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Anna Lee

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

(1913-01-02)2 January 1913
Ightham, Kent, England
Died14 May 2004(2004-05-14) (aged 91)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesJoanna Boniface Stafford
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Alma materRoyal Central School of Speech and Drama
Years active1932–2003
(m. 1934; div. 1944)
George Stafford
(m. 1944; div. 1964)
(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

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

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Early life

Anna Lee was born Joan Boniface Winnifrith in Ightham (pronounced 'Item'), Kent, the daughter of Bertram Thomas Winnifrith, a headmaster and Anglican rector, and his second wife, Edith Maude Digby-Roper.[1] Her father supported his daughter in her desire to become an actress. 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 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 1927 (17 & 18 Geo. 5. c. 29), 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 playgirl and other woman, Princess Miranoff. In 1937, she starred in one of the studio's large-budget productions, King Solomon's Mines.[9]

In 1933, Lee met the director Robert Stevenson, who became her first husband,[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] Lee and Stevenson emigrated to the United States,[1] her husband having gained a contract with David O. Selznick. She remained supportive of the British war effort during World War II, 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

After her move to Hollywood, she became associated with John Ford, appearing in several of his films, including 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 relating to 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] She guest starred on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the 1963 episode “Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans” (S1E28).

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 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 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) 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 as matriarch Lila Quartermaine on General Hospital and Port Charles. Lila was a contract role until 2003, when Lee was taken off contract and dropped to recurring status by Jill Farren-Phelps, a move widely protested in the soap world.[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. When interviewed in 2007, Charleson said, "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, a former actress, 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. Lee 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 naturalised 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 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.[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
1932 Ebb Tide Uncredited
Say It with Music
His Lordship Scrub Girl Chorine Uncredited
1933 The King's Cup Minor Role Uncredited
Yes, Mr. Brown Uncredited
Mayfair Girl Bit Role Uncredited
The Bermondsey Kid
Chelsea Life Muriel Maxton
Mannequin Babette
1934 Faces Madeleine Pelham
Rolling in Money Lady Eggleby
Lucky Loser Ursula Hamilton
The Camels are Coming Anita Rodgers
1935 Heat Wave Jane Allison
The Passing of the Third Floor Back Vivian
First a Girl Princess Miranoff
1936 The Man Who Changed His Mind Dr Wyatt
1937 OHMS Sally Briggs
King Solomon's Mines Kathy O'Brien
Non-Stop New York Jennie Carr
1939 The Four Just Men Ann Lodge
Young Man's Fancy Miss Ada
1940 Return to Yesterday Carol Sands
Seven Sinners Dorothy
1941 My Life with Caroline Caroline
How Green Was My Valley Bronwyn
1942 Flying Tigers Brooke Elliott
Commandos Strike at Dawn Judith Bowen
1943 Forever and a Day Cornelia Trimble-Pomfret
Flesh and Fantasy Rowena (Episode #2)
Hangmen Also Die! Masha Novotny
1944 Summer Storm Nadena Kalenin
1946 Bedlam Nell Bowen
G.I. War Brides Linda Powell
1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Mrs Miles Fairley
High Conquest Marie Correl
1948 Fort Apache Mrs Emily Collingwood
Best Man Wins Nancy Smiley
1949 Prison Warden Elisa Pennington Burnell
1958 Gideon's Day Mrs Kate Gideon
The Last Hurrah Gert Minihan
1959 The Horse Soldiers Mrs Buford
This Earth Is Mine Charlotte Rambeau
The Crimson Kimono Mac
Jet Over the Atlantic Ursula Leverett
1960 The Big Night Mrs Turner
1961 Two Rode Together Mrs Malaprop
1962 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Mrs. Prescott Uncredited
Jack the Giant Killer Lady Constance
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Mrs. Bates
Mutiny on the Bounty Uncredited
1964 For Those Who Think Young Laura Pruitt
The Unsinkable Molly Brown Titanic Passenger in Lifeboat Uncredited
1965 The Sound of Music Sister Margaretta
1966 7 Women Mrs Russell
Picture Mommy Dead Elsie Kornwald
1967 In Like Flint Elisabeth
1968 Star! Hostess Uncredited
1978 Legend of the Northwest
1979 The Night Rider Lady Earl
1987 Right Hand Man Worn Woman
Beyond the Next Mountain Governor's Wife
1989 Listen to Me Garson's Grandmother
Beverly Hills Brats Gertie
1994 What Can I Do Elderly Woman
Year Title Role Notes
1950 Robert Montgomery Presents Frances Lawrence 1 episode
1951 Studio One Anita Derr 1 episode
1952 Robert Montgomery Presents Ann Hammond 2 episodes
1958 Peter Gunn Sister Thomas Aquina 1 episode
’'Perry Mason Lucille Alfred 1 episode
1960 The Barbara Stanwyck Show 1 episode
1962 Perry Mason Crystal Durham 1 episode
McHale's Navy Pamela Parfrey 1 episode (Christmas) 11
1963 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Roberta Saunders 1 episode
1964 The Movie Maker TV movie
1965 Combat! Sister Lescaut (episode: "The Enemy")
1966 My Three Sons Louise Allen 1 episode
1967 Gunsmoke Amy Bassett 1 episode
1968 Mannix "Edge of the Knife" Mrs Harriman Season 2 Episode 07
1970 Mission: Impossible Maria Malik (episode: "The Martyr")
1973 My Darling Daughters' Anniversary Judge Barbara Hanline TV movie
1977 Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years Laura Delano TV movie
1978 The Beasts Are on the Streets Mrs Jackson TV movie
1979–2003 General Hospital Lila Quartermaine (final appearance)
1980 Scruples Aunt Wilhelmina 3 episodes
1997 Port Charles Lila Quartermaine


  1. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c "Anna Lee". Archived from the original on 17 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Anna Lee – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Anna Lee". 18 May 2004.
  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)". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Bedlam (1946)". Archived from the original on 11 March 2016.
  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. ^ a b "Gideon's Day (1958)". Archived from the original on 6 March 2016.
  21. ^ "The Sound of Music (1965) – Robert Wise – Cast and Crew – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  22. ^ "What Can I Do? (1994)". IMDb.
  23. ^ "Wheeler Winston Dixon – MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  24. ^ a b 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, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  28. ^ Obituary, The Independent. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  29. ^ Interview, Retrieved 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.

External links

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