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Anne Jeffreys, the elegant actress who was Dick Tracy’s girlfriend Tess Trueheart in the movies and starred opposite her husband Robert Sterling as “the ghostess with the mostess” on television’s Topper, has died. She was 94.
Entertainment reporter and local Oscar host for Los Angeles’ KABC, George Pennacchio, tweeted Wednesday night that Jeffreys died. Details of her death were not immediately available.
Jeffreys later played the snobby socialite Amanda Barrington on General Hospital during a long association with the soap opera and appeared as David Hasselhoff’s mom on Baywatch.
A real trouper, Jeffreys replaced Patricia Morison and starred as Lilli Vanessi/Katharine in the original Broadway production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, for which she memorably sang “I Hate Men” in nearly 900 performances (without missing a single show).
In the 1940s, the North Carolina native was a contract player at Republic Pictures and was placed in a succession of Westerns alongside Wild Bill Elliott and George “Gabby” Hayes. She also starred amid the sagebrush with Robert Mitchum and Randolph Scott, respectively, in Nevada (1944) and Return of the Bad Men (1948).
Elsewhere, Jeffreys sang and starred alongside Frank Sinatra and Gloria DeHaven in the RKO musical Step Lively (1944), played a notorious gangster’s girlfriend in Lawrence Tierney’s Dillinger (1945) and was rather glamorous as a nightclub singer in Riff-Raff (1947).
She was born Annie Jeffreys Carmichael on Jan. 26, 1923, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Her parents divorced when she was 6 months old, and she had her own local radio show by age 10. She trained to be a soprano opera singer and won a scholarship to the New York Municipal Opera Company; to support her studies, she worked as a junior model for the famed John Robert Powers agency.
Jeffreys appeared onstage in Hollywood in the musical Fun for the Money in 1941 and then showed up on the silver screen in several releases the following year, including I Married an Angel, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy; Billy the Kid Trapped, with Buster Crabbe; and John Wayne’s Flying Tigers.
As a contract player at Republic and RKO, she helped entertain the troops at the Hollywood Canteen during World War II.
In RKO’s Dick Tracy (1945) and Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946), Jeffreys’ witty Tess was constantly being stood up by Morgan Conway, who had to dash off to fight crime as the legendary square-jawed cop from the comics. (Glenne Headly played Tess in Warren Beatty’s 1990 Dick Tracy movie.)
In 1947, the blue-eyed actress took a leave from the studio to star on Broadway in the groundbreaking “American opera” Street Scene, which was adapted by Kurt Weill as a musical from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Elmer Rice. It was her Broadway debut, and it fueled her lifetime love for the stage.
Jeffreys and Sterling met when she was in Kiss Me Kate (Morison had departed to star in the London version) and the actor — who had recently divorced actress Ann Sothern — was making his Broadway bow in Gramercy Ghost at the theater next door.
They married in November 1951, worked together on the 1952 Broadway musical Three Wishes for Jamie and launched a successful nightclub act. All that led to the charismatic couple being cast as the debonair wife-and-husband ghosts Marion and George Kirby — who playfully haunt sober banker Cosmo Topper (Leo G. Carroll), who now occupies their old home — on CBS’ Topper.
The series, which aired for two seasons from 1953-55, was based on Thorne Smith’s 1926 fantasy novel that famously was adapted for the classic 1937 MGM comedy that starred Constance Bennett and Cary Grant as the Kirbys and Roland Young as Topper. (A young Stephen Sondheim wrote for the CBS show and found the pace grueling.)
Jeffreys and Sterling later starred on the 1958 ABC comedy Love That Jill (they played heads of rival modeling agencies), but that series lasted just a handful of episodes. They were together until Sterling’s death in 2006.
After a 14-year absence from the big screen — during which she took time to raise her three children — Jeffreys returned as Howard Duff’s wife in Boys’ Night Out (1962), then toured the country in Camelot.
In the 1980s, Jeffreys played Jane Wyman’s romantic rival Amanda Croft on the CBS primetime soap opera Falcon Crest and was Tony Franciosa’s office manager on the short-lived ABC drama Finder of Lost Loves.
Jeffreys first appeared on ABC’s General Hospital as Amanda in 1984 and made her last appearance in 2004. In between, she played the character on the G.H. spinoff Port Charles.
Her TV résumé also included My Three Sons; Bonanza; Dr. Kildare; The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (in a reunion with her Topper co-star Carroll); The Delphi Bureau; Murder, She Wrote; L.A. Law; the Rich Man, Poor Man sequel Beggarman; Thief; and, in her final onscreen appearance in 2013, HBO’s Getting On.
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