04/03/05 — Anne Jeffreys developed love for the theater early

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Anne Jeffreys developed love for the theater early

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 3, 2005 9:55 AM

Anne Jeffreys was not just destined to be a star. She was groomed for it.

Her mother, Kate Jeffreys Carmichael, had everything covered, Miss Jeffreys says. By the time Anne was a teenager, she had already studied voice and acting.

"I was already in it before I had the chance to do anything else," Miss Jeffreys said. "She made contacts and decisions for me. She was my agent for years, my liaison for appointments and plays."

The Jeffreys family was from Goldsboro, but Mrs. Carmichael was living in New York when she married. She came home two weeks before delivering her second child so that Anne could be born in North Carolina.

The couple later divorced and Miss Jeffreys' father died when she was 11, so her mother had to be everything for her two daughters.

"She was a teacher, so we spent a lot of time traveling," Miss Jeffreys said. "One year we went to five different schools." When Mrs. Carmichael worked on her advanced degree, Anne lived with her grandparents on Virginia Street. She said she started first grade at Virginia Street School and the last school she attended in Goldsboro was William Street School, when she was in fourth grade.

Miss Jeffreys developed a love for the theater early on, performing on Broadway before winning a role in the movie "I Married an Angel," starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. She was later put under contract to Republic Studios, where she appeared a dozen films, including the John Wayne movie "Flying Tigers." RKO Studios bought out her contract so she could co-star with Frank Sinatra in "Step Lively."

In between assignments for RKO, she continued her singing career, performing with the New York Symphony, the Ford Symphony and the Los Angeles Opera Company. She says she always enjoyed live performances in front of an audience.

Her resume features an impressive list of roles on Broadway and in touring companies, including an offer from Cole Porter to appear in "Kiss Me Kate," in which she made 887 consecutive performances.

It was during her run in "Kate" that she met fellow actor Robert Sterling. A romance began and their successful club act that toured the country led to the couple's appearing in the popular TV show "Topper" for two years.

The couple married in 1951 and had three sons. Miss Jeffreys took some time off to devote herself to being a wife and mother, but was beckoned back to the stage and screen. She did so, with children and a nurse in tow.

Over the years, Miss Jeffreys has continued to appear on TV and in musical productions. In 1984, she became part of the "General Hospital" soap opera cast and in 1999 starred in its spin-off, "Port Charles." Despite her successes, she said she continued to prefer to work on the stage.

She wistfully remembers her favorite era, the so-called "Golden Age of Hollywood, when each studio had their group of people they were grooming to be stars, people like Katherine Grayson, Mickey Rooney, Howard Keel."

She says she knew fellow Goldsboro native Johnny Grant before she moved out to California. And even though she and her husband both have stars on the Walk of Fame, where Grant is usually a fixture, he was not in attendance when their stars were affixed nor was there any type of ceremony to commemorate the occasion.

"When my star was being put there, I didn't even know it was there," she said. She learned it had been placed on the corner of Vine and Sunset and to date, has still not stopped to see it herself. Her husband's star, she said, is in front of the former hot spot The Brown Derby, which is now a parking lot.

In a career that began at age 16, Miss Jeffreys, now 82, said she still fields offers to perform. She is also invited to speak about her career and her life, had her own line of cosmetics for a while, and performs a lot of charity work. She has been asked about writing a book about her life, but said, "I haven't got time."

She said she stays busy and can't sit still for very long. She enjoys travel and goes on a cruise every year. And she loves clothes.

On the afternoon she was interviewed, Miss Jeffreys said she was sitting in her sunroom office, staring at racks of clothing and deciding what she would pack for her Goldsboro trip. Most likely, there will be something pink, since she says 40 percent of her outfits are that color.

"My mother never dressed me in that as a child," she said. "She dressed my sister in pink."

Both Miss Jeffreys' mother and older sister are now deceased. She said she still misses her mother's influence.

"When mother was alive, she'd say, 'Do this show or that one,'" she said. She recalled going to Anderson Junior College, majoring in music and signing up for a course her mother suggested.

"She made me take typing," she said. "She said, 'In case you don't make it as a singer, you'll have something to fall back on.'"

Miss Jeffreys has lived in Bel Air, California for 48 years but she said she still appreciates her Goldsboro roots. She recalled living close to the train station as a girl, her time living with grandparents Z.M.L. and Annie Jeffreys, for whom she was named, and the store near her home that sold candy for a penny.

The last time she visited Goldsboro was two years ago, for her 80th birthday. She says she will typically make the rounds to the house on Virginia Street, now barely recognizable, and to catch up with friends and relatives.

On her trip to Goldsboro later this month, she will be accompanied by well-known director and choreographer Kevin Carlisle.

"He has choreographed for such celebrities as Dinah Shore and Carol Burnett," Miss Jeffreys said. "He'll make sure the lighting and sound and music is correct."

Her performance at Wayne Community College will feature a montage of her work, as well as an interview by Dr. Geoff Weiss of Mount Olive College. She also plans to sing songs from "The King and I," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Mame."

Her husband, Robert, is too ill to travel, she said, and will not accompany her. Were that not the case, she might consider moving closer to her Goldsboro roots.

"I'm very, very close to my relatives, to my hometown, to my home state," she said. "I'm very pleased to be honored by my hometown.

"That's really the star in my bonnet ... I'm very touched."