One of the grand dames of the American and British theatre, naturalized U.S. citizen Sally Ann Howes (b. London, England, 20 July 1930) has devoted her career almost entirely to the musical stage. She grew up in show business; her father Bobby Howes was a famous English comedian/actor, her mother Patricia Malone an actress, and her grandfather J.A.E. Malone a Broadway director. Sally Ann herself was offered a screen test on her twelfth birthday, and before she had turned twenty she had starred in several films, including Anna Karenina (1948) with Vivien Leigh.
She made her stage debut in a London production of Leonard Bernstein’s Fancy Free and received her first starring role in Glasgow in the Sandy Wilson musical Caprice, Although she continued to make movies occasionally, her main focus thereafter turned to the musical theatre. In 1953 she appeared with her father at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, in Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, and later played 148 performances of Summer Song. She was also appearing regularly on BBC Radio and television and in “straight” plays Romance by Candlelight and Hatful of Rain.
Already a celebrity at home, Howes came to Broadway in 1958 to replace Julie Andrews in the role of Eliza Doolittle in the original run of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. (Andrews, also a Britisher, had gone to London to star in the West End production.)
In 1961, Howes starred on Broadway as Eve in Kwamina, a musical by her then husband, Richard Adler, who previously had written both the music and lyrics to The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. The show closed after a run of only 32 performances. After appearing in the 1963 City Center revival of Brigadoon, which in spite of being a revival and running for only 16 performances won her a Tony® nomination, Howes created the role of Kit Sargent in the Schulberg and Drake musical, What Makes Sammy Run?, with Steve Lawrence. In 1966 her acclaimed performance as Fiona in Brigadoon was broadcast on television with Robert Goulet and Peter Falk.
But by that time the popularity of Broadway musicals had begun to wane, and Sally Ann Howes found herself working principally as a guest performer on television variety programs, game shows, and dramatic series. She and Adler divorced in 1966. She would not return to Broadway for another 35 years. Happily, she was chosen for the part of Truly Scrumptious in the mega-hit musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) with Dick Van Dyke, and this ideal of “typical English beauty” (as producer Albert R. Broccoli called her) became America’s darling. Along with that, she became the brand for countless articles on the secondary market, even the model for a Barbie Doll.
The market for film musicals, however, seemed also to collapse, and for the next three decades Howes’s employment in the movies was very spotty. She continued to be much in demand for television and regional productions of musicals, starring in Camelot, Blossom Time, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Robert and Elizabeth, Man and Superman, I Do! I Do!, Hans Anderson, The Great Waltz, The Merry Widow, A Little Night Music, Cinderella, and Where’s Charley?
Sally Ann Howes returned to Broadway in 2000 to play Aunt Julia Morkan in Richard Nelson and Shaun Davey’s musical adaptation of James Joyces’s <
The Dead. Her performance earned a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.
Howes has sung for three US Presidents at the White House: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. She lives in New York with her husband Douglas Rae, whom she married in 1972.
– JB / LEC