Dorothy Walton Gatley
August 7, 1902 (
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
September 1, 1981, Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, California, United States
Werner Janssen (m. 1937–1962), Harry Bannister (m. 1926–1932)
Jane Bannister, Grace Kaye Janssen
The Animal Kingdom, Peter Ibbetson, It Happened on Fifth A, Double Harness, Eyes in the Night
Harry Bannister, Charlie Ruggles, Victor Moore, Richard Dix, Myrna Loy
Ann Harding (August 7, 1902 – September 1, 1981) was an American theatre, motion picture, radio, and television actress.
Tribute to Ann Harding
Harding was born Dorothy Walton Gatley at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas to George G. Gatley, a career army officer, and Elizabeth "Bessie" Crabb. After travelling often during her early life, she grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, graduated from East Orange High School, and attended Bryn Mawr College.
Because her father "violently opposed her profession", Harding changed her name.
After graduation, Harding found employment as a script reader. She began acting and made her Broadway debut in Like a King in 1921. Three years later she found her "home theater" in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, after being directed by Hedgerow Theatre founder Jasper Deeter in The Master Builder. Over the years she returned to Hedgerow to reprise several of her roles. She soon became a leading lady, who kept in shape by using the services of Sylvia of Hollywood. She was a prominent actress in Pittsburgh theatre for a time, performing with the Sharp Company and later starting the Nixon Players with Harry Bannister. In 1929, she made her film debut in Paris Bound, opposite Fredric March. In 1931, she purchased the Hedgerow Theatre building from Deeter for $5,000 and donated it to the company.
First under contract to Pathé, which was subsequently absorbed by RKO studio, Harding was promoted as the studio's 'answer' to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's superstar Norma Shearer. She co-starred with Ronald Colman, Laurence Olivier, Myrna Loy, Herbert Marshall, Leslie Howard, Richard Dix, and Gary Cooper, and was often on loan to other studios, such as MGM and Paramount. At RKO, Harding, along with Helen Twelvetrees and Constance Bennett, comprised a trio who specialized in the "women's pictures" genre.
Harding's performances were often heralded by the critics, who cited her diction and stage experience as assets to the then-new medium of "talking pictures". Harding's second film was Her Private Affair, in which she portrayed a wife of questionable morality. The film was an enormous commercial success. During this period, she was generally considered to be one of cinema's most beautiful women, with her waist-length blonde hair being one of her most noted physical attributes. Films during her peak include The Animal Kingdom, Peter Ibbetson, When Ladies Meet, The Flame Within, and Biography of a Bachelor Girl. Harding, however, eventually became stereotyped as the innocent, self-sacrificing young woman. Following lukewarm responses by both critics and the public to several of her later 1930s films, she eventually stopped making movies when she married the conductor Werner Janssen in 1937. She returned to the big screen in 1942 to make Eyes in the Night and to take secondary roles in other films. In 1956, she again starred with Fredric March, this time in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.
The 1960s marked Harding's return to Broadway after an absence of decades — having last appeared in 1927. In 1962, she starred in General Seeger, directed by and co-starring George C. Scott, and in 1964 she appeared in Abraham Cochrane ("her last New York stage appearance"). Both productions had brief runs, with the former play lasting a mere three performances (including previews). Harding made her final acting performance in 1965 in an episode of television's Ben Casey before retiring.
Harding married actor Harry Bannister They had one child together before divorcing in 1932. The divorce resulted in what her obituary in The New York Times described as "a bitter court fight ... over custody of their daughter." In 1937, Harding married Werner Janssen, the famous conductor. Harding and Janssen enjoyed life in a number of cities, before settling down in California to work more closely with Hollywood. The couple divorced in 1962. Her death certificate states that she had an adopted daughter, Grace Kaye Harding.
On September 1, 1981, Harding died at the age of 79 in Sherman Oaks, California. After cremation, her urn was placed in the Court of Remembrance wall at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.
She was survived by a daughter and four grandchildren.
Harding was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Holiday in 1931. For her contributions to the motion picture and television industries, Harding has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — one in the Motion Pictures section 6201 Hollywood Boulevard and one in the Television section at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard.