Saturday, September 30, 2017

RIP Anne Jeffreys

So sorry to hear of Anne Jeffreys passing. God love her, she was 94. Many of you know her from GENERAL HOSPITAL. She appeared on that soap quite a bit in the 2000’s. But for me she will always be Marion Kirby, the “ghostess with the mostest” on TOPPER from the ‘50s. (Trivia note: Do you know who wrote eleven episodes of that series?  Stephen Sondheim.  No.  Really.  You can look it up.)

Anne Jeffreys was my very first crush. I was five.

In 1979 my partner David Isaacs and I tried to hire her for a pilot we were doing. (The whole crazy tale of that pilot was the subject of one of my recent podcast episodes. You can find it here.) I was so blown away when she came in to read. She was in her 50’s and not only did she look great, she was really FUNNY. We were so thrilled. She didn’t get the part only because the casting bitch at NBC insisted she read for her to be approved and Ms. Jeffrey’s said, “I’ll read for you guys because you need to know if I’m right for your part. But NBC knows me and my body of work.” She was right of course, but NBC still wouldn’t budge. One of the many disappointments of that pilot experience.

Anne Jeffreys exuded class and southern sophistication, and like I said, was gifted in comedy. 94 is a good run. And she worked well into her 80’s. If there is such a thing as ghosts, I hope Marion Kirby will haunt me.

23 comments :

Daniel said...

I've never seen the Topper TV series (or the movie for that matter), but have you read the original novel by Thorne Smith on which it's based? It's actually quite good. A lot of fun. Modern Library reissued it several years ago. Worth reading.

CarolMR said...

As a youngster I always watched "Topper." I had a crush on Anne's hubby, Robert Sterling. She and Robert had three sons and she was Tisha Sterling's step-mom. RIP, Anne.

Barry Rivadue said...

Classy lady. Wonderful in numerous '40s movies she was better than, but always a lovely pro.

VP81955 said...

"Topper" was a late-night staple on TV stations (such as WABC-7 in New York) for decades, well into the 21st century.

Met Anne at Cinecon a few years back -- terrific lady. RIP, and somewhere in Hollywood heaven I'm sure she and Constance Bennett (Marion Kerby from the two late '30s "Topper" films) are exchanging haunting stories.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

OK, I was six. Felt the same way. In fact, Anne looked like my kindergarten teacher, Miss Sharp (really) at Bret Harte Elementary in Burbank. I was in heaven. That lasted the school year and it's been downhill ever since...

:)

VincentS said...

Didn't know Stephen Sondheim wrote any of the TOPPER movies. Wild, and, while I understand why Anne Jeffries wouldn't read for the NBC "bitch," I'm reminded of the account in the book MAD AS HELL about Paddy Cheyefsky: When told by his manager that they wanted him to read for the part of Howard Beale in NETWORK, Peter Finch barked into the phone, "They want me to AUDITION?!" Tell them to go fuck themselves!" and banged down the phone. A few minutes later he called his manager back and said, "Sorry, love. I forgot I was and actor." The rest, as they say, is history.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Ack! I remember being the only kid in the class invited to Miss Sharp's wedding. Ma brought me. Miss Sharp was gorgeous. I was as old as the ring bearer...but I still remember my first thoughts of homicide. I had to get rid of that guy in the tuxedo standing next to her...

I had to settle for Anne on TV, I guess. Kept me out of prison.

15-Seconds said...

My favorite two trivia questions about Topper....
1. The name of the Ghost St Bernard on the show: Neil
2. The name of the dog who played Neil: Buck

VP81955 said...

VincentS: Sondheim wrote for the "Topper" TV series with Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper, not the three "Topper" movies ("Topper" and "Topper Takes A Trip," both adapted from Thorne Smith novels, and the original film "Topper Returns"), where Roland Young played Topper.

JAC said...

In addition to all the other excellent things said about Ms. Jeffreys, she was a bona fide professional-level operatic soprano. (Not just "singing a little" as many actresses can claim.) Just before her run in Kurt Weill's Broadway opera STREET SCENE, she had been doing Tosca. And then after a decade and more on stage and TV, she could still play Lalume onstage in KISMET and sound like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y7WqutkRnU (Listen to the end particularly.) She had quite a career.

Kirk said...

I used to watch General Hospital quite a bit, and Jeffreys had quite a long run as haughty department store heiress Amanda Barrington, some 20 years, though I don't believe she was ever part of the "regular" cast. She was involved in some major stories early on, and then, in her second decade on that show, just someone you saw only once in a while (maybe once a year), mainly there as part of the fictional Port Charles social fabric.

CRL said...

Sunday In The Park With George And Marion.

Mike Doran said...

On my DVD Wall, I've got a good-sized collection of Topper episodes - with the original commercials for Camel cigarettes.
It was, as they say, a Different Time ...
Watching the Kerbys puffing away on their ectoplasmic Camels (occasionally joined by the still-living 'Toppie') was somehow strangely encouraging to a '50s kid - even after he grew (?) into a now-60-something non-smoking geezer.

Anne Jeffreys was born the same year as my mother.
Once, while watching GH with my brother late one night (thanx to the VHS), I pointed this fact out to him; all he could do was shake his head ...

Anonymous said...

Another piece of Anne Jeffreys trivia.
She was the last woman to dance on screen with Fred Astaire (Battleship Gallactica 1979)

Donald Benson said...

I faintly remember her on a talk show, saying that husband Robert had made a business of crafting custom golf clubs, doing the work himself in his machine shop.

A favorite Leo G. Carroll story: Barbara Walters was interviewing him on the old Today show. She would signal interviewees that they had to wrap up by reaching over and tapping their knees. Evidently Leo wasn't forewarned. He suddenly turned stern and disapproving, declaring, "Young lady, why are you mauling me under the table?"

Edward said...

When I was growing up in the NYC area in the 1970s-1980s, "Topper" would occasionally be part of WOR-TV Channel 9's program schedule. The show was never on that long, probably since Black and White programs were being phased out due to the increasing number of homes with color TVs and significantly lower ratings that B/W shows and movies were receiving.

Mike Doran said...

The Leo G. Carroll story has a follow-up of sorts ...

In his own autobiography, Robert Vaughn revealed that in the UNCLE years, Leo G. Carroll was wearing a catheter, with attached bag.
I'm guessing that Barbara Walters hadn't been warned about that ...

Jeff Maxwell said...

My fantasy was to be George Kerby of the Topper series. Wonder why.

Gary Theroux said...

I was a big "Topper" fan, too, and Anne Jeffreys' impish, fun-loving character was a key reason for that. I thought the show was well written and well cast and certainly one of the '50s very best and most memorable sitcoms. 78 episodes were produced during the series' 1953-6 run, all shot at the legendary Hal Roach Studios (as were Gale Storm's two sitcoms, Abbott & Costello's, etc.) Too young to see "Topper" when it was new, the series became one of my childhood favorites when it went into endless reruns. Today it may seem dark and slow-moving, but the show featured clever plots, mostly built around stuffy Cosmo put into one inexplicable qnd embarrassing situation after another. Imaginitive (if obviously low budget) special effects added to the fun, as did the wonderful chemistry between the cast members. It was only years later that I saw the two "Topper" movies from the '30s and I preferred the TV incarnation. Of course, it's just human nature to prefer the first version of something that to you becomes beloved.

Storm said...

Just a few days ago, as part of my quest to see every film Bela Lugosi ever made (no matter how bad), I watched "Zombies on Broadway"; Miss Jeffreys was the female lead, and she stole the movie. I would never have known it was the same lady from the "Topper" TV show if I hadn't read the credits; not only did she sing and dance (she played a chanteuse), but her hair was hanging loose and long. I'm used to her with the ubiquitous bun with the middle-part swirl in front.

I says to my pal Baxter I says "Wow, Anne Jeffreys was even more of a knockout as a young woman, get a gander at those gams! I wonder if she's still with us, I don't recall her passing (I'm a notorious Celebrity Death Hag)...?"

The next day, I log on to the Interwebz, and saw that she had just passed. It freaked me OUT, because the same thing had just happened with the wonderful Harry Dean Stanton; I said out loud "I heard he wasn't doing too well, I wonder how he is...?", and the next day, gone.

Hmmm...

Hey Universe, I wonder how Trump is feeling lately...?

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

thirteen said...

I remember being seven or eight and watching Topper in reruns on New York's Channel 5. One episode had Anne Jeffreys, in a swimsuit, sunning herself in Topper's backyard. I felt a faint stirring, as if from afar. Thank you, Anne Jeffreys.

Topper was a hoot. For instance, there were photos of Mrs. Topper's parents on the mantle. I suppose you couldn't really make them out on a small screen back in the day, but nowadays you can see that the photos were of Martin Bormann and Lizzie Borden. It also had the first retcon I ever caught: In the pilot, George and Marion are killed in an avalanche along with Neil, a St. Bernard rescue dog. However, a few episodes later, Neil is said to have always been their dog. There's even a doghouse for Neil, with his name on it, in the backyard. Maybe the best part was the Leo G. Carroll inserts for Camel cigarettes, during which he'd announce which veterans' hospital would be getting free cartons of cigarettes that week.

The series was in reruns for years on weekday mornings. I guess the spooky camera tricks made it kid-friendly.

Tudor Queen said...

I'm another huge Anne Jeffreys fan, from "Topper" to the end. She was beautiful, classy and very talented. I noticed that none of her obits mentioned her co-starring role in "The Delphi Bureau" (maybe because the series failed, but hey, it got on the air!). As Sybil van Loween, the high society spymistress, she charmed me each and every week.

I envy you having gotten to know her as a person. I'm sure she was delightful.

Bridgett KK said...

Going through my belongings, I found a flyer from my towns art festival with Anne's autograph. I remember how kind she was and took the time to sign autographs. I loved the series Topper, even though it was before my time, but I watched the re-runs every week. I was saddened to learn of her death, but also surprise she was still around so recently after all these years.
I have cherished this piece of my history and just wanted to share it with others.
Thank you Anne for being such a kind person to a little girl who idolized you.
Bridgett