Obituaries

Anne Jeffreys, 94, ‘ghostess with the mostest’ on sitcom

Ms. Jeffreys starred opposite her husband, Robert Sterling, in 1950s television series “Topper.”
United Press international
Ms. Jeffreys starred opposite her husband, Robert Sterling, in 1950s television series “Topper.”

NEW YORK — Anne Jeffreys, the sophisticated blond actress and singer who played a glamorous ghost in the 1950s television series “Topper,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 94.

Her death was confirmed by her son Jeff Sterling.

“Topper,” seen on CBS from 1953 to 1955, was based on the 1937 film of the same name starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as a young couple, George and Marion Kerby, who die in an accident and come back to haunt their old house, now occupied by a stodgy banker, just for fun.

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Ms. Jeffreys starred as ‘‘the ghostess with the mostest’’ opposite her dapper real-life husband, Robert Sterling. The banker, Cosmo Topper (played in the movie and its sequels by Roland Young), was played by Leo G. Carroll.

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Although the series lasted only two seasons, it was praised for its smart comedy, largely thanks to its stars as well as to the young man who wrote many of the first-season episodes: Stephen Sondheim.

Ms. Jeffreys’s television fame was preceded by a few busy years of moviemaking. She was in the musicals “I Married an Angel” (1942), with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and “Step Lively” (1944), with Frank Sinatra. She played the virtuous Tess Trueheart in “Dick Tracy” (1945) and its 1946 sequel; the lady in red who led a criminal to his death in “Dillinger” (1945); and the newcomer Robert Mitchum’s girlfriend in “Nevada” (1944).

Low-budget Westerns became a big part of her film career; in 1943 and 1944 she starred with Bill Elliott and Gabby Hayes in at least eight, including “Wagon Tracks West” and “Death Valley Manhunt.”

Between the movies and her television success, she appeared in four Broadway shows: “Street Scene” (1947), a musical drama by Elmer Rice, Kurt Weill, and Langston Hughes; “My Romance” (1948), an operetta-style musical; “Kiss Me, Kate,” in which she replaced the original female lead, Patricia Morison, in 1950 as Lilli Vanessi, a tempestuous actress who finds herself cast opposite her former husband in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew”; and “Three Wishes for Jamie” (1952), a musical comedy that also starred John Raitt.

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In her later years, Ms. Jeffreys reached new audiences with her work on the daytime soap opera “General Hospital” and its spinoff, “Port Charles.”

Between 1984 and 2003, on both shows, she played Amanda Barrington, a society widow who — soap plots of the time tending toward the extreme — came under a vampire spell. She was featured in the role wealthy on more than 350 episodes.

Annie Jeffreys Carmichael was born on Jan. 26, 1923, in Goldsboro, N.C., a small city 55 miles southeast of Raleigh, to Mack Carmichael and the former Kate Jeffreys. She attended Anderson College in South Carolina and planned an opera career.

She went to New York to work as an operatic soprano and as a model with the John Robert Powers agency. She began her performing career in 1940 with the New York City Opera, the Ford Symphony and the Los Angeles Opera Company, singing Mimi in ‘‘La Boheme’’ and Cho Cho San in ‘‘Madame Butterfly.’’

But with her mother’s guidance she quickly switched to the movie business, making her film debut in “Billy the Kid Trapped,” a 1942 western starring Buster Crabbe.

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Ms. Jeffreys worked mostly onstage and on television in the 1950s. When she returned to feature films after almost 15 years, it was as Howard Duff’s suspicious wife in the racy-for-its-era Kim Novak comedy “Boys’ Night Out” (1962).

She continued working in television until she was 80, in guest roles, as a series regular on “Finder of Lost Loves” (1984-85), and in a recurring role as David Hasselhoff’s mother on “Baywatch” in the 1990s.

She was back on the small screen one last time when she played a patient in a 2013 episode of “Getting On,” the dark HBO comedy series set in a hospital’s extended-care ward.

Ms. Jeffreys married Sterling in 1951; they had met that year when she was starring in “Kiss Me, Kate” at the Shubert Theater in New York and he was in “Gramercy Ghost” at the Morosco, a block away. He died in 2006.

In addition to her son Jeff, Ms. Jeffreys leaves two other sons, Dana and Tyler; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

In a 1993 interview with The Toronto Star, Ms. Jeffreys attributed her career not to her own drive but to her mother’s.

“She heard me sing along with the phonograph when I was 6,” she said, “and I guess that started things.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.