- Birth name:
- Alma Mabel Conner
- Date of Birth:
- 12 February 1927 Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
Ann Gillis was born Alma Mabel Conner on February 12, 1927, in Little Rock, Arkansas. At age seven, she appeared in her first film, Men in White (1934), as an extra. During the next two years, she had uncredited appearances in six more films until she received her first major role in King of Hockey (1936). Warner Brothers Studios gave significant screen time to Gillis in this movie, in hopes that she would become another Shirley Temple. Although (like all child stars of the 1930s) she never achieved Temple's level of fame, for the next several years Gillis starred in many films, almost always playing a spoiled, bratty character. She had two rare sympathetic roles as Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938) and as the title character in Little Orphan Annie (1938). One scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer called for her to go into screaming hysterics when her character was trapped in a cave of bats, and Gillis delivered in a powerful performance that is probably the most memorable scene of her film career. As Gillis grew older, however, her career slowed down, and she left Hollywood in 1947. When she left Hollywood she married Paul Ziebold and had 2 sons. She then divorced, relocated to New York City and married Richard Fraser, a Scottish-born actor (they had a son born in 1958). During the 1950s and '60s, Gillis made sporadic television appearances, and in 1959, she hosted a national telecast presentation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Gillis and her husband moved to England in 1961, and they were living in London when they heard of a casting call for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that called for an American actress living in the city. Gillis auditioned and got the role; it remains her final film to date.