Ann Gillis, ‘In Society’ and ‘Time of Their Lives’ co-star, dies at 90

Ann Gillis, a former child star who portrayed Gloria Winthrop in In Society (1944) and Nora in The Time of Their Lives (1946), passed away January 31, in Horam, East Sussex, England. She was 90.

Born Alma Mabel Conner on Feb. 12, 1927, in Little Rock, Arkansas, the young redhead had already appeared in several movies, including The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Gene Autry’s The Singing Cowboy (1936), when she was cast  as Becky Thatcher in the 1938 adaptation of the classic Mark Twain novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“Little girls and boys all over the country were tested,” Gillis told Mike Fitzgerald in an interview for the Western Clippings website. “Selznick put three girls under contract, me included, waiting for the right Tom to be chosen. Since I was the right size to play against him, I got to play Becky Thatcher.”

She also played Little Orphan Annie (1938), and provided the voice of the adult Faline in Bambi (1942). She went on to appear in Beau Geste (1939), with Gary Cooper; Edison, the Man (1940), starring Spencer Tracy; All This, and Heaven Too (1940), opposite Bette Davis; Man From Music Mountain (1943), with Roy Rogers and Trigger; and In Society and The Time of Their Lives with Abbott and Costello. She also appeared in Costello’s independent production of A Wave, a Wac, and a Marine (1944).

That year she was in a car accident and her face went through the windshield of actor David Holt’s car (he was driving). “He was a friend, and a boy, but not a boyfriend,” she recalled. “I have no haunts about that auto accident. It was not David’s fault. We were on our way to see one of my films at the Pantages Theater for audience reaction. I suppose one has to say for an ego trip. Anyway, this damn girl cut a corner and came at us from the other direction, hitting David’s car on the passenger side. Unfortunately, safety glass was not then so prevalent, so that did the most damage.”

In 1952, Gillis married her second husband, Scottish actor Richard Fraser and moved to the U.K. in 1961. She appeared in two episodes of Roger Moore’s The Saint in 1964 and ’65, then answered a casting call for an American actress to play the mother of astronaut Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

“We did 21 takes,” she said in a 2010 interview. “Kubrick prints them all. In the old days, a director never printed every take. Kubrick prints all 21 takes for this one little scene that lasts just a few seconds. He was set to keep going and I said, ‘You’ve got enough, I quit.’ I left. Twenty-one takes, ridiculous.”

After she and Fraser divorced, Gillis remarried in 1972 and moved to Belgium, where she painted and became an accomplished pianist and harpist. She returned to the U.K. five years ago. “In films I spent most of my time between takes going to school in the earlier years, and being a grumpy teenager in the latter ones,” she said. “Now, I’m just a grumpy old gramma!”

Survivors include three sons, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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