May 17, 2004

Anna Lee, 91: General Hospital Actress

Academy member Anna Lee, best known as Lila Quartermaine in ABC's General Hospital, has died of pneumonia. She was 91.

Lee was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident only one year after taking the role on General Hospital, and acted in a wheelchair for more than twenty years until she left the soap last year.Her acting career spanned nearly 70 years, and began with a breakthrough role in How Green Was My Valley. Although she was born in England and studied acting in London, the actress moved to California to pursue film work, and appeared in more than 60 films, including The Sound of Music, Fort Apache and King Solomon's Mines.Lee received a Member of the Order of the British Empire award in 1982. This year, she is to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony. She was interviewed by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation's Archive of American Television on August 14, 2002.

Some excerpts from the interview:

On live television:

"I think I went into television in 1950. It was live television then. It was kind of intimidating because the moment that red light went on, you were on your own, there was no help for you. So if you didn't know your lines or you walked in the wrong place, then there was nothing they could do. So we learned to improvise, to fill in those gaps."

On the blacklist:

"Mark Goodson came into my dressing room and said, 'Anna, I have to ask you a very difficult question, and I'm embarrassed because I know what the answer is. Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?' I laughed and I said I've never had anything to do with politics, I said in England I think I was a Churchill conservative, and I said I never had anything to do with politics in America. But I found out eventually, it haunted me for almost a year, and then John Ford went up to Washington and found out what had happened, apparently there was an actress called Ann Lee, who headed some petition to free a man called Bridges, but I didn't know who Bridges was! They added an 'A' onto Ann, and Anna Lee was in Red Channels and so I lost work for about a year because of that."

On working with John Ford:

"A lot of people have asked me what it was like to be directed by John Ford, but the thing is he didn't direct you. He never gave you line readings or told you what do with your hands. He would take you aside and talk about something completely different, about what was happening in England or something. And then after a while, he'd say, now go to work. And he put you onstage, and everything would be set up, the cameras and everything, and you started to work. And you found yourself doing things you had no idea about, and then not do things that you planned to. It was like a sort of thought transference. It worked."

Describing her character Lila Quartermaine on General Hospital:

"Well I think she's the only nice person in the family. Edward is an old curmudgeon who bullies everybody. And Alan, our son, is a nice man but he doesn't have too much to do. And they're always quarreling, either splitting up or getting divorces or something. Lila's the only one who has a calm, peaceful quality about her."

On her acting style:

"Well, just be on time, know your lines and don't fall into the furniture."

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