Anna Lee, MBE (born Joan Boniface Winnifrith; 2 January 1913 – 14 May 2004) was an English-American actress, labelled by studios "The British Bombshell".

Early life

Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith in Ightham, (pronounced 'Item'), Kent, the daughter of Bertram Thomas Winnifrith, a headmaster and Anglican rector, and his second wife, Edith Maude Digby-Roper. Her father supported his daughter in her desire to become an actress. Lee's grandfather, Reverend Alfred Winnifrith, was Rector of Mariansleigh. During WWI, he provided for Belgian refugees and was awarded the Medaille du Roi Albert. Lee's brother, Sir John Winnifrith, was a senior British civil servant who became permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. She was the goddaughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and lifelong friend of his daughter, Dame Jean Conan Doyle.



Lee trained at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art at the Royal Albert Hall, and made her debut with a bit part in ''His Lordship'' (1932), when she was 19. She played a number of minor, often uncredited, roles in films during the early 1930s. Lee began to get more prominent roles in films to satisfy the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 (''17 & 18 Geo. V''), which was an act of the United Kingdom Parliament designed to stimulate the declining British film industry. She was known for her roles in films set amongst the wealthy, particularly in ''Chelsea Life'' (1933), in which she starred with Louis Hayward. In 1934, Lee signed a contract with Gainsborough Pictures, the biggest British production company of the era. She played leading lady roles in a variety of different genres at Gainsborough, including the comedy-thriller ''The Camels Are Coming'', the drama ''The Passing of the Third Floor Back'', the horror film ''The Man Who Changed His Mind'' and the war film ''OHMS''. She appeared in the 1935 Jessie Matthews musical ''First a Girl'' as the aristocratic playgirl and other woman, Princess Miranoff. In 1937, she starred in one of the studio's large-budget productions, ''King Solomon's Mines''. In 1933, Lee met the director Robert Stevenson, who became her first husband, while shooting ''The Camels are Coming'' on location in Egypt. In 1937, she starred in his picture, Non-Stop New York, for Gaumont British. During 1938, she took time off from acting to give birth to her first child. In 1939, Lee and her husband switched to Ealing Studios run by Michael Balcon, the former head of Gainsborough. She played a 19th-century Irish music hall performer who falls in love with an aristocrat in the comedy ''Young Man's Fancy'' (1939) and a journalist who helps heroes thwart a foreign enemy's plot against Britain in ''The Four Just Men'' (1939). Her final film in Britain was ''Return to Yesterday,'' a film about a young repertory theatre actress who falls in love with a Hollywood star she meets while touring in a small seaside town. Lee and Stevenson emigrated to the United States, her husband having gained a contract with David O. Selznick. She remained supportive of the British war effort during World War II, and in 1943 appeared alongside other British actors in ''Forever and a Day'', a film made to raise money for British charities.

United States

After her move to Hollywood, she became associated with John Ford, appearing in several of his films, including ''How Green Was My Valley'', ''Two Rode Together'' and ''Fort Apache''. She co-starred with John Wayne and John Carroll in ''Flying Tigers'' (1942). She worked for producer Val Lewton in the horror/thriller ''Bedlam'' (1946) and had a lead role opposite Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan in Fritz Lang's ''Hangmen Also Die!'' (1943), a wartime thriller relating to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Lee made frequent appearances on television anthology series in the 1940s and 1950s, including ''Robert Montgomery Presents'', ''The Ford Theatre Hour'', ''Kraft Television Theatre'', ''Armstrong Circle Theatre'' and ''Wagon Train''. She made a guest appearance on ''Perry Mason'' as Crystal Durham in "The Case of the Unsuitable Uncle" (1962). In 1958, she returned to Britain to appear in John Ford's ''Gideon's Day'', in which she played the detective's wife. She had a small role as Sister Margaretta in ''The Sound of Music'', one of the two nuns who thwarted the Nazis by removing car engine parts, allowing the Von Trapps to escape. Lee appeared in ''What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'' (1962) in a small role as Mrs. Bates, a neighbour of the sisters played by Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. In 1994, Lee took the leading role in the feature film ''What Can I Do?'', directed by Wheeler Winston Dixon. In later years, she became known as matriarch Lila Quartermaine on ''General Hospital'' and ''Port Charles''. Lila was a contract role until 2003, when Lee was taken off contract and dropped to recurring status by Jill Farren-Phelps, a move widely protested in the soap world. ''Soap Opera Weekly'', 13 February 2007, p. 2 According to fellow ''General Hospital'' actress Leslie Charleson, Lee had been promised a job for life by former ''General Hospital'' executive producer Wendy Riche. When interviewed in 2007, Charleson said, "The woman was in her 90s. And then when the new powers-that-be took over they fired her, and it broke her heart. It was not necessary."

Personal life

Lee married her first husband, the director Robert Stevenson, in 1933 and moved to Hollywood in 1939. They had two daughters, Venetia and Caroline. Venetia Stevenson, a former actress, was married to Don Everly of the Everly Brothers and has three children, Edan, Erin, and Stacy. Lee and Stevenson divorced in March 1944, with Venetia and Caroline electing to live with their father. Lee met her second husband, George Stafford, as the pilot of the plane on her USO tour during the Second World War. They married on 8 June 1944, and had three sons, John, Stephen and Tim Stafford. Tim Stafford is an actor under the stage name of Jeffrey Byron. Lee and Stafford divorced in 1964. Her final marriage, to novelist Robert Nathan (''The Bishop's Wife'', ''Portrait of Jennie''), on 5 April 1970, ended at his death in 1985. Lee became a naturalized US citizen under the name Joanna Boniface Stafford (#123624) on 6 April 1945; certificate issued 8 June 1945 (#6183889, Los Angeles, California). In the 1930s, Lee occupied a house at 49 Bankside in London; she was later interviewed by writer Gillian Tindall for a book written about the address, ''The House by the Thames'', released in 2006. Since first built in 1710, the house had served as a home for coal merchants, an office, a boarding house, a hangout for derelicts and finally once again a private residence in the 1900s. The house is listed in tour guides as a famous residence and has been variously claimed as possibly being home to Christopher Wren during the construction of St. Paul's Cathedral, and previously claimed residents included Catherine of Aragon and William Shakespeare. In 1981, a car accident left her paralysed from the waist down. Lee was a staunch Conservative and stated that her views coincided with those of Sir Winston Churchill.

Awards and honours

In 1982 she was awarded an MBE, after fundraising for the White Cliffs at Dover and Ightham Mote. In 1995, her star was installed on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. On 21 May 2004, she was posthumously awarded a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award; she was scheduled for months to receive the award, but died from pneumonia at age 91 before she could receive it. Her son, Jeffrey Byron, accepted the award on her behalf. On 16 July 2004, ''General Hospital'' aired a tribute to Lee by holding a memorial service for Lila Quartermaine.


;Film ;Television



*Chibnall, Steve. ''Quota Quickies: The Birth of the British 'B' Film''. British Film Institute, 2007. * Richards, Jeffrey (ed.). ''The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema, 1929–1939''. I.B. Tauris & Co, 1998.

External links

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Photos of Anna Lee in 'Hangmen Also Die'
by Ned Scott {{DEFAULTSORT:Lee, Anna Category:1913 births Category:2004 deaths Category:Alumni of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama Category:American film actresses Category:American soap opera actresses Category:American television actresses Category:British film actresses Category:British soap opera actresses Category:British television actresses Category:California Republicans Category:Deaths from pneumonia Category:Daytime Emmy Award winners Category:Members of the Order of the British Empire Category:20th-century English actresses Category:British emigrants to the United States Category:People with acquired American citizenship Category:20th-century American actresses