Contract at Columbia and name change
Ann’s part in BROADWAY THROUGH A KEYHOLE caught the eye of mogul Harry Cohn. He had been searching for a Scandinavian-looking actress and felt he might have one with Ann. She was promptly given a screen test, performing a scene from the Broadway play Eight Bells, which Cohn had acquired and planned to adapt as a motion picture. Ann’s screen test was successful, and Cohn hired her for one picture. If it did well with audiences, she would be offered a long-term contract.
The first picture Ann made at Columbia in the fall of 1933 was LET’S FALL IN LOVE with Edmund Lowe. Audiences enjoyed the musical romance, and because it did well at the box office, Cohn put Ann under contract. A series of economically produced films, mostly comedies with musical elements, would be scheduled for the actress.
Being under contract was good news for Ann, and for her mother. Mrs. Lake’s relentless determination to turn one of her daughters into a movie star was now beginning to pay off. But when Ann signed on the dotted line with Columbia PIctures, they learned there would have to be a name change.
Harry Cohn felt there were too many stars with the last name Lake in Hollywood, such as Arthur Lake and Alice Lake. So a list of possibilities was brainstormed. Ultimately, ‘Ann’ was selected as a tribute to Mrs. Lake whose first name was Annette; and ‘Sothern’ was chosen because it was in honor of a highly respected Shakespearean stage actor named E.H. Sothern. That’s how the stage name Ann Sothern was created, and it would eventually become her legal name as well.
Years later, the name would be spoofed in an MGM film noir produced while Ann was under contract at the studio. In TENSION– when Richard Basehart’s character is on the lam and needs to change his identity– he sees a magazine with Ann Sothern’s picture on the cover, and he starts to call himself Paul Sothern.
As the newly contracted Ann Sothern settled in at Columbia, she learned her boss had plans to keep her busy and earn the salary he was paying her. During the next three years, she made 15 films. All of her Columbia pictures, ten of them, were B films. But she was also being loaned out to other producers and studios for more prestigious A pictures, playing second leads meant to capitalize on her looks and talent.
As with any star getting the studio build-up, Ann was required to pose for many publicity shots. In the 1930s and 1940s, the more glamorous the pose, the better. Years later, Ann would tell an interviewer how in these days they were not expected to know how to act as much as they were expected to be stars and work with the publicity departments to promote their names in countless advertisements and magazine articles. But as Ann continued her apprenticeship at Cohn’s studio, she decided she could also set her mind to be a darned good actress, too.