General Hospital star Anna Lee departed this world on Friday, May 14, 2004, and it’s a loss still bemoaned by millions of daytime devotees all these years later. Today would have marked this grand lady’s 107th birthday.
Who Was Anna Lee?
Born Joan Boniface Winnifrith, in Ightham, Kent, Lee adopted her stage name by borrowing from literary heroine Anna Karenina and U.S. Commander Robert E. Lee.
With encouragment from her clergyman father, Lee took to the stage after studying the craft at the famed Royal Albert Hall. Her performance in works such as The Constant Nymph and Jane Eyre earned Lee the moniker ‘The British Bombshell.’
In 1932, Lee broke into feature films with an uncredited appearance in the dramatic Ebb Tide. This was followed by a series of bit parts in pictures that included His Lordship, Mayfair Girl, and The Bermondsey Kid. With the 1933 film Chelsea Life, Lee was finally given her due. Not only was her character given a name — Muriel Maxton — but her performance was finally credited.
Between signing her 1934 contract with Gainsborough Pictures — then Britain’s largest production company — and her immigration to the United States in 1940, Lee appeared in 11 movies, chief among them The Man Who Changed His Mind and King Solomon’s Mines — both directed by her first husband Robert Stevenson.
Anna Lee: The Hollywood Years
Lee’s introduction to a U.S. audience was in Seven Sinners, a romantic drama starring Marlene Dietrich. The comedy My Life With Caroline followed. With her next picture — How Green Was My Valley — Lee began an association with John Ford that would see her cast in seven further offerings helmed by the great director.
Alongside her work for some of Hollywood’s greatest picture makes, Lee also toiled for the War Effort, and accepted many offers to appear in shows organized by the U.S.O that were performed for Allied Troops all across the world.
By 1978, Lee’s acting portfolio had expanded to included roles in The Sound of Music (she was one of the nuns who sabotaged the Nazi’s car which allowed the Von Trapp family to escape Austria) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.
But, rather than retire like so many of her show biz brethren, she instead accepted an offer to appear on ABC’s General Hospital as Quartermaine matriarch Lila, the only family member capable of curbing persnickety Edward of his worst vices.
Lee continued in the role until her passing 26 years later, never once slowing down even after a sudden neurological illness robbed her of the use of one leg and a car accident the other. She continues to be dearly missed. General Hospital airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes.