Ann Harding

Ann Harding (August 7, 1902 – September 1, 1981) was an American theatre, motion picture, radio, and television actress. A regular player on Broadway and in regional theater in the 1920s, in the 1930s Harding was one of the first actresses to gain fame in the new medium of "talking pictures", and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1931 for her work in Holiday.

Ann Harding
Ann Harding in 1930
Dorothy Walton Gatley

(1902-08-07)August 7, 1902
DiedSeptember 1, 1981(1981-09-01) (aged 79)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Years active1921–1965
Harry Bannister
(m. 1926; div. 1932)

Werner Janssen
(m. 1937; div. 1962)

Harding was born Dorothy Walton Gatley, and was the daughter of a prominent United States Army officer. She was raised primarily in East Orange, New Jersey and graduated from East Orange High School. Having gained her initial acting experience in school drama classes, she decided on a career as an actress and moved to New York City. Because her father opposed her career choice, she used the stage name Ann Harding.

After initial work as a script reader, Harding began to win roles on Broadway and in regional theaters, primarily in Pennsylvania. She moved to California to begin working in movies, which were just then beginning to include sound. Her work in plays had given her notable diction and stage presence, and she became a leading lady. By the late 1930s, she was becoming stereotyped as the beautiful, innocent, self-sacrificing woman, and film work became harder for her to obtain. After marrying conductor Werner Janssen in 1937, she worked only sporadically, with two notable roles coming in Eyes in the Night (1942) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956).

Harding also worked occasionally in television between 1955 and 1965, and she appeared in two plays in the early 1960s, returning to the stage after an absence of over 30 years, including the lead in "The Corn is Green" in 1964 at the Studio Theater in Buffalo, New York. After her 1965 retirement, she resided in Sherman Oaks, California. She died there in 1981, and was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park -- Hollywood Hills.

Early years

Harding was born Dorothy Walton Gatley at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas to George G. Gatley, a career army officer, and Elizabeth "Bessie" Walton (Crabb) Gatley. After travelling often during her early life because of her father's career, she grew up in East Orange, New Jersey, and graduated from East Orange High School,[1] and attended Bryn Mawr College.[2]

Because her father "violently opposed her profession", Harding changed her name when she began her acting career.[2]


After graduating from Bryn Mawr, Harding found employment as a script reader. She began acting and made her Broadway debut in Like a King in 1921.[3] Three years later she found her "home theater" in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, after being directed by Hedgerow Theatre founder Jasper Deeter[4] in The Master Builder. Over the years she returned to Hedgerow to reprise several of her roles. She soon became a leading lady; like other leading actresses of the day, she kept in shape by using the services of Sylvia of Hollywood.[5] She was a prominent actress in Pittsburgh theatre for a time, performing with the Sharp Company and later starting the Nixon Players with Harry Bannister.[6] In 1929, she made her film debut in Paris Bound, opposite Fredric March.[7] In 1931, she purchased the Hedgerow Theatre building from Deeter for $5,000 and donated it to the company.

First under contract to Pathé, which was subsequently absorbed by RKO Pictures, Harding was promoted as the studio's 'answer' to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's superstar Norma Shearer.[8] She co-starred with Ronald Colman, Laurence Olivier, Myrna Loy, Herbert Marshall, Leslie Howard, Richard Dix, and Gary Cooper, and was often on loan to other studios, such as MGM and Paramount. At RKO, Harding, along with Helen Twelvetrees and Constance Bennett, comprised a trio who specialized in the "women's pictures" genre.

Harding's performances were often heralded by the critics, who cited her diction and stage experience as assets to the then-new medium of "talking pictures". Harding's second film was Her Private Affair, in which she portrayed a wife of questionable morality. The film was an enormous commercial success. During this period, she was generally considered to be one of cinema's most beautiful actresses, with her waist-length blonde hair being one of her most noted physical attributes. Films during her peak include The Animal Kingdom, Peter Ibbetson, When Ladies Meet, The Flame Within, and Biography of a Bachelor Girl. Harding, however, eventually became stereotyped as the innocent, self-sacrificing young woman. Following lukewarm responses by both critics and the public to several of her later 1930s films, she eventually stopped making movies after she married the conductor Werner Janssen in 1937. She returned to the big screen in 1942 to make Eyes in the Night and to take secondary roles in other films. In 1956, she again starred with Fredric March, this time in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

The 1960s marked Harding's return to Broadway after an absence of decades — having last appeared in 1927. In 1962, she starred in General Seeger, directed by and co-starring George C. Scott, and in 1964 she appeared in Abraham Cochrane ("her last New York stage appearance").[7] Both productions had brief runs, with the former play lasting a mere three performances (including previews). Harding made her final acting performance in 1965 in an episode of television's Ben Casey before retiring.

Personal life

Harding was married twice, her husbands being:

  • Harry Bannister,[4] an actor. They married in 1926 and divorced in 1932 in Reno, Nevada. A New York Times article (8 May 1932) about the divorce stated that the actress still loved her husband and only agreed to a divorce to help Bannister's stymied career. "The proceedings were among the most unusual in the history of Nevada's liberal divorce laws," the newspaper reported. "Only through dissolution of their marriage could he escape, they said, from being overshadowed by Miss Harding's rise to stardom." The divorce also resulted in what was described as "a bitter court fight ... over custody of their daughter,"[9] Jane Harding (1928-2005, Mrs Alfred P. Otto, Jr.). According to an interview with Harding's biographer, Scott O'Brien, Jane Harding said, "I had a terrible childhood. I hated my nurse. I never saw Mother. She was always busy."[10]
  • Werner Janssen, the conductor.[11] Harding and Janssen married in 1937 and divorced in 1963, with Harding claiming that her husband had controlled her throughout their marriage, keeping her from her friends and isolating her from the world.[12] By this marriage, Harding had two stepchildren, Alice and Werner Jr.[13]

In the early 1960s, Harding began living with Grace Kaye, an adult companion, later known as Grace Kaye Harding.[14] Harding referred to Kaye as her daughter.[15]

Among Harding's romances was the novelist and screenwriter Gene Fowler.[16]


On September 1, 1981, Harding died at the age of 79 in Sherman Oaks, California.[9] After cremation, her urn was placed in the Court of Remembrance wall at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.

She was survived by a daughter and four grandchildren.[9]


Harding was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Holiday in 1931.[17] For her contributions to the motion picture and television industries, Harding has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — one in the Motion Pictures section 6201 Hollywood Boulevard and one in the Television section at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard.[18]

Broadway stage credits

Date Production Role
October 3, 1921 – Oct 1921 Like a King Phyllis Weston
October 1, 1923 – May 1924 Tarnish Letitia Tevis
September 8, 1924 – September 1924 Thoroughbreds Sue
October 7, 1925 – December 1925 Stolen Fruit Marie Millais
March 23, 1926 – April 1926 Schweiger Anna Schweiger
September 28, 1926 – March 1927 The Woman Disputed Marie-Ange
September 19, 1927 – October 1927 The Trial of Mary Dugan Mary Dugan
February 28, 1962 – March 1, 1962 General Seeger Rena Seeger
February 17, 1964 – February 17, 1964 Abraham Cochrane Myra Holliday



Year Film Role Notes
1929 Paris Bound Mary Hutton
Her Private Affair Vera Kessler Co-starred Harry Bannister
Condemned Madame Vidal US reissue title: Condemned to Devil's Island, Co-starred Ronald Colman
1930 Holiday Linda Seton Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
The Girl of the Golden West Minnie
1931 East Lynne Lady Isabella The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar
Devotion Shirley Mortimer co-star Leslie Howard
1932 Prestige Therese Du Flos Verlaine
Westward Passage Olivia Van Tyne Allen Ottendorf Co-starred Laurence Olivier
The Conquerors Caroline Ogden Standish US reissue title: Pioneer Builders
The Animal Kingdom Daisy Sage UK Title: The Woman in His House, Co-starred Leslie Howard
1933 When Ladies Meet Claire Woodruff Co-starred Myrna Loy
Double Harness Joan Colby Co-starred William Powell
The Right to Romance Dr. Margaret "Peggy" Simmons Co-starred Robert Young
1934 Gallant Lady Sally Wyndham
The Life of Vergie Winters Vergie Winters aka Virginia Wood
The Fountain Julie von Marwitz
The Hollywood Gad About Herself Short subject
1935 Biography of a Bachelor Girl Marion Forsythe
Enchanted April Mrs. Lotty Wilkins
The Flame Within Doctor Mary White
Peter Ibbetson Mary, Duchess of Towers Co-starred Gary Cooper
1936 The Lady Consents Anne Talbot
The Witness Chair Paula Young
1937 Love from a Stranger Carol Howard US title: A Night of Terror, Co-starred Basil Rathbone
1942 Eyes in the Night Norma Lawry Starred Edward Arnold
1943 Mission to Moscow Mrs. Marjorie Davies
The North Star Sophia Pavlova US recut version: Armored Attack
1944 Nine Girls Gracie Thornton
Janie Lucille Conway
1945 Those Endearing Young Charms Mrs. Brandt (Captain)
1946 Janie Gets Married Lucille Conway
1947 It Happened on 5th Avenue Mary O'Connor
Christmas Eve Aunt Matilda Reed US reissue title: Sinner's Holiday
1950 The Magnificent Yankee Fanny Bowditch Holmes Co-starred Louis Calhern
Two Weeks with Love Katherine Robinson
1951 The Unknown Man Stella Mason US title: The Bradley Mason Story
1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit Helen Hopkins Starred Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones
I've Lived Before Mrs. Jane Stone
Strange Intruder Mary Carmichael


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Crossroads Hulda Lund 1 episode
Studio 57 Martha Halstead 1 episode
1956 Front Row Center Grammie 1 episode
1959 The DuPont Show with June Allyson Naomi 1 episode, "Ruth and Naomi"
1961 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Sarah Hale Episode 07x12: ″A Jury of Her Peers″
1963 The Defenders Helen Bernard 1 episode
Burke's Law Annabelle Rogers 1 episode
1964 Dr. Kildare Mae Priest 1 episode
1965 Ben Casey Edith Sommers 1 episode


  1. Percy, Eileen. "Durante Will Be Made an M. G. M. Star; 'Schnozzle; Has Set Record for Saving Pictures.", The Milwaukee Sentinel, October 26, 1932. "Ann Harding began hers 15 years ago in a dramatic class at East Orange High School."
  2. Aaker, Everett (2013). George Raft: The Films. McFarland. p. 127. ISBN 9780786466467. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  3. "Like a King cast". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  4. "They Done Her Wrong". Oakland Tribune. California, Oakland. February 10, 1935. p. 55. Retrieved July 12, 2016 via
  5. Hollywood Undressed: Observations of Sylvia As Noted by Her Secretary (1931) Brentano’s.
  6. Conner, Lynne (2007). Pittsburgh In Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 105–106. ISBN 978-0-8229-4330-3. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  7. Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 308–309. ISBN 9781557835512. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  8. Carman, Emily (2015). Independent Stardom: Freelance Women in the Hollywood Studio System. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477307335. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  9. Lawson, Carol (September 4, 1981). "Ann Harding, Actress Hailed for Roles as Elegant Women". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 23 September 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  12. O'Brien, Scott. Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady (Bear Manor, 2010), page 465)
  13. O'Brien, Scott. Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady (Bear Manor, 2010), pages 354)
  14. O'Brien, Scott. Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady (Bear Manor, 2010), pages 499-510)
  15. O'Brien, Scott. Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady (Bear Manor, 2010), page 505)
  16. O'Brien, Scott. Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady (Bear Manor, 2010), pages 292+)
  17. "("Ann Harding" search results)". Academy Awards Database. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  18. "Ann Harding". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on 23 September 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
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