ANN STEELY was born to Henry Grady Steely, a school teacher
and local theatre operator, and his wife Ora Lecher Steely, on July 6, 1923 in the small town of Siluria, Alabama.
Ann attended elementary school in Greensboro,
Alabama, but her father died in 1935, and
at age twelve, she moved with her mother and younger brother, Joe, to Oklahoma City. In Oklahoma she attended Harding
Junior High School and graduated from Classen High School in 1942. Between 1942 and
1943, Ann studied stenography at Hill's Business College and dramatics at Oklahoma
City University where she appeared in some student productions. Upon leaving school,
she got a
job as a secretary with Oklahoma City's army induction center, but had
caught the acting bug, and in 1944, packed her bags to try her luck
Ann's only contact in the movie industry was photographer Paul Hesse
who did his best to introduce her to people, but her break came while sitting
at a lunch counter in Schwab's drugstore. There she met an agent named
Ben Medford who offered to introduce her to producer Samuel
ordered a screen test and signed Ann to a standard seven-year contract.
Because she had no professional experience, he sent her to the American
Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York where she studied acting, ballet and
diction. (Goldwyn reportedly
couldn't understand her southern accent.)
After losing her accent and changing her name to Cathy O'Donnell
("Cathy" after the character in Wuthering Heights and
"O'Donnell" because Goldwyn
thought an Irish name would suit her), she toured for six months as Mary
in "Life With Father" before returning to Hollywood. In 1946
Cathy made her screen debut in Goldwyn's
production of William Wyler's
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
(1946). The film featured a flock of Hollywood stars including Fredric
March, Myrna Loy, Dana
Andrews, Teresa Wright and Virginia Mayo, but Cathy played the love interest of another screen newcomer, disabled
veteran Harold Russell. BEST
YEARS earned seven Academy Awards including the Oscar for Best Picture.
The following year, Cathy's talents were loaned out to other studios,
most notably RKO for whom she made
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) opposite Farley Granger, another newly signed
Goldwyn contract player.
(The film was shelved temporarily by the studio and not released in the
United States until 1949, after receiving critical plaudits in Britain the
previous year). In 1948, Cathy and Granger returned to the Goldwyn
lot where they were cast together with David
Niven and Teresa Wright in the film
adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel Take Three Tenses. However, when
on April 11 she eloped with Robert Wyler, brother of BEST
YEARS director William Wyler
(who had left Goldwyn
after making the film to form an independent production company), Goldwyn
fired her then and there. As Farley Granger explained: "Goldwyn
took this situation personally and said that Willy Wyler had put his brother
up to marrying Cathy just to spite him... And he insisted that Cathy annul
the marriage immediately or she would never work again."(1)
Evelyn Keyes replaced Cathy in ENCHANTMENT (1948) (as Take Three Tenses
was eventually called), and Cathy signed with David
Cathy's career waned after the break with Goldwyn.
She appeared as a grown-up Judy Miniver in the 1950 box office flop THE MINIVER STORY,
a sequel to the Best Picture of 1942 MRS.
MINIVER with Greer Garson and Walter
Pidgeon. That same year, a second pairing with Granger, SIDE STREET,
failed to connect with audiences as had THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. In 1951, Cathy
had a small but worthwhile role in DETECTIVE STORY, directed by William
Wyler, and the lead in an inconsequential film called NEVER TRUST A
GAMBLER. After other small roles, most notably in Anthony Mann's THE
MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955) with Jimmy
Stewart, Cathy made her final big screen appearance for Wyler
in his 1959 epic BEN-HUR.
She played Charlton Heston's
leprosy-stricken sister Tirzah.
Although she did a little work in television through 1964, Cathy's
acting career had essentially ended. After a lengthy battle with cancer,
she died on April 11, 1970, her twenty-second wedding anniversary with
Robert Wyler, who died the following year. The couple had no children.
- Carol Easton, The Search for Sam Goldwyn: a biography
(New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1976) 251.