Anna Lee (Joan Boniface Winnifrith)

Anna Lee

Lee trained at the Royal Albert Hall, [clarification needed] then debuted with a bit part in His Lordship (1932). When she and her first husband, director Robert Stevenson, 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. 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. 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). She had a small, but memorable, role as Sister Margaretta in The Sound of Music. Sister Margaretta was a supporter of Maria in the abbey and was one of the two nuns who thwarted the Nazis by removing car engine parts, allowing the Von Trapps to escape. Lee appeared in the 1962 classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in a small role as a neighbour, Mrs. Bates, 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 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. According to fellow GH actress Leslie Charleson, Lee was promised a job for life by former GH executive producer Wendy Riche. Leslie 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.”

Anna Lee was born in Ightham, Kent, England, the daughter of a clergyman who encouraged her desire to act. Her 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 married her first husband, the director Robert Stevenson, in 1934 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 Everly, Erin Everly and Stacy Everly. Lee and Stevenson divorced in March 1944 with both daughters staying 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. 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 on April 6, 1945; certificate issued June 8, 1945. 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. Lee was a staunch Conservative who said her views coincided with those of Sir Winston Churchill.

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Born

  • January, 02, 1913
  • United Kingdom
  • Ightham, Kent, England

Died

  • May, 14, 2004
  • USA
  • Beverly Hills, California

Cause of Death

  • pneumonia

Cemetery

  • Westwood Memorial Park
  • Los Angeles, California
  • USA

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