Born in Denton, Texas on February 21, 1915, Sheridan was the daughter of G. W. Sheridan and Lula Stewart Warren Sheridan. She said that her father was a great-great-nephew of Civil War Union general Philip Sheridan. She had a sister, Pauline. She was active in dramatics at Denton High School and at North Texas State Teachers College. She also sang with the college's stage band.
In 1932, she was a student at North Texas State Teachers College when her sister sent a photograph of her to Paramount Pictures. She subsequently entered and won a beauty contest, with part of her prize being a bit part in a Paramount film, The Search for Beauty. She left college to pursue a career in Hollywood.
After making her film début in 1934, aged 19, in Search for Beauty, she played uncredited bit parts in Paramount films for the next two years, starting at $75 a week.
A December 2, 1934, story in The Sandusky Register referred to Ann Sheridan "who is still under contract to Paramount." A December 25, 1934, news story in The Emporia Gazette said, "Born Clara Lou Sheridan, she was 'changed' by studio bosses to plain Lou Sheridan, but ere long they had decided on Ann.")
She can be glimpsed in in Bolero (1934), Come On Marines! (1934) (billed as "Clara Lou Sheridan"), Murder at the Vanities (1934), Shoot the Works (1934), Kiss and Make-Up (1934), The Notorious Sophie Lang (1934), College Rhythm (1934) (directed by Norman Taurog who Sheridan admired), Ladies Should Listen (1934), You Belong to Me (1934), Wagon Wheels (1934), The Lemon Drop Kid (1934), Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934), Ready for Love (1934), Limehouse Blues (1934), One Hour Late (1934).
Sheridan worked with Paramount's drama coach Nina Mouise and would perform plays on the lot with fellow contractees, including The Milky Way and The Pursuit of Happiness. When she did The Milky Way she played a character called Ann and the Paramount front office decided to change her name to "Ann".
Sheridan had a good part Behold My Wife! (1934) which she got at the behest of director Mitchell Leisen, who was a friend. She had two good scenes, one in which her character had to commit suicide. Sheridan attributed this role to Paramount keeping her for two years.
She followed it with Enter Madame (1935), Home on the Range (1935), and Rumba (1935).
Sheridan's first lead came in Car 99 (1935) with Fred MacMurray. She was in Rocky Mountain Mystery (1935), a Randolph Scott Western. "No acting, it was just playing the lead, that's all," she later said.
Then she was in Mississippi (1935), The Glass Key (1935), and The Crusades (1935), having one line. Paramount loaned her out to Talisman, a small production company, to makeThe Red Blood of Courage (1935). After this Paramount declined to take up her option.
Sheridan did one film at Universal, Fighting Youth (1935), then signed a contract with Warner Bros. in 1936, and changing her name to Ann Sheridan. (An Associated Press news story on September 27, 1934, reported that she "had her name bobbed and her career lengthened simultaneously," with her new screen name being Lou Sheridan.
Sheridan's career prospects began to improve. Her early films for Warners included Sing Me a Love Song (1936); Black Legion (1937) with Humphrey Bogart; The Great O'Malley (1937) with Pat O'Brien and Bogart; San Quentin (1937), with O'Brien and Bogart, singing for the first time in a film; Wine, Women and Horses (1937) with Barton MacLane.
Sheridan moved into B picture leads: The Footloose Heiress (1937); Alcatraz Island (1937) with John Litel; and She Loved a Fireman (1937) with Dick Foran for director John Farrow. She was a lead in The Patient in Room 18 (1937) and its sequel Mystery House (1938). Sheridan was in Little Miss Thoroughbred (1938) with Litel for Farrow and supported Dick Powell in Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938).
Universal borrowed her for a support role in Letter of Introduction (1938) at the behest of director John Stahl. For Farrow she was in Broadway Musketeers (1938), a remake of Three on a Match (1932).
Sheridan's notices in Letter of Introduction impressed Warners executives. "Oomph" was described as "a certain indefinable something that commands male interest." and she began to get roles in A pictures, starting with Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), where she played James Cagney's love interest; Bogart, O'Brien and the Dead End Kids had support roles. The film was a big hit and critically acclaimed.
Sheridan was reunited with the Dead End Kids in They Made Me a Criminal (1938), starring John Garfield. She was third billed in the Western Dodge City (1939), playing a saloon owner opposite Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The film was another notable success.
In March 1939 Warners announced Sheridan had been voted by a committee of 25 men as the female actor with the most "oomph" in America.
She received as many as 250 marriage proposals from fans in a single week. Tagged "The Oomph Girl"—a sobriquet which she reportedly loathed—Sheridan was a popular pin-up girl in the early 1940s. (On the other hand, a February 25, 1940, news story distributed by the Associated Press reported that Sheridan no longer "bemoaned the 'oomph' tag." She continued, "But I'm sorry now. I know if it hadn't been for 'oomph' I'd probably still be in the chorus.")
Sheridan co-starred with Dick Powell in Naughty but Nice (1939) and played a wacky heiress in Winter Carnival (1939).
She was top billed in Indianapolis Speedway (1939) with O'Brien, and The Angels Wash Their Faces (1939) with O'Brien, the Dead End Kids and Ronald Reagan. Castle on the Hudson (1940) put her opposite Garfield and O'Brien.
Sheridan's first real starring vehicle was It All Came True (1940), a musical comedy co starring Bogart and Jeffrey Lynn. She introduced the song "Angel in Disguise".
Sheridan and Cagney were reunited in Torrid Zone (1940) with O'Brien in support. She was with George Raft, Bogart and Ida Lupino in They Drive by Night (1940), a trucking melodrama. Sheridan was back with Cagney for City for Conquest (1941) then made a comedy with George Brent Honeymoon for Three (1941).
Sheridan did two lighter films: Navy Blues (1941), a musical comedy; and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), playing a character modelled on Gertrude Lawrence. She then made Kings Row (1942), in which she received top billing playing opposite Ronald Reagan, Robert Cummings, and Betty Field. It was a huge success and one of Sheridan's most memorable films.
Sheridan and Reagan were reunited for Juke Girl (1942) . She was in the war film Wings for the Eagle (1942) and made a comedy with Jack Benny, George Washington Slept Here (1943). She played a Norwegian resistance fighter in Edge of Darkness (1943) with Errol Flynn, and was one of the many Warners stars who had cameos in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943).
She was the heroine of a novel, Ann Sheridan and the Sign of the Sphinx, written by Kathryn Heisenfelt, published by Whitman Publishing Company in 1943. While the heroine of the story was identified as a famous actress, the stories were entirely fictitious. The story was probably written for a young teenage audience and is reminiscent of the adventures of Nancy Drew. It is part of a series known as "Whitman Authorized Editions", 16 books published between 1941 and 1947 that always featured a film actress as heroine.
Sheridan was given the lead in the musical Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), playing Nora Bayes, opposite Dennis Morgan. She was in a comedy The Doughgirls (1944).
Sheridan was absent from screens for over a year before returning in One More Tomorrow (1946) with Morgan. She had an excellent role in the noir Nora Prentiss (1947), which was a hit. It was followed by The Unfaithful (1948), a popular remake of The Letter, and Silver River (1948), a Western melodrama with Errol Flynn. She then left Warners.
Sheridan supported Gary Cooper in Good Sam (1948). Her role in I Was a Male War Bride (1949), directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Cary Grant, gave her another success. In 1950, she appeared on the ABC musical television series Stop the Music. She made Stella (1950), a comedy with Victor Mature at Fox. She announced she wanted to produce a film, Second Lady based on a story by Eleanor Griffin.
Sheridan made Woman on the Run (1950), a noir, which she did produce. It was distributed by Universal and Sheridan signed a contract with that studio. While there she made Steel Town (1952); Just Across the Street (1952), a comedy; Take Me to Town (1953), a comedy directed by Douglas Sirk.
Sheridan supported Glenn Ford in Appointment in Honduras (1953). She appeared opposite Steve Cochran in Come Next Spring (1956) and was one of several stars in MGM's The Opposite Sex (1956).
She did stage tours of Kind Sir (1958) and Odd Man In (1959), and in The Time of Your Life at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. In all three she shows she acted with Scott McKay who she later married.
In 1962, she played the lead in "The Mavis Grant Story" on the Western series Wagon Train. In the middle 1960s, Sheridan appeared on the NBC soap opera Another World.
Her final work was a TV series of her own in the mid-1960s, a comedy Western entitled Pistols 'n' Petticoats, which was filmed during the year before her death, and was broadcast on CBS on Saturday nights. The 19th episode of the series, "Beware the Hangman", aired, as scheduled, on the same day that she died. For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Ann Sheridan has a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 7024 Hollywood Boulevard.
Sheridan married actor Edward Norris August 16, 1936, in Ensenada, Mexico. They separated a year later and divorced in 1939.
On January 5, 1942, she married fellow Warner Brothers star George Brent, who co-starred with her in Honeymoon for Three (1941). They divorced exactly one year later.
Following her divorce from George Brent, she had a long term relationship with Steve Hannagan, the super publicist, that lasted until his death in 1953. Hannagan’s estate bequeathed Ms. Sheridan $218,399 ($2,000,000 in current dollars) .
On June 5, 1966 she married actor Scott McKay, who was with her when she died.
In 1966, Sheridan began starring in a new television series, a Western themed comedy called Pistols 'n' Petticoats. She became ill during the filming, and died of esophageal and liver cancer at age 51 on January 21, 1967, in Los Angeles. She was cremated, and her ashes were stored at the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles until her remains were interred in a niche in the Chapel Columbarium at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in 2005.