Today is the birthday of Hariette Lake, who was born in 1909 in Valley City. Her mother was an opera singer and her father was a “traveling thespian."
When Hariette was 6, her father deserted them, and her mother, Annette, moved the family to Minneapolis, then to southern California, where she was hired as a diction coach during the early days of “talking pictures.” Annette also prepared daughter Hariette for life in show business, training her as a lyric soprano and teaching her piano.
In 1933, Hariette started her career with a brief movie role in which she and co-star Lucille Ball played bathing beauties. They hit it off and started experimenting with hair colors and makeup while slogging through a quagmire of bit-parts and walk-ons.
Film mogul Harry Cohn saw Hariette in a stage performance and decided to cast her in a picture, but there was a catch… too many Lakes in show business. He promptly renamed her Ann Sothern.
Her performance got her noticed, and in 1939, she landed a sophisticated comedy, Trade Winds, which gained her rave reviews. MGM picked up her contract, and her popularity was cemented in Maisie, in which Sothern played a flippant former burlesque dancer with a warm heart and a lot of man trouble. The film was a smash hit and led to nine more Maisie films. Ann leveraged her success, insisting that the studio giver her another strong movie role for each successive Maisie. And Lucy? “I got all the parts Ann Sothern turned down,” she quipped.
In the 1950s, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz boldly launched The Lucy Show, and soon after, Ann Sothern launched her own TV career with a sassy character in a very successful show, Private Secretary. “The best comedienne in this business, bar none, is Ann Sothern,” Lucy said, and after Sothern left Private Secretary, Lucy and Desi commissioned their writers to create The Ann Sothern Show. Again, she was a hit, and the show ran for three years.
In 1986, Ann Sothern was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Whales of August, co-starring Lillian Gish, Bette Davis and Vincent Price.
Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies said, “There was nothing she couldn’t do. Light comedy was her forte, but she also was a good singer and the camera loved her.”
Ann Sothern, the gal from Valley City, died in 2001 at the age of 92.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm