Anna Lee

Anna Lee, MBE (born Joan Boniface Winnifrith; 2 January 1913 – 14 May 2004)[1][2] was a British-born American actress,[3][4] labelled by studios "The British Bombshell".[5]

Anna Lee
Anna Lee on the cover of Picturegoer in 1936
Joan Boniface Winnifrith

(1913-01-02)2 January 1913
Ightham, Kent, England, UK
Died14 May 2004(2004-05-14) (aged 91)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesJoanna Boniface Stafford
Years active1932–2003
Robert Stevenson
(m. 1934; div. 1944)

George Stafford (m. 1944)

Robert Nathan
(m. 1970; died 1985)
Children5, including Venetia Stevenson and Jeffrey Byron
Awards1983 Soapy Awards for Favorite Woman in a Mature Role in General Hospital
1998 Soap Opera Digest Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role in General Hospital

Early life

Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith in Ightham, Kent, the daughter of Bertram Thomas Winnifrith, a headmaster and Anglican rector, and his second wife, Edith Maude Digby-Roper.[1] Her middle name "Boniface" derives from the saint from whom the Winnifrith family was descended. Her father, who supported his daughter in her desire to become an actress, came from a long line of clergy. As far back as A.D. 680 there was a Benedictine monk named Winifried or Winfrith from Devonshire who was consecrated Archbishop of Mainz. 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.[6]



Lee trained at the The Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art at the Royal Albert Hall,[5] and made her debut with a bit part in His Lordship (1932), when she was 19.[3] 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.[7] She was known for her roles in films set amongst the wealthy, particularly in Chelsea Life (1933), in which she starred with Louis Hayward.[8]

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 other woman. In 1937, she starred in one of the studio's large-budget productions, King Solomon's Mines.[9]

Lee met her first husband, the director Robert Stevenson in 1933,[5] while shooting The Camels are Coming on location in Egypt.[10] 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.[11] 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).[3]

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.[12] With World War II imminent, Lee and Stevenson went to the United States.[1] She remained supportive of the British war effort and in 1943 appeared alongside other British actors in Forever and a Day, a film made to raise money for British charities.[13][14]

United States

When she and her husband moved to Hollywood she became associated with John Ford, appearing in several of his films, notably How Green Was My Valley, Two Rode Together and Fort Apache.[15] She co-starred with John Wayne and John Carroll in Flying Tigers (1942).[16]

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 about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.[17][18] 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).[19]

In 1958, she returned to Britain to appear in John Ford's Gideon's Day, in which she played the detective's wife.[20] She had a small but memorable 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.[21] Lee appeared in the 1962 classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in a small role as Mrs. Bates, a neighbour of the sisters played by Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.[20] In 1994, Lee took the leading role in the feature film What Can I Do?, directed by Wheeler Winston Dixon.[22][23]

In later years, she became known to a new generation as matriarch Lila Quartermaine on General Hospital and Port Charles until being removed from contract and dropped to recurring status in 2003 by Jill Farren-Phelps, which was widely protested in the soap world and among General Hospital actors.[24] According to fellow General Hospital actress Leslie Charleson, Lee had been promised a job for life by former General Hospital executive producer Wendy Riche. Charleson said in 2007, "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."[24]

Personal life

Lee married her first husband, the director Robert Stevenson, in 1933[5] and moved to Hollywood in 1939. They had two daughters, Venetia and Caroline. Venetia Stevenson, an actress as well, 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. She 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.[25]

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.[26]

In 1981, a car accident left her paralysed from the waist down.[5]

Lee was a staunch Conservative and stated that her views coincided with those of Sir Winston Churchill.[27][28][29]

Awards and honours

In 1982 she was awarded an MBE, after fundraising for the White Cliffs at Dover and Ightham Mote.[5] In 1995, her star was installed on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.[5] 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.[30] 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.


Year Title Role Notes
1932Ebb TideUncredited
Say It with Music
His LordshipScrub Girl ChorineUncredited
1933The King's CupMinor RoleUncredited
Yes, Mr. BrownUncredited
Mayfair GirlBit RoleUncredited
The Bermondsey Kid
Chelsea LifeMuriel Maxton
1934FacesMadeleine Pelham
Rolling in MoneyLady Eggleby
Lucky LoserUrsula Hamilton
The Camels are ComingAnita Rodgers
1935Heat WaveJane Allison
The Passing of the Third Floor BackVivian
First a GirlPrincess Miranoff
1936The Man Who Changed His MindDr Wyatt
1937OHMSSally Briggs
King Solomon's MinesKathleen O'Brien
Non-Stop New YorkJennie Carr
1939The Four Just MenAnn Lodge
Young Man's FancyMiss Ada
1940Return to YesterdayCarol Sands
Seven SinnersDorothy
1941My Life with CarolineCaroline
How Green Was My ValleyBronwyn
1942Flying TigersBrooke Elliott
Commandos Strike at DawnJudith Bowen
1943Forever and a DayCornelia Trimble-Pomfret
Flesh and FantasyRowena(Episode #2)
Hangmen Also Die!Masha Novotny
1944Summer StormNadena Kalenin
1946BedlamNell Bowen
G.I. War BridesLinda Powell
1947The Ghost and Mrs. MuirMrs Miles Fairley
High ConquestMarie Correl
1948Fort ApacheMrs Emily Collingwood
Best Man WinsNancy Smiley
1949Prison WardenElisa Pennington Burnell
1958Gideon's DayMrs Kate Gideon
The Last HurrahGert Minihan
1959The Horse SoldiersMrs Buford
This Earth Is MineCharlotte Rambeau
The Crimson KimonoMac
Jet Over the AtlanticUrsula Leverett
1960The Big NightMrs Turner
1961Two Rode TogetherMrs Malaprop
1962The Man Who Shot Liberty ValanceMrs. PrescottUncredited
Jack the Giant KillerLady Constance
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?Mrs Bates
Mutiny on the BountyUncredited
1964For Those Who Think YoungLaura Pruitt
The Unsinkable Molly BrownTitanic Passenger in LifeboatUncredited
1965The Sound of MusicSister Margaretta
19667 WomenMrs Russell
Picture Mommy DeadElsie Kornwald
1967In Like FlintElisabeth
1978Legend of the Northwest
1979The Night RiderLady Earl
1987Right Hand ManWorn Woman
Beyond the Next MountainGovernor's Wife
1989Listen to MeGarson's Grandmother
Beverly Hills BratsGertie
1994What Can I DoElderly Woman
Year Title Role Notes
1950Robert Montgomery PresentsFrances Lawrence1 episode
1951Studio OneAnita Derr1 episode
1952Robert Montgomery PresentsAnn Hammond2 episodes
1958Peter GunnSister Thomas Aquina1 episode
1960The Barbara Stanwyck Show1 episode
1962 McHale's Navy Pamela Parfrey 1 episode (Christmas) 11
1963The Alfred Hitchcock HourRoberta Saunders1 episode
1964The Movie MakerTV movie
1965Combat!Sister Lescaut(episode: "The Enemy")
1966My Three SonsLouise Allen1 episode
1967GunsmokeAmy Bassett1 episode
1973My Darling Daughters' AnniversaryJudge Barbara HanlineTV Movie
1977Eleanor and Franklin: The White House YearsLaura DelanoTV Movie
1978The Beasts Are on the StreetsMrs JacksonTV movie
1979–2003General HospitalLila Quartermaine77 episodes, (final appearance)
1980ScruplesAunt Wilhelmina3 episodes
1997Port CharlesLila Quartermaine


  1. Bergan, Ronald (18 May 2004). "Anna Lee". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  2. Leslie Halliwell (November 1988). Halliwell's filmgoer's companion: incorporating The filmgoer's book of quotes and Halliwell's movie quiz. Grafton. p. 421. ISBN 978-0-246-13322-9.
  3. "Anna Lee".
  4. "Anna Lee – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  5. "Anna Lee".
  6. Lee, Anna; Roisman Cooper, Barbara (2007). Anna Lee: Memoir of a Career on General Hospital and in Film. McFarland & Company (Jefferson, North Carolina/London). ISBN 978-0-7864-3161-8.
  7. Chibnall, pp.40–41
  8. Chibnall, pp. 117–18
  9. "King Solomon's Mines (1937) – Robert Stevenson – Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  10. The Unknown 1930s p. 163
  11. The Unknown 1930s, p. 173
  12. The Unknown 1930s p.174-76
  13. "Forever and a Day (1943) – René Clair, Edmund Goulding, Cedric Hardwicke, Frank Lloyd, Victor Saville, Kent Smith, Robert Stevenson, Herbert Wilcox – Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  14. "Forever and a Day (1943) – René Clair, Edmund Goulding, Cedric Hardwicke, Frank Lloyd, Victor Saville, Kent Smith, Robert Stevenson, Herbert Wilcox – Cast and Crew – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  15. "Anna Lee – Movies and Filmography – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  16. "Flying Tigers (1942)".
  17. "Bedlam (1946)".
  18. "Hangmen Also Die! (1943) – Fritz Lang – Cast and Crew – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  19. "Perry Mason: The Case of the Unsuitable Uncle (1962) – Francis D. Lyon – Cast and Crew – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  20. "Gideon's Day (1958)".
  21. "The Sound of Music (1965) – Robert Wise – Cast and Crew – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  22. "What Can I Do? (1994)".
  23. "Wheeler Winston Dixon – MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  24. Soap Opera Weekly, 13 February 2007, p. 2
  25. Star Diary, 10 October 1954.
  26. "The city's other shore". The Economist. 23 March 2006. Retrieved 23 December 2016. Things pick up in the 1930s, when the house was briefly occupied by Anna Lee, a starlet. The author tracked her down in 2003; she was living in Beverly Hills, having built a second career on the marathon American soap opera General Hospital. She remembered the house fondly; her sister recalled being escorted home by policemen, as the neighbourhood was thought to be dangerous.
  27. Obituary,; accessed 22 September 2015.
  28. Obituary,; accessed 22 September 2015.
  29. Interview,; accessed 22 September 2015.
  30. "Anna Lee, 91: General Hospital Actress".


  • 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.
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