Ann Carter was born in June 1936 in Syracuse and moved to California with her parents when she was three years old. Once there, a neighbor who worked for one of the film studios introduced her to producer / director Herbert Brenon, who worked to turn her into a fine young actress. A year later, she landed a key—though uncredited—role in The Last of the Duanes (1941).
Because of her resemblance to Veronica Lake, Carter was later cast to play Lake's daughter in I Married A Witch (1942), on which the TV series Bewitched was loosely based (making Carter's character a parallel to Tabitha on the TV series). This led to a number of other films, including The Curse of the Cat People, And Now Tomorrow (1944), Song of Love (1947), Ruthless (1948) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949).
In 2008, on the occasion of the Turner Classic Movies premiere broadcast of the documentary Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007), directed by Kent Jones and produced (and narrated) by Martin Scorsese, I hosted the Val Lewton "blogathon" here at The Evening Class. In anticipation, Turner Classic Movies arranged for me to interview Ann Carter shortly before Christmas in 2007. At that time she was 71, married, and a grandmother living in Washington state. Sadly, Ann passed away earlier this year on January 27, 2014.
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Ann Carter-Newton: I am. Except every time I see one of the movies, I see things I could have done better.
Guillén: As any conscientious artist would! After you retired from acting, you went into teaching?
Carter-Newton: I did. After I had polio and went through a lot of treatment for that with casts and all kinds of things, I finished college and I taught secondary school, high school.
Guillén: General education? Any particular focus?
Carter-Newton: No, but there was English and Drama. At the last of my teaching, I taught continuation high school, which I really loved; in California they called it continuation. It's Special Ed for students who choose to be there by contract and have various problems. You work with them individually and I liked that the best.
Carter-Newton: That was a memorable experience because the set was a very happy set for me. I was eight years old. It was 1944. I was fascinated by the way they dealt with the sound stage, which they changed from Summer to Fall to Winter.
Guillén: That must have been loads of fun as a child to experience.
Carter-Newton: Oh yes. It was beautiful what they did. There were people up in the catwalks throwing the snow—which was gypsum and untoasted cornflakes—out of boxes. All of this was very interesting and exciting to a child. And I am an only child like Amy was in the movie. I grew up around adults. Maybe that makes quite a difference in a child's life.
Guillén: Was Val Lewton ever on the set?
Carter-Newton: Yes, he was. I remember seeing him and knowing who he was but I don't remember any conversations with him. In my mind when I see him, he was always nicely dressed. He had on a suit and tie. He was formally dressed as opposed to some others who were working on different aspects of the production.
Carter-Newton: I think it was four hours. We had to have three hours of school.
Guillén: And that tutoring was right there on the set?
Carter-Newton: Yes, off in some quiet place. You always had a welfare worker who was a teacher and he was there to look out after your welfare and to teach you. On that set it was pretty much one-on-one. It was an opportunity to learn a lot every time I did that and I loved that part. I believe it was four hours a day and that's why we had stand-ins and support.
Guillén: Curse of the Cat People is unique in that it had two directors: originally Gunther von Fritsch who was then replaced by Robert Wise. Was that odd for you to have two different directors?
Carter-Newton: No, it really wasn't.
Guillén: Can you speak about what you recall about each of them and differentiate how they each directed you differently, if so?
Carter-Newton: Gunther von Fritsch was more intimidating. He was very nice to me—there was no one on that whole picture that was not extremely kind and nice to me as an eight-year-old—but, he was a little more rigid probably and maybe not as easy for me to communicate with as Robert Wise was. Robert Wise was extremely easy for me to understand and I knew exactly what he wanted. It was more comfortable with him.
Carter-Newton: I would say that probably the most important influence was my mother who worked with me. We had a routine. When I would leave the studio, we'd go home and eat dinner, have a bath and go to bed quite early, as early as possible. We would learn the lines for the next day; but, more importantly, we would talk about the whole scene and the script so that I would know exactly what was going on. Some of it was scary for me and I needed to know exactly what the story was and what was going on. After all, there were quite a lot of people on the set.
Guillén: Curse of the Cat People is so textured and complex and I know it's been used as a textbook study in psychology courses on child development. As a child—with your mother's guidance—I'm sure you had a certain understanding about what the film was about. All these years later, do you have the same understanding, or has time leant a different understanding to the film?
Carter-Newton: I don't have a different understanding of the film. It's the same.
Guillén: So the film's message was simple and steady enough to come across then for you as a child, even as it does now?
Simone Simon was interesting. She was very nice to me. She had that dress with all the stars. I was just fascinated by that dress and went around picking up the stars that had fallen off. That seemed important to me.
Guillén: You thought that was your job on the set?
Carter-Newton: I did. I remember that very clearly, yes.
Guillén: So you say that Simone was very sweet to you but I've read elsewhere that she didn't really want to do this film. None of that came across to you?
Carter-Newton: I didn't know that. That didn't come across to me at all.
Guillén: I've heard a rumor—and please just slap me up alongside the head if you don't want to answer this—but, I've heard a rumor that you had a missing tooth during the shooting of this film and that you were directed not to smile for fear the gap would show. Is that true?
Guillén: Well, then we've dispelled that rumor, which was floating around out there.
[Note: On January 3, 2008, I received the following email from TCM's publicist: "Ann would like you to call Michael and tell him he was right about the missing tooth. Ann went back in her photos and it wasn't her front tooth, but the one next to it that was missing. Once Michael mentioned it, she got to thinking and with the photos, the story Michael told her did happen."]
Now that film culture has matured and access to these films are readily available to people through video and DVD, what is it like for you to know audiences are watching this film today? Did you ever imagine that would happen?
Carter-Newton: No. Never. And I was very surprised when it was colorized as well. Some of those colors were definitely not right because I remember the color of the dresses I wore and they're not right in the colorized version.
Guillén: I think colorizing old black and white films was just a passing phase in American film culture; one which has fortunately seen its day.
Carter-Newton: I don't like it.
Guillén: I don't either. Have you shared your films with your own children and your grandchildren?
Guillén: [Laughter.] I wish I could get my name in the TV Guide! Didn't they realize how glamorous that was?
Carter-Newton: [Laughter.] No, I was put down by my own children. But they're different now. They're OK now.
Guillén: Straying away a bit from Curse of the Cat People, there's also a story about how you intimidated your contemporary Margaret O'Brien at an audition by wearing white gloves?
Carter-Newton: My mother told me that story. We went on an interview—I think it might have been for The Last of the Duanes in 1940—I was four. Margaret O'Brien and I were the same age; she was four too. My mom told me that Margaret O'Brien had forgotten to say her lines because she was so fascinated with my gloves. I don't remember it but I heard it from my mother.
Guillén: Your mother sounds like she was a very smart woman.
Carter-Newton: Yes, and she was very interested in drama and anything like that. She had wanted to do that herself and be involved in some way herself; but, that didn't happen because her father wouldn't allow her to even have any lessons. She concentrated on me and I was the only one and that was it.
Carter-Newton: Because in the very beginning of the film, one of the first scenes, he comes home from his work and I'm sitting on the arm of a couch talking to him. While we were rehearsing, I yawned—evidently a very big yawn—and he looked down my throat and he said, "Oh, tonsils." And that was it from then on.
Guillén: Do you remember anything about Bogie?
Carter-Newton: I do. All good things. I remember how funny and nice he was with me. I also remember that—at that time—Lauren Bacall would visit the set often and I remember seeing her.
Guillén: Have you written down your remembrances, Ann?
Carter-Newton: I have not.
Guillén: Do you intend to?
Carter-Newton: I probably should.
Guillén: Oh yes, I strongly believe you should! You had such a wondrous opportunity as a child actress to meet and mingle with these personalities who are now the acknowledged stars of yesteryear.
Guillén: To wrap up then, what a delight it's been to chat with you this morning. I'm so glad that you came out of retirement to offer commentary in the Scorsese / Jones documentary. It adds such a beautiful personal touch.
Carter-Newton: I'm honored to be able to do this. Especially because I've had such a scary time with cancer a couple of years ago. I'm very happy I'm here to do it.
Guillén: So am I, Ann! Because of your recent bout with cancer, I encourage you all the more to share your memories with us by writing them down. Your memories are of value. People love films and what has gone into the making of them.
Carter-Newton: I will. I have a daughter who will help me a great deal with that. She's an organized type of person. I will.
Guillén: Great! Thank you very much, Ann.