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End Credits #78: Cinema's 2018 Lost Treasures Ann Gillis


Actress Ann Gillis (February 12, 1927 - January 31, 2018) who made many notable film appearances as a child actress, has died at age 90. 

Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided this tribute to her motion picture acting career:

The Film Appearances of Ann Gillis




In THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, Jean Chatburn played a character called "Mary Lou." Nine-year-old Ann Gillis played the same character as a child. Robert Z. Leonard directed the 1936 film. 

Ann Gillis and William Powell

Ann Gillis and William Powell


In the Marlene Dietrich film THE GARDEN OF ALLAH, Ann Gillis played a girl in a convent. Richard Boleslawski directed the 1936 drama. Max Steiner provided the unreleased score.


Tommy Kelly starred as "Tom Sawyer," and Ann Gillis co-starred as "Becky Thatcher" in David O'Selznick's 1938 production of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. Norman Taurog directed the film. Reportedly, Max Steiner provided some uncredited music for the film.

In an interview, Ann described her experience making the film:

“The way it went in Hollywood was that if you got a break and a part in a big ‘A’ movie, the smaller studios who made ‘B’ movies would hire you immediately. By the time I was tested for ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ I had already played in 10 movies. Everybody was tested for Tom Sawyer. Little girls and boys all over the country were tested. Selznick put three girls under contract, me included, waiting for the right Tom to be chosen. Since I was the right size to play against him, I got to play Becky Thatcher. The film was made on the backlot at Selznick’s Studio. The photographer was the famous Jimmy Wong Howe, and he used a lot of special effects, quite new in those days. The cave scene was all made out of papier-mâché under a huge black tarpaulin. The roof of the cave was painted in later; I believe the special effects man was William Cameron Menzies. The bats were put in later, too.”

“We worked awfully hard in those days, 6 days a week, and for five days we had to have three solid hours of school work between takes. That is work, no time off for games or rest periods. This left little time for chit-chat with the other actors. As well, Selznick had a habit of re-writing everything as we went along. We would get the script at night for the next morning, and sometimes at noon for the afternoon. One had to make time to learn the lines, as well. To be honest, I never could figure out how anyone in the acting business had time to get into trouble.”


Based on the success of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, Tommy Kelly and Ann Gillis were re-teamed for PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS. George W. Peck wrote a series of short stories and novels, featuring "Peck's Bad Boy," which first appeared in the La Crosse, Wisconsin Sun, circa 1874. The stories and novels had been the basis for four other films, the first of which was a 1908 Essanay short entitled PECK'S BAD BOY. In 1918, Charles Giblyn directed Mable Normand and Earle Foxe in the Goldwyn Pictures Corp. release PECK'S BAD GIRL, and in 1921, Sam Wood directed Jackie Coogan and Wheeler Oakman in the Irving M. Lesser silent production of PECK'S BAD BOY. In 1934, Sol Lesser produced a sound version of PECK'S BAD BOY starring Jackie Cooper. Lesser also produced PECK'S BAD BOY WITH THE CIRCUS.

In 1906, George Peck had published a novel called "Peck's Bad Boy with the Circus," but this particular book is not mentioned in the film credits or in reviews as a literary source for the film. In the film, the mischievous "Bill Peck" (Kelly) volunteers to put up posters for a traveling circus in exchange for free admission. Although Bill and eleven of his friends earn a circus pass that is marked for twelve, they are turned away by a skeptical ticket taker. A sympathetic circus employee, however, sneaks the children into the show, where they watch a ten-year-old bareback rider named "Fleurette De Cava" (Gillis). 

Edward F. Cline directed the 1938 film. In additional to acting as musical director, Victor Young supposedly provided some uncredited original scoring to the film.


Ann Gillis had the title role in 1938's LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE. Ben Holmes directed the film, which had some uncredited music by George Bassman and others.


n the 1939 French Foreign Legion film BEAU GESTE, Susan Hayward plays "Isobel Rivers," who falls in love with "John Geste" (Ray Milland), one of three brothers who also include "Beau" (Gary Cooper) and "Digby" (Robert Preston). These four were not strangers. Fifteen years earlier, the Geste brothers, Beau (Donald O'Connor), John (Billy Cook) and Digby (Martin Spellman), and Isobel Rivers (Ann Gillis) had grown up together in England under the benevolent care of their guardian, "Lady Patricia Brandon" (Heather Thatcher).

William A. Wellman directed this adventure film. Twenty minutes of Alfred Newman's score was re-recorded by William T. Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for a 1997 Marco Polo CD. Naxos re-released the disc in 2007.


In the 1940 biopic EDISON, THE MAN, Ann Gillis played "Nancy Grey." Clarence Brown directed the film, which has an unreleased score by Herbert Stothart.


In the Bette Davis film ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO, Ann Gillis played "Emily Schuyler." Anatole Litvak directed the 1940 drama. William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir re-recorded 45 minutes of Max Steiner's score for a 2003 Marco Polo CD. Naxos re-issued the recording in 2007.


Anne Gillis was the voice of the adult female deer "Faline" in Walt Disney's 1942 animated feature BAMBI. There was a real Faline. In 1938, the Maine Development Commission sent two fawns, named Bambi and Faline, to the Disney Studio, where the animals were kept as pets while artists studied their movements, growth, and behavior. As the film was not due to be completed for several years, the artists could photograph the animals "in all their phases." Other animals, such as skunks Herman and Petunia, squirrels, birds and chipmunks, were kept at the little zoo established at the Disney Studio in Burbank for use by the artists. When Bambi and Faline were fully grown, they were released into nearby Griffith Park.

David Hand was the supervising director on the film. The music score by Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb was first released on LP in 1957. Its first CD release was in 1988 in Japan. The first U.S. CD came in 1997.


'NEATH BROOKLYN BRIDGE starred "The East Side Kids" (headed by Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall, and Gabriel Dell), a group of rough and tough but honest youths in New York. They become unwittingly involved in a murder when they rescue "Sylvia" (Ann Gillis) from her abusive stepfather "Morley" (Bud Osborne), and he is killed shortly thereafter by racketeer "McGaffey" (Marc Lawrence) for stealing his money. Wallace Fox directed this 1942 programmer. Edward Kay compiled the stock music for the film.


STAGE DOOR CANTEEN was a wartime musical in which "Dakota" (William Terry), a young soldier on a pass in New York City, visits the famed Stage Door Canteen, where famous stars of the theater and films appear and host a recreational center for servicemen during the war. Dakota meets a pretty young hostess, "Eileen" (Cheryl Walker), and they enjoy the many entertainers and a growing romance. Ann Gillis was one of the lesser stars (of the more than 60) who played themselves in this 1943 film, which was directed by Frank Borzage. Six big bands provided most of the music for the film. Freddie Rich provided the background score, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.


Anne Gillis was back working for producer David O. Selznick in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, Selznick's film about the home front during World War II, which was released less than two months after D-Day, on July 20, 1944. Shirley Temple played "Brig" Hilton in the film, one of the daughters (along with Jennifer Jones) of Claudette Colbert's "Anne Hilton," whose husband has gone off to war. Gillis had a small role as "Becky Anderson." John Cromwell directed the film. Brigham Young University released Max Steiner's Oscar-winning score in 2012.


1944 also found Ann Gillis IN SOCIETY, a Bud Abbott and Lou Costello comedy. Ann (who was billed as "Anne" in most of her remaining films) played "Gloria Winthrop," the daughter of the rich "Mrs. Roger Winthrop" (Margaret Irving). This was Abbott and Costello's first Universal film following Costello's long bout with rheumatic heart disease. The picture was also the first Abbott and Costello film to be directed by Jean Yarbrough, who went on to direct four more of the comedy team's films as well as produce and direct their television series. Frank Skinner provided uncredited music for the film.


Ann Gillis worked again with Abbott and Costello, and they had THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES in this 1946 fantasy. In the film, two ghosts who were mistakenly branded as traitors during the Revolutionary War (Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds) return to 20th century New England to retrieve a letter from George Washington that would prove their innocence. In the film's opening sequence, set in New York in 1780, "Tom Danbury" (Jess Barker) throws a ball in honor of his beautiful fiancée, "Melody Allen" (Reynolds), during which butler "Cuthbert Greenways" (Bud Abbott) jealously watches the maid, "Nora O'Leary" (Ann Gillis), greet her beloved tinker, "Horatio Prim" (Costello).

Charles Barton directed the film, which boasts elaborate special effects, including ghosts passing through walls, driverless cars and floating objects. Milton Rosen provided the unreleased score. 


BIG TOWN AFTER DARK was one of a series of pictures that Paramount made based on the radio series "Big Town" created by Jerry McGill (1937--1948). Ann Gillis plays "Susan Peabody," who is hired as a reporter by editor "Steve Wilson" (Philip Reed). Susan soon becomes involved in battling big-city gambling interests. William C. Thomas directed the 1948 film, which has an unreleased score by Darrell Calker.

Ann Gillis married British actor Richard Fraser in 1948. “Richard was my second husband, a Scot, which took us to Britain,” she said. This essentially ended Ann’s film career. “Richard hadn’t acted for years before he moved back to Britain to work for MCA and later the BBC, buying and selling TV programs.” After marrying Fraser, Ann only returned to the screen for small roles, a few British TV roles in the ‘50s and ‘60s. 


The final film appearance of Ann Gillis came in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Gillis played the mother of space voyager "Frank Poole" (Gary Lockwood) who is seen on a video screen congratulating her son on his birthday. 


Anne Gillis had a brief career in Hollywood, but appeared in a few well-remembered films. Farewell, Ann.