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Ann Carter

Ann Carter

Ann Carter (born June 16 1936) is a former American child actress, who worked with dozens of film stars, compiling an "unimaginably distinguished résumé" despite an acting career which "lasted only slightly more than a decade." She is best known for her starring role as Amy Reed in the 1944 film Curse of the Cat People, and also acted alongside stars including Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Fredric March and Barbara Stanwyck among others.


Carter was born in Syracuse, New York on June 16, 1936, and at the age of three moved with her mother to Palm Springs, California for the benefit of her mother, Nancy's, health. Her father, Bert Carter, was an executive with "the Dodge division of Chrysler Corporation" (working there for 38 years) and commuted back and forth between California and Detroit "where he was working for Chrysler on defense-related projects." After briefly residing with her maternal Aunt Stell "(short for Estelle)" and Uncle Jack in "Glendale, on Idlewood," Carter and her mother moved "to a place near Olympic and Robertson in West Los Angeles, with [her father] there again part-time."

Carter's mother "had always been very interested in the theater," but was disallowed from pursuing her own career by her father, Ann's grandfather. According to her mother, Ann was discovered at the age of four while she was living in Los Angeles. As she and her mother were riding on a bus, Carter explains:

"someone from 20th Century-Fox saw me and told my mom that I should be introduced to producer-director Herbert Brenon. I was and, through Mr. Brenon, I got to try out for a one-line part in Fox's Last of the Duanes... - and I got the part!"
Some 60 years later, Carter confesses that she doesn't recall much personally about Last of the Duanes, which was shot in April-May, 1941, but was subsequently told "exactly what happened" by her "very focused" mother.

In her first fantasy film, and most notable early role, she played Veronica Lake's young daughter in I Married a Witch (1942), an experience which "made [a big] impression" on the then-five year old actress. A scene she remembers clearly, which later "ended up on the cutting room floor," she 'flew' "down a staircase on a broomstick," specially fitted with a "little seat" crafted specifically for her. She also recalls the make-up artists "combing my hair over one eye to make me look like Veronica Lake," known, according to Tom Weaver, for her 'Peek-A-Boo-Bang'.

In one amusing incident, Carter beat out her contemporary Margaret O'Brien for a part because her mother had dressed her in white gloves. During the interview with the movie's makers, O'Brien became so distracted by Carter's gloves that she muffed the interview.

Increasing film roles

Her first significantly-sized role came at age six, when she appeared in Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) playing a young Norwegian girl whose father, (actor Paul Muni), led a fishing village in resistance to the occupation of the German army during World War II. Much of the filming took place in Mill Bay, Canada which doubled for the Norweigan fjords, during the summer of 1942. Ann and the other cast and crew members stayed at the famous Empress Hotel in Victoria. Carter recalls:
"That was during the war and, because of fear of a Japanese attack, there were little boats in the harbor, right in front of the Empress [Hotel], in case we had to evacuate."

Although it was clearly a wartime propaganda film, it was based on a story by the noted British writer C.S. Forester with a screenplay by the noted American writer Irwin Lewis. The cast included Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Lilian Gish, while Carter recalls that the cast filmed some scenes on the Prince David ship, whose crew of British Commandos "dressed up as Germans" for the purposes of the film. Carter's 'other war movie' The North Star (1943) saw her appear alongside Ann Harding and Anne Baxter acting in "a Russian village... constructed on the Goldwyn lot." Carter recalls that:

"My co-star, Farley Grainger, and I were offered contracts with Goldwyn after that movie, but they never picked up the option - because, around that time Sam Goldwyn discovered Danny Kaye!

Her most notable film role came in 1944, when the seven-year-old Carter played the part of Amy Reed in the classic fantasy Curse of the Cat People. Curse of the Cat People was produced by Val Lewton, who was friendly with the nephew of Carter's agent, Earl Kramer: Stanley Kramer. Carter played the lonely and imaginative child who is unable to relate to the prosaic activities of her schoolmates, in a role described by Weaver as making her "practically the star" after only "a few small, sometimes uncredited parts." It was a role she could identify with, being herself "a little bit of a dreamer" who "enjoyed fantasy" and was - like her character - an only child.

Carter found filming Curse of the Cat People "fascinating... because of the set. It was all shot on a set at RKO" barring a few exterior shots, which was cycled through the seasons by "guys on the catwalks throwing leaves which drifted down" or "throwing gypsum and un-toasted corn flakes out of boxes" (for snow), a novel (and "absolutely beautiful") experience to the young Carter. She recalls of her mother, that:

\"[f]or every movie, she would first talk about the whole picture, the whole idea, the whole plot, so that I understood, so that I was not just some little parrot reciting lines.\"
This knowledge - of the \"whole story\" - added to \"the fact that I was on a set with a lot of other people\" meant that Carter was \"never afraid\" despite the forbidding and intimidating sets (and cast). Carter worked for 32 of the 33 days of filming, under two directors (Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise), but felt \"no pressure\" over the exacting schedule. Never expecting or aspiring to be a star, she credits her parents with keeping her \"normal\" and grounded. On the schooling that occurred \"now and then on a set,\" Carter recalls it being \"great... because most times it was one-on-one,\" thinking that \"you learn more, one-on-one, whether it's just 15 minutes at a time or whatever it is.\"

Ann appeared in a number of other movies, a high point being when she played Humphrey Bogart's daughter in the murder thriller The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947), which supposedly earned her an award for best juvenile performer, although Carter \"doesn't personally recall ever receiving one.\" Carter cites her scenes with Bogart and co-star Barbara Stanwyck as particular high points during her career, recalling that she and Bogart \"got along so well... he was a really nice man; a very warm, nice man.\" He nicknamed her \"Tonsils\" when she yawned in his face during a rehearsal, and \"he peered into my mouth, down my throat, and... it was \"Tonsils\" after that.\"

Despite the good reviews for Curse of the Cat People, Carter lapsed back into smaller - and often uncredited - roles afterwards, although she says that she \"didn't think about it then at all,\" and assumes that perhaps \"the parts just didn't come up.\" Unbilled in her other two fantasy films, she recalls A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court as:

\"a lot of fun because it was Bing Crosby and William Bendix, and they were un-be-liev-a-ble together... [they] ruined so much film, because we'd start filming and they would start clowning around, and they were hysterical! Of course, the footage was not usage, but it was fun!
Carter also did many Lux Radio Theater programs, from the age of eleven, including playing Cary Grant's daughter in the radio adaptation of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. She also \"had a disc jockey show on KFWB for a while.\"

Later life


Carter left acting after she contracted polio, which she believes she contracted \"over the Fourth of July [1948] vacation,\" when she, her parents and some friends went on a boat to Catalina Island. She believes that the incubation period of polio - a scourge among children of the time - corresponded to her swimming in contaminated water from the boat. Initially diagnosed with summer flu, Carter thought she was over her symptoms when, during filming on The Member of the Wedding, director Fred Zinnemann noticed her \"'leaning to port',\" and it was disocvered that \"the muscles were all gone down one side of [her] back.\" After an electromyogram at Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, and physical therapy and swimming (at the Hollywood Athletic Club), she was strengthened enough to \"carry around a cast, [which was] huge and weighed 55 pounds.\"

During her recovery from polio, Carter's parents helped 'bring Lawrence Welk to prominence,' when Dodge were \\"looking for someone to sponsor on television\\" c.1950/51. Carter's mother was \\"alle xcited about The Lawrence Welk Show, which she thought was wonderful,\\" convincing her husband to \\"present that as a good idea for Dodge to sponsor.\\" Although her father \\"was not a 'music person',\\" Carter recalls that \\"at my mother's constant nagging about it... he recommended\\" the programme and \\"Dodge wound up sponsoring it.\\" In return, when Carter's father retired from Dodge, both of her parents \\"retired out to Lawrence Welk's Country Club Village in Escondido, California, a mobile home park which they managed for [him for] years.\\"


After largely recovering, Carter attended Occidental College, outside Los Angeles, her acting earnings paying both for her medical care and college education. She recalls that: Having made this decision - which she says \\"was not taken well be him [Kramer] nor by my mother\\" - she decided she wanted to teach and have a family rather than return to acting. In retrospect, Carter acknowledges that this decision \\"just about broke my mother's heart,\\" who was \\"so involved\\" in her daughter's career and felt that she should have continued to act.

During her \\"graduate year at college,\\" Carter married Crosby Newton (May 23, 1957), and the \\"next year, [she] started teaching... [at] high school and junior high,\\" also spending time as a substitute. She particularly enjoyed \\"teaching continuation high school, and of course [her] ninth grade drama class, where [her class] put on various productions.\\" Following the death of her parents (her mother passed away in 1977, her father in 1979), having no more ties California, Carter left teaching in Southern California in 1982, and she and her husband decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest. They settled in the eastern suburbs of Seattle, Washington, having \\"always loved it up in [that] part of the world... since [filming] Commandos Strike at Dawn.\\" In Washington, Carter attended \\"travel school and became a cruise-only travel agent,\\" which she did for four years. An odd rumour that Carter was \\"killed in an automobile accident in 1978\\" is definitively false, but nonetheless persists.

A mother of three - to Gail, David and Carol - Carter-Newton is now retired, in part to help care for her grandchildren, allowing her children (and their partners) to work. In January 2005, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer, which was \\"awful.\\" Finding \\"hope and a very, very aggressive chemo treatment\\" from Dr Saul Rivkin at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, she got through it \\"with help from [her] family and friends.\\" In 2007 she participated in Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, a documentary on the produced behind Curse of the Cat People, which was \\\"exciting,\\\" but also allowed her to learn \\\"a lot about [Lewton]'s life\\\" which was a sad story.


One film historian called Carter \\\"the serious faced little blonde\\\". Although she was a beautiful child, she did not play in films aimed at children or in light topics. In her best roles, she is a vulnerable child trapped in a hostile adult world. She was hailed by director Robert Wise as a \\\"big asset\\\" in his directorial debut, who said in 1991 that:

Ann Carter belongs to a generation of child actors that one film historian has called \\\"the lost children of Hollywood\\\". The films of many such children were largely forgotten for decades, their performances (unlike stars such as Shirley Temple) often uncredited. But with the advent of the VHS and the DVD with its \\\"special features\\\", many of these movies are being re-discovered. Commandos Strike at Dawn and Curse of the Cat People have recently been issued on DVD, and The Two Mrs. Carrolls is available on VHS. Carter herself was the subject of an essay and lengthy interview (conducted by Tom Weaver), in the March 2008 issue of Tim and Donna Lucas' Video Watchdog magazine. She expresses surprise at the number of fans who enjoy Curse of the Cat People, thinking that her acting days "were a long time ago," but recently discovering that her films - and herself - are still the subject of "much attention."



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