Anna Lee

Anna Lee


Also Known As
Joan Boniface Winnifrith
Birth Place
Kent, England, GB
January 02, 1913
May 14, 2004
Cause of Death
Died Of Pneumonia


For her American film debut, Anna Lee was required to darken her naturally blonde hair by order of "Seven Sinners" (1941) star Marlene Dietrich, whose ego could handle no competition from the blue-eyed, surpassingly lovely British actress. While posing no threat to Hollywood's A-list leading ladies, Lee kept busy in the ensuing years, backing John Wayne in "The Flying Tigers" (1942) and ...

Photos & Videos

Bedlam - Publicity Stills
The Crimson Kimono - Movie Poster
Bedlam - Lobby Card

Family & Companions

Robert Stevenson
Director. Married 1934; divorced 1940; met in the Libyan desert while filming "The Camels Are Coming"; directed Lee in six films, including "The Man Who Changed His Mind" (1936), "King Solomon's Mines" (1937) and "Return to Yesterday" (1940).
Robert Nathan
Novelist, playwright, poet. Married from 1970 until his death at age 91 in 1985.


Lee has received three SOAP OPERA Digest awards for her work on "General Hospital" in 1982, 1983 and 1988.


For her American film debut, Anna Lee was required to darken her naturally blonde hair by order of "Seven Sinners" (1941) star Marlene Dietrich, whose ego could handle no competition from the blue-eyed, surpassingly lovely British actress. While posing no threat to Hollywood's A-list leading ladies, Lee kept busy in the ensuing years, backing John Wayne in "The Flying Tigers" (1942) and Boris Karloff in "Bedlam" (1946) while proving a valuable addition to John Ford's stock company, beginning with the Academy Award-winning "How Green Was My Valley" (1944). Shifting to character parts in middle age and focusing on television work to allow time with her family, Lee contributed a string of wry cameo appearances to such features as "The Prize" (1962), "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" (1964), and "The Sound of Music" (1965). Most often seen as the epitome of prudence and purity, she enjoyed playing the occasional bad girl - the perfidious wife of Warner Baxter's "Prison Warden" (1949), the benighted Lady Constance of "Jack the Giant Killer" (1962), and the distaff supervillain of "In Like Flint" (1967). At age 65, Lee began a long association with the ABC soap opera "General Hospital" (1963- ), playing matriarch Lila Quartermaine for 26 years, even after a 1982 automobile accident put her in a wheelchair for life. Lee's death in 2004 capped a 70-year career in film, bequeathing to movie lovers the legacy of an actress with the soul of a character player and the face of a movie star.

Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith on Jan. 2, 1913, in the village of Igtham in Kent, England. Descendant of a long line of clergymen, her middle name was given in tribute to the 8th Century Benedictine monk who propagated Christianity in the Frankish empire, was martyred in 752, and canonized as the Patron Saint of Germany. Lee's father, Bertram Winnifrith, was the rector of St. Peter's Church in Igtham and headmaster of the local boy's school. As a young girl, Lee spent her early childhood years at play in the surrounding forest and pulling books of poetry from the low shelves of her father's study. Encouraged by her father, an amateur singer, she developed an interest in acting and made her stage debut shortly after her 10th birthday as a female robot in a village production of A. E. Barber's "Mechanical Jane." The death of Lee's father from meningitis the following year forced her widowed mother to relocate Lee and her four siblings to nearby Rochester, where they took up residence in a 16th century mansion that Charles Dickens had used nearly a century earlier as a model for Miss Havisham's estate in his 1861 novel Great Expectations.

At the age of 11, Lee saw her first motion picture, walking alone to nearby Chatham and paying sixpence to glimpse Pola Negri in Ernst Lubitsch's "Forbidden Paradise" (1924). After obtaining her primary education at Granville House, run by the sister of godfather Arthur Conan Doyle, Lee took up the study of acting at the Royal Albert Hall's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art. When her teachers discovered that she had made pocket money by working as an extra in moving pictures, Lee was not invited back to the school. Instead, she continued playing bit parts in British quota films financed by such Hollywood studios as Paramount and Warner Brothers. Realizing her birth name was too long for a cinema marque, she adopted her stage name, deriving Anna from Asian actress Anna Mae Wong and Lee from U.S. Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After playing Louis Hayward's leading lady in "Chelsea Life" (1933), Lee was offered more prominent roles and eventually found herself branded in Britain as the Queen of the Quota Quickies.

In 1935, Lee was selected by Michael Balcon, director of production for the Gaumont British Picture Association, to star opposite comedian Jack Hulbert in the adventure "The Camels are Coming" (1934), shot on location in Egypt. Over the next four years, she appeared in a dozen films for Gaumont, playing a young woman enmeshed in a loveless engagement to an older man in "The Passing of the Third Floor Back" (1935), mad doctor Boris Karloff's daughter in "The Man Who Changed His Mind" (1936), and a plucky diamond miner who partners with white trader Cedric Hardwicke and deposed tribal chieftain Paul Robeson to oppose an evil witch doctor in "King Solomon's Mines" (1937), directed by her first husband, Robert Stevenson. When Stevenson was brought to the United States by producer David O. Selznick to remake Gustaf Molander's "Intermezzo" (1936) as an English language vehicle for Swedish import Ingrid Bergman, Lee followed, with the couple's 18-month-old daughter Venetia in tow. Though Stevenson never did direct a film for Selznick, Lee was unable to return to England after the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and Germany in September 1939.

Finding work at Universal, Lee was cast in Tay Garnett's "Seven Sinners" (1940) as the virtuous opposite of Marlene Dietrich's fallen woman. Her ego unable to countenance competition from another blue-eyed blonde, Dietrich used her star cachet to compel Lee to darken her hair. Lee was paired with Ronald Colman for Lewis Milestone's "Life with Caroline" (1941), which earned her an RKO contract. On loan to 20th Century Fox, she was awarded a principal role in the "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), the first of seven films for John Ford. Republic Pictures' "Flying Tigers" (1942) featured Lee as an airbase nurse whose affair with a pilot makes life difficult for flight commander John Wayne. In Fritz Lang's "Hangman Also Die" (1943), Lee played the conflicted daughter of a Czech national who safeguards resistance member Brian Donlevy from the Gestapo. Lee appeared with Edward G. Robinson in the central vignette of Jean Duvivier's omnibus "Flesh and Fantasy" (1943) and in Douglas Sirk's historical melodrama "Summer Storm" (1943) she lost fiancé George Sanders to peasant Linda Darnell.

During the Second World War, Lee volunteered for work with the USO, entertaining American troops with Jack Benny in the Persian Gulf. Divorced from Stevenson in March 1944, she wed second husband George Stafford only three months later and was given away in marriage by friend Alfred Hitchcock. Back at RKO, Lee reteamed with Boris Karloff for "Bedlam" (1946), playing a social reformer held prisoner by corrupt asylum officials. Relegated to the small role as philanderer George Sanders' wife in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), Lee was nonetheless able to command double her asking price, a fee that quadrupled when star Gene Tierney was sidelined by an injury. She was in long-suffering wife mode again for John Ford's "Fort Apache" (1948) but had more fun as the duplicitous bride of Warner Baxter's "Prison Warden" (1949), a Columbia B-picture directed by Seymour Friedman. Beginning in 1950, Lee began making appearances on such live television series as "Robert Montgomery Presents" (NBC, 1950-57), "Kraft Theatre" (ABC, 1947-1958), and "The Pepsi Cola Playhouse" (ABC, 1953-55).

Dividing her time between television work and family life, Lee continued to appear as a stock player for John Ford, popping up in small roles opposite Spencer Tracy in "The Last Hurrah" (1958) and John Wayne and William Holden in "The Horse Soldiers" (1959). Early into Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962), Lee appeared as a stage coach passenger brutalized by villain Lee Marvin and she played the nosey neighbor of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Robert Aldrich's "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962). While filming Nathan Juran's fantasy "Jack the Giant Killer" (1962), she endured uncomfortable contact lenses and being pecked at by a trained raven. Contributing uncredited bits to such MGM productions as "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962) and "The Prize" (1962) allowed Lee to reunite with old friends Lewis Milestone and Mark Robson, whom she had known in her days at RKO. One of Lee's most memorable later roles was as the Nazi-thwarting Sister Margaretta in Robert Wise's "The Sound of Music" (1965), while she held her own as a super-villain using a cosmetics conglomeration as a front for espionage in the James Bond spoof "In Like Flint" (1967), starring James Coburn.

With the dissolution in 1964 of her second marriage, Lee spent several years as a single mother before marrying poet and writer Robert Nathan in 1970. With homes in Cape Cod and Los Angeles, Lee kept busy in episodes of such popular weekly TV series as "Mannix" (CBS, 1967-1975), "Mission: Impossible" (CBS, 1963-1973) and "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC, 1972-77), while playing Laura Delano, beloved cousin of future United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the ABC telefilms "Eleanor and Franklin" (1976) and "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" (1977). In 1978, she began a two-decade association with the Emmy Award-winning ABC daytime drama "General Hospital" (1963- ), as socialite Lila Quartermaine. Two years into her tenure on the series, Lee was paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident yet continued in her role from a wheelchair for the rest of her tenure. That same year, she received the MBE from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Despite the death of her third husband in 1985 and the untimely demise of her oldest son John in 1986, Lee continued to perform well into her eighties. In 1993, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. With her health failing, and the resulting delays in production of "General Hospital," Lee's character was written out of the series after 26 years, a decision that infuriated longtime fans. On May 14, 2004, Lee succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 91. Her autobiography, Anna Lee: Memoir of a Career on General Hospital and in Film was published posthumously in 2007.

by Richard Harland Smith



Cast (Feature Film)

Where Evil Lies (1995)
Listen To Me (1989)
My Name Is Bertolt Brecht - Exile in U.S.A. (1988)
The Pick-Up Artist (1987)
The Night Rider (1979)
The Beasts Are On The Streets (1978)
Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (1977)
My Darling Daughters' Anniversary (1973)
Judge Barbara Hanline
Star! (1968)
In Like Flint (1967)
Picture Mommy Dead (1966)
Elsie Kornwald
Seven Women (1966)
Mrs. Russell
The Sound of Music (1965)
Sister Margaretta
For Those Who Think Young (1964)
Laura Pruitt
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
Jack the Giant Killer (1962)
Lady Constance
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Mrs. Bates
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Stagecoach passenger
Two Rode Together (1961)
Mrs. MalaProps
The Big Night (1960)
Mrs. Turner
The Crimson Kimono (1959)
This Earth Is Mine (1959)
Charlotte Rambeau
Jet over the Atlantic (1959)
Ursula Leverett
Gideon of Scotland Yard (1959)
Mrs. Kate Gideon
The Horse Soldiers (1959)
Mrs. Buford
The Last Hurrah (1958)
Gert Minihan
Prison Warden (1949)
Elisa Burnell
Fort Apache (1948)
Emma Collingwood
Best Man Wins (1948)
Nancy Smiley
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Mrs. Miles Fairley
High Conquest (1947)
Marie Carrel
Bedlam (1946)
Nell Bowen
G. I. War Brides (1946)
Linda Powell
Summer Storm (1944)
Nadina Kalenin
Forever and a Day (1943)
Flesh and Fantasy (1943)
Hangmen Also Die! (1943)
Mascha Novotny
Commandos Strike At Dawn (1942)
Judith Bowen
Flying Tigers (1942)
Brooke Elliott
Commandos Strike at Dawn (To Be Deleted) (1942)
My Life with Caroline (1941)
Caroline [Mason]
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Seven Sinners (1940)
Dorothy [Henderson]
Return to Yesterday (1940)
King Solomon's Mines (1937)
Kathy O'Brien
Non-Stop New York (1937)
Jennie Carr
You're in the Army Now (1937)
Sally Briggs
The Man Who Lived Again (1936)
Dr. Clare Wyatt
First a Girl (1935)
The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1935)
The Camels Are Coming (1934)
Chelsea Life (1933)
Honorable Muriel Maxton

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

My Name Is Bertolt Brecht - Exile in U.S.A. (1988)

Cast (Special)

Maureen O'Hara: Wild Irish Rose (2000)
The Nickellennium (2000)
John Ford: An American Icon (1999)
John Wayne: American Legend (1998)
General Hospital: Twist of Fate (1996)
Unscripted Hollywood (1995)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Scruples (1980)
Eleanor and Franklin (1976)

Life Events


First American film, "Seven Sinners", in support of Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne


Made first film with director John Ford, "How Green Was My Valley"


Moved to New York to begin second career in live TV


Played Dora Foster on the TV sitcom, "A Date with Judy"


Last feature film for several years, "Boots Malone"


Played Doris Mayfield on the CBS sitcom, "The Charlie Farrell Show"


Portrayed Sister Margaretta in "The Sound of Music"


Played Lila Quatermaine on the ABC daytime drama, "General Hospital"


Injured spine in accident; paralyzed from waist down


Awarded star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Photo Collections

Bedlam - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from Val Lewton's Bedlam (1946), starring Boris Karloff and Anna Lee. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Crimson Kimono - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Columbia's The Crimson Kimono (1959), directed by Samuel Fuller. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Bedlam - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from RKO's Bedlam (1946), produced by Val Lewton and starring Boris Karloff. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.


Movie Clip

Hangmen Also Die (1943) -- (Movie Clip) We Checked Your Story Quick series of Nazi interrogations from director Fritz Lang as Mascha (Anna Lee), the professor (Walter Brennan) and his wife (Nana Bryant) and Mrs. Dvorak (Sarah Padden) are victimized in Hangmen Also Die, 1943.
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (1962) -- (Movie Clip) Western Law Veteran senator Ranse Stoddard (James Stewart) begins narrating the long flashback, recalling his arrival on the stagecoach and his first encounter with the bandit (Lee Marvin) in John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962.
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) -- (Movie Clip) I'll Clean The Cage Un-balanced former child star Jane (Bette Davis) receives neighbor Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), then upstairs with sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), whose movie career she ended in a deliberate accident, in Robert Aldrich's What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, 1962.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) -- (Movie Clip) I First Saw Bron Irving Pichel's narration as the grown Huw (Roddy McDowall) continues, introducing Bronwyn (Anna Lee) to the Morgans as bride to brother Ivor (Patric Knowles), mother (Sara Algood) and dad (Donald Crisp) featured along with sister Maureen O'Hara (who would name her daughter Bronwyn!), early in John Ford's Welsh family saga How Green Was My Valley, 1941.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Handmaiden Of The Lord New preacher Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) visits injured Huw (Roddy McDowall), under the care of his sister-in-law Bronwyn (Anna Lee) and sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara), who is especially grateful, in John Ford's Welsh mining family saga How Green Was My Valley, 1941.
Picture Mommy Dead (1966) -- (Movie Clip) The Worms Crawl In Spooky opening by producer-director Bert I. Gordon, Zsa Zsa Gabor consumed by flames, after which we meet her traumatized daughter (Susan Gordon, Bert’s daughter), collected by her father (Don Ameche) and his new wife (Martha Hyer), in Picture Mommy Dead, 1966.
Song Without End (1960) -- (Movie Clip) God Didn't Make Him Simple Fanciful scene wherein Franz Liszt (Dirk Bogarde), with his annoyed mistress Countess Marie (Genevieve Page), at his hide-away near Chamonix receives friends George Sand (Patricia Morison), Chopin (Alex Davion) and manager Potin (Lou Jacobi) all at once, early in Song Without End, 1960.
Fort Apache (1948) -- (Movie Clip) New Commanding Officer Thursday (Henry Fonda), with daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) arrives unexpected, greeted by the Collingwoods (Anna Lee, George O'Brien) and York (John Wayne), as Michael (John Agar) joins his parents (Ward Bond, Irene Rich), big events in John Ford's Fort Apache, 1948.
Last Hurrah, The (1958) -- (Movie Clip) He Had Such Bad Luck Mayor Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) with embedded-reporter nephew Adam (Jeffrey Hunter) arriving early to the wake for a friend, meeting kooky Delia (Jane Darwell) and the widow Gert (Anna Lee), in John Ford's The Last Hurrah, 1958, from the Edwin O'Connor novel.
My Life With Caroline -- (Movie Clip) Another Airport Joining the star in his first scene, Ronald Colman (as husband "Anthony") speaks to the camera, explaining wife Caroline (Anna Lee), her current dalliance with Paco (Gilbert Roland) and one earlier with Paul (Reginald Gardiner), in Lewis Milestone's My Life With Caroline, 1941.
My Life With Caroline -- (Movie Clip) That Was Lucky Deep in a flashback in which sanguine husband Anthony (Ronald Colman) is several steps ahead of fickle wife Caroline (Anna Lee), as she attempts to announce she's leaving, in My Life With Caroline. 1941.
Bedlam -- (Movie Clip) Opening Credits Opening credits for director Mark Robson's early career highlight Bedlam, 1946, produced by Val Lewton and starring Boris Karloff and Anna Lee.


Commandos Strike At Dawn - (Original Trailer) A Norwegian fisherman (Paul Muni) forms a resistance group to fight the Nazis in Commandos Strike At Dawn (1943).
Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The - (Original Trailer) A spirited widow (Gene Tierney) rents a haunted cottage and builds an emotional bond with the resident ghost (Rex Harrison) in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Seven Women - (Original Trailer) Seven women staffing an isolated Chinese mission fight to survive a bandit attack in John Ford's last movie Seven Women (1966).
Unsinkable Molly Brown, The - (Original Trailer) A backwoods girl strikes it rich in Colorado and crashes high society in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) starring Debbie Reynolds.
How Green Was My Valley - (Re-issue Trailer) Five Oscars®, including Best Picture and Director, went to John Ford's portrait of a Welsh mining town, How Green Was My Valley (1941).
Fort Apache - (Re-issue Trailer) An experienced cavalry officer (John Wayne) tries to keep his new, by-the-books commander from triggering an Indian war in John Ford's Fort Apache (1948).
Jack The Giant Killer - (Original Trailer) A farm boy rises to noble heights to protect a princess from an evil wizard and becomes Jack The Giant Killer (1962).
In Like Flint - (Original Trailer) Flint returns to save the world from a secret organization of women who plan to seize power in In Like Flint (1967).
Horse Soldiers, The - (Original Trailer) A Union cavalry officer leads his men on a vital mission behind Confederate lines in John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959) starring John Wayne.
Star! - (Original Trailer) Julie Andrews plays Gertrude Lawrence, Star! (1968) of London and Broadway in the 1920's.


John Winnifrith
Government official. Died January 1, 1993 in Aplledore, Kent, England at the age of 84; had served in the British government as undersecretary of state for agriculture and fisheries; also worked as director general of the National Trust.
Venetia Stevenson
Actor, model. Father Robert Stevenson; formerly married to actor Russ Tamblyn and pop singer Don Everly of the Everly Brothers; mother of Erin Everly (born c. 1966).
Caroline Stevenson
John Stafford
Died in 1986.
Stephen Stafford
Jeffrey Byron
Actor, screenwriter.


Robert Stevenson
Director. Married 1934; divorced 1940; met in the Libyan desert while filming "The Camels Are Coming"; directed Lee in six films, including "The Man Who Changed His Mind" (1936), "King Solomon's Mines" (1937) and "Return to Yesterday" (1940).
Robert Nathan
Novelist, playwright, poet. Married from 1970 until his death at age 91 in 1985.



Lee has received three SOAP OPERA Digest awards for her work on "General Hospital" in 1982, 1983 and 1988.