends back in those days when I interviewed Annie, he
was one of the guys who wrote for the same film magazines.
He desperately wanted to come along on the Ann Sheridan
interview. He wanted it so
badly, but the people he was working for in a civilian job would not let
him go do it. He's never stopped bitching about it to this day.
He's the one who suggested that I ask her -- which I even said at
the time sounded like a pretty high-falutin' question -- "What is your
impression of your position in film history?"
It was a very fancy, snooty question.
But he wanted me to ask her that so, kind of apologetically, I did ask her, and that's when she gave me that reply about how "It'll just be one of those things that's written off, for heaven's sake. It won't mean anything." She knew. She knew the quality of the movies she'd been stuck with.
What you have to understand about Annie is that she never had any sense of depression or sorrow about it. What I was delighted to find was that the Ann Sheridan that I'd seen on the screen for all those years, that "good Joe" kinda girl, funny and bright, was exactly what she was like. The Ann Sheridan you saw in those movies was who I was talking to those many hours. That was her.
John: It must have been pretty thrilling for you.
wonderful. I had no idea
what I was going to get into but as soon as I stared talking about
Paramount she seemingly remembered everything and I was tickled to
death. She was a really,
really "good Joe."
John: Yes she seemed like it. She seemed like she was a straight shooter, down to earth with a great sense of humour.
Ray: Totally, totally. No star ego, none of that shit. Did you read on the Google thing the story about when I kept calling her Miss Sheridan?
When she said "call me Annie?"
Ray: Yes, she said, "Please, call me Annie, because I'm much too old to call you Mr. Hagen." That was just so cool. I knew from that moment on that this was going to be a lot of fun.
John: Do you remember the first time you saw her when you approached her at the restaurant?
Ray: She was already there. And I was early. I told the maitre d' I had an appointment with Ann Sheridan. He looked over and I looked over to where he was looking and she was standing right there.
She looked great.
She looked like I thought she'd look because I'd seen recent
photographs of her -- but better.
She was not at the time of her life where she was getting the
carefully retouched glamorous portraits that the studios always issued.
Now she was not being photographed so carefully.
So I knew pretty much what she looked like, pretty good, but not
that legendary George Hurrell glamour. I wasn't expecting that, but she
I remember she had rather stubby fingers, which I'd never noticed before. Why do you notice those things? Isn't it weird? But I did. I guess I was trying to find a fault somewhere.
There was another thing that I did not include in my Afterword. I called her while she was doing Another World on TV, live, every day. I asked her how it was for her after all those leisurely shooting schedules when she was making movies. And she said, "I just see the page in my mind, and when they stop talking, I talk."
John: Great stuff. I have a question for you about Treasure of the Sierra Madre...there's some question in my mind --
know exactly what you're going to say -- the girl, the Mexican girl who
approaches Bogart is obviously not Ann.
But pay attention to the cutting.
First she approaches and Bogart glances at her.
And then there's a cut and you see her walking away.
It was the walking away shot, you just see her from the back.
That was Annie wearing that girl's wig and costume .
Ray: It was a joke. No billing or anything like that. And I thought "oh my gosh, a scoop!" because I'd never read that before. Since the magazine was published I've seen it in a lot of her bios, in a lot of things written about her. Not a huge amount, but it's been repeated in a lot of different places. Nothing had ever been said about that before. A lot of quotes from that interview have been lifted verbatim in lot of different books, and sometimes I'm credited and sometimes I'm not, but that's the way it goes. It always happens.
Another interesting thing from your interview in parenthesis you
mention that Ann didn't
realize her voice had been dubbed in
Shine on Harvest Moon and she never saw it.
Ray: No, she said, "but I sang them."
John: So even at the time of your interview, she thought her voice was still in it.
John: Really, that's fascinating.
Ray: Well she never went and saw it. She hated it.
John: She didn't like that movie, eh?
Ray: Well, she never saw a lot of her movies. They're not paying her to go to see it, so why should she bother? A lot of people did that. A lot of these stars never saw a lot those movies. We think it's unthinkable, but they were living in a bubble.
John: Nowadays we have access to them so freely.
Ray: Yes, it was so different for them. Different world.
John: Killer Tomatoes came out in 2004. The reaction has been very good to it, I imagine.
Ray: The reaction has been great. McFarland (the publisher) told us that it's one of the best-selling books they've had.
John: Are you working on another book?
See, I never meant to be a writer.
That was something that crept up on me. I found myself doing
articles for magazines back in the early sixties.
It's like, who knew?
I didn't know I could write, I had no idea. I was an actor and a dancer
and singer on the New York stage at the time.
That's pretty much basically what I was doing.
I hate writing. It's
just grunt work for me. I
love having written, once it's
done. "Hey, I did that, by
Ray Hagen, that's me!" But
actually doing it, no.
The writing thing was a complete accident and I finally stopped doing it because I was tired of it and I was getting involved with all kinds of other areas of life. And then late in my dotage along comes this opportunity to dowhat turned out to be Killer Tomatoes. It was just dumped in my lap, it's not something I looked for. It was Laura Wagner who got it set up. I never wanted to write a book, never thought about it. I've contributed to books, but it was all just an accident to me.
John: Who came up with title Killer Tomatoes?
John: That's a great title.
Ray: There's a funny story about that. Do you have the patience?
John: Sure do.
Ray: Laura and I didn't know what the hell we were going to call it. Over the couple of years it took us to finish this book we had all kinds of possibilities. My favorite one was a title I'd thought of many years ago, "Cheap Blondes and Expensive Brunettes," but then I thought, what about the redheads?
John: Sure, what about Annie?
can't add redheads to it because it takes the punch away.
So now what? We had
all kinds of titles and we were going back and forth with
the editor by
phone suggesting this title and that title.
So now it's down almost to the wire.
We'd finished all the chapters and we're almost ready to send it
in after a couple of years of slave labor on this.
And one problem I always had was with the last line of my Gloria Grahame chapter. I just didn't like it. "Under all the Hollywood frou-frou" and whatever I said, Gloria Grahame was "a piece of work." Something really lame and corny like that, and I just didn't like it. So I finally got it: "Under all the Hollywood frou-frou and her own misguided insecurities, Gloria Grahame was one killer tomato." So I called up Laura and said I finally got the last line of the Grahame chapter and I told her what it was, and Laura laughed and said, "Hey that's what we should call the book, Killer Tomatoes."
And I said, "No, come on." But the next morning I thought "Hmmm maybe." So I called her back and I said, "I think we should call it Killer Tomatoes. I think you were right." And she said, "No no, I was kidding ... well, wait a minute …" and finally she was convinced.
So we sent the whole thing off to the editor. We said we want to call it Killer Tomatoes and he said, "No absolutely not. That's a terrible thing to call women. They'll be offended. And a lot of people won't know what that means, so no, absolutely not." So we thought, "Oh, we're sunk."
A couple of days later we get an email from him saying they're going to call it Killer Tomatoes -- and it just knocked my socks off. Because I didn't know what they were going to choose out of the many possibilities we'd suggested.
He said that he went into the
boardroom to have the final discussions on getting the book ready for
publication, and they said, "What are they going to call it?"
He said, "they came up with a title but it's a terrible idea and
I hate it."
"What is it?"
Everybody at the table burst into howling laughter and said "That's it,terrific!" So with total egg on his face he had to say, "Ok you win, that's the title." That's how it came about.
John: That's funny. It's a title you definitely remember. You mentioned Laura Wagner's working on the Ann Sheridan book. Do you know how she's progressing on that?
Ray: Laura is working on other projects too, including her monthly columns in Classic Images, and she keeps getting lots of good interviews from people who knew Annie, beyond the stuff in my piece. When it's going to be finished, I have no idea. But she's as much as an Annie fan as we are. Always has been.
John: What do you think is Ann Sheridan's place in film history?
Unfortunately I have to agree with her.
I do think it will be written off.
Obviously, all these years later, she is not remembered. Along
with countless other really, really good actors and actresses from that
time, who are unjustly not remembered.
And I think it's strictly the luck of the draw. She never got the great movies. Simple as that. The movies that are not only really good, but that are also remembered.
John: Yes, even if she had one really classic move, say Casablanca or something of that stature.
Ray: Absolutely. I mean would anybody remember Janet Leigh if she hadn't done Psycho?
John: When the casual everyday movie fan thinks of actresses from that era, they think of Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis --
Ray Hagen: Well, here's another thing. This is true of both Ann Sheridan and Barbara Stanwyck. The people who are camp favorites -- who the gay guys love and who people do impressions of on stage, who drag queens latch on to -- Stanwyck and Sheridan were never among those. Basically, Davis, Hepburn, Crawford, Dietrich and Garland were, or became, living, breathing, walking, talking cartoons. They were so exaggerated, and so over the top, you can't take your eyes off them. Every gay man I've ever met does Bette Davis, including me. Nobody does Barbara Stanwyck (except me). She was never an exaggeration. Nor was Annie.
Of the actors, I think Fredric March was every bit the equal of Humphrey Bogart, but he played collar-and-tie parts. There was nothing about him like there was with Robinson or Cagney that people imitated. Nothing over the top. The over the top people are the ones, rightfully or not, who are remembered.
John: And the ones with very distinct voices.
Ray: It's odd that almost everyone who became top stars in those days had really distinct voices. I grew up on radio so I'm really into voices. In fact, I make my living doing audiobooks. Even as a child, one of the things that attracted me to these people was their voices -- like Stanwyck and Ida Lupino and Lauren Bacall -- all these distinct voices that you absolutely could not confuse with anyone else.
John: You did say in the interview you did for the Alt Film site that you feel that Ann as one of the most neglected and underappreciated actresses.
Ray: Oh yeah, sure. So was Lupino. She never even got an Oscar nomination. At least Stanwyck got nominations. It amazes me that Ida Lupino was never nominated for an Oscar - ever. It's amazing. It's a crime.
John: I guess at the time they wouldn't even consider nominating a woman for best director.
Ray: Even the years she was an actress. You'd think they'd give her a special Oscar down the line after she established a second career as a director. But no, nothing. Totally ignored her.
John: She was a great actress.
Ray: But she got the second picks after Davis.
John: What do you think of Bette Davis?
Ray: When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid. You could also say that about Katharine Hepburn. As good as they were at their best, they were often terrible. Davis did wonderful work. She also did perfectly dreadful work. Stanwyck never did -- except for one film Mexicali Rose, she never gave a bad performance.
John: I agree.
Ray: Neither did Annie
John: She was pretty solid.
Ray: Absolutely. More than anybody ever gave her credit for or thought she'd be capable of. I'm sad about that. Most of the people, most of my goddesses, it's amazing how many of them have been totally forgotten. I've known people who have never heard of Fred Astaire.
John: Yes that's wild. The only outlet really is Turner Classic Movies and ….
Ray Hagen: …. and who is riveted to that? Just us old coots who remember them. Because I saw them all on the big screens in the movie theatres when they first came out. I pre-date television. I'm the last of the radio generations. I didn't live with a TV set until 1952 or 1953.
John: It was all back and white, rabbit ears...
Ray: Oh god, yes.
John: I guess you watched The Honeymooners back then.
Ray: Yes, in fact I even saw a couple of those shows, a lot the TV shows, live as they were doing them in the theatres.
John: You were actually there?
Ray: Yeah, I went to see TV shows. The tickets didn't cost anything. I was going to Broadway shows so I figured I might as well go and see some of these TV shows. So I saw a lot of them.
John: Did you ever see Ann Sheridan perform live?
Ray: Not live. I saw her on television.
John: It's interesting how the stars have kind of faded away. I talk to people and they hardly remember anyone from that time.
Ray: I talk to people who've never heard of Barbara Stanwyck. It depresses the hell out of me, but it doesn't really shock me.
There's a big difference in the way people remember things now. When I was a kid going to school in the 1940s, children my age knew who Enrico Caruso was. He was dead, but they knew who he was, the opera singer. They knew who Pavlova was, the dancer... Nijinsky, the dancer... Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress. They didn't know the details of their careers because most of them were long dead, but people knew names from the past. That's no longer the case.
John: Times have changed as they say. Well I really appreciate your time. I've enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.
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