On Monday, August 21st, the day of the total solar eclipse, The Turner Classics TV Network will dedicate an entire day and night to showing 15 of Ann Harding’s 40 movies, starting at 6 a.m. The eclipse, on that day, is “one star allowing another star to shine”.
Ann first appeared on the stage at the East Orange High School, in New Jersey, where she surprised the audience with her interpretation of the seductive spy, Theda Bara. She also spent a year attending Bryn Mawr College. Inspired by her time there and wanting to continue, she moved to New York where she met Jasper Deeter.
After attending a play by Provincetown Players (where Deeter was a leading actor/director), Ann discovered that the acting company was holding auditions for a part, and she decided to give it a try. Asked to come back the next evening and read for a larger part, to her surprise, she won it. She subsequently received critical acclaim for her role in “Inheritors” (1921) and decided she would continue her budding career, that included a total of 72 plays on and off Broadway.
Deeter returned from New York to Rose Valley, bringing with him seven actors including Harding, blue cheesecloth, 16 light bulbs, some wood paneling, nine dollars, and the idea of an independent repertory theatre. Hedgerow Theatre was born.
Harding perfected her craft at Hedgerow and attained national recognition; in addition to stage performances, she acted in 40 movies, 28 radio programs, and 44 TV programs, and has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, for film and TV. She was the 16th star to leave her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, that now has more than 200 stars so honored. Ann was one of only a few stars to address their fans directly. In the cement she wrote, “Whatever Success I Have, You Make Possible”.
She was signed by Pathe Studios in 1929 and made her debut with Fredric March in “Paris Bound” (1929). As she was trained before microphones were invented, she could project her voice beyond the 10th row. This ability was an asset in the introduction of the early “talkies”. Some silent stars could not make the transition because of their voice quality. She became a Hollywood leading lady and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Holiday” (1930). In “The Animal Kingdom” (1932) she was the gentle refined heroine, when she played Daisy, the rejected fiancée of Leslie Howard which came to be her “type”. She also starred with leading men Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, William Powell, Herbert Marshall, Robert Young, Richard Dix, and Gary Cooper in a wide variety of movies.
She quit films in 1937 when she married conductor Werner Janssen, but she could not stay away, and came back five years later in “Eyes in the Night” (1942) with Gale Storm and Edward Arnold. For the next five years she played mature character roles. Another break, another 3 films and then in 1956, she appeared once again with Fredric March, the man with whom she started her career in “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (1956). She continued to appear sporadically on TV in the 1960s and died at age 80 in 1981.
Throughout her career she would make return appearances to Hedgerow, where she even provided the funds for the actor residence now known as Hedgerow theatre school and house.
More information: Ann Harding Bio