Sally Ann Howes grew up in a show business family led by her father, famous English comedian/actor Bobby Howes, her mother Patricia Malone and grandfather, Broadway director Capt. J.A.E. Malone. She had her first screen test offer on her 12th birthday and went on to star in several films before she turned 20, including Anna Karenina (1948) with Vivien Leigh.
At 20, she received her first starring stage role in Glasgow in the Sandy Wilson musical Caprice. This led to other musicals including an 18-month run of Paint Your Wagon opposite her father Bobby Howes at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket in 1953. This was followed by the plays Romance by Candlelight, A Hatful of Rain (non-musical) and 148 performances of the musical Summer Song. She continued to make the occasional film during the 1950’s but the stage was her main focus. In 1958 she accepted the role of Eliza Doolittle in Broadway’s My Fair Lady, taking over from Julie Andrews. The role had been offered to her three times previously, but film and stage commitments kept her from assuming the part that would skyrocket her fame in America.
Just before taking on My Fair Lady, she married composer Richard Adler, and he wrote the musical Gift of the Magi for her. It aired on CBS TV in December of 1958. Adler later wrote Kwamina for her, which she performed after her run in My Fair Lady. It was a short-lived run of the musical, and she went on to perform on Broadway in “Brigadoon”, which earned her a Tony nomination in 1963. Afterwards she starred in the critically acclaimed musical, “What Makes Sammy Run” opposite Steven Lawrence. Soon after she landed the TV version of Brigadoon (1966) co-starring Robert Goulet and Peter Falk which went on to win seven Emmy Awards.
After she and Adler divorced in 1966, she began filming the movie that would become a mega-hit, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Despite her large volume of work before and after the movie, she will always be most fondly remembered and loved around the world for her portrayal as the very lovely Truly Scrumptious. Producer Albert R. Broccoli wrote of her: “We wanted a typical English beauty. And to me, Sally Ann represents that ideal. She is also one of the finest musical comedy stars today, a rare combination of the right kind of beauty and the right kind of talent.” Dick Van Dyke said of her in his documentary “Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”: “They couldn’t have picked a better Truly Scrumptious than Sally. They came up with Sally Ann and I heard her voice, and it was the richest contralto. She auditioned with the Lovely Lonely Man, and I thought, my God, this girl is great and then she was stunningly beautiful. She loved those kids and they loved her, which I think comes across on the screen. They just thought a great deal of her, and she spent a lot of time with them, you know, between shots… telling stories and playing games during all those long waiting periods.”
Filming took place in England, France and Bavaria over 14 months. Critics were mixed about the film, but children were fanatical about it. The movie spawned a mass marketing phenomenon with everything from Truly Scrumptious Barbie dolls, to Jemima dress patterns, lunch-boxes, countless toys, and many other things all of which still enjoy a thriving collectible life on the secondary market. The Truly Scrumptious costumes in the film even sparked a mini-revival in Edwardian fashions, especially reflected by designer Laura Ashley.
Unfortunately, the movie came out at a time when musicals were beginning to be box office dead weight, including Julie Andrews ‘ Star! (1968) and Darling Lili (1970), which nearly sank Paramount. This nailed the lid shut on filmed musicals for a long time, leaving no filmed musical outlet for performers like Howes. Her film roles became very sporadic after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). She was a frequent and popular guest panelist on many game shows throughout the 1960s, and even up until the early 1980s, and she made several guest appearances on television series during the early 1970s. However, the theatre called her back, and with the exception of a few films, she has devoted her career almost entirely to the musical stage. Her last appearance was in 1992. She remains very active in musical theatre even today and is considered one of the grand dames of the American and British musical stage.
Other musicals and plays she has starred in Camelot; Blossom Time; The Sound of Music; King and I; Robert and Elizabeth; Man and Superman; I Do, I Do; Hans Anderson; A Little Night Music; Cinderella; Where’s Charley?; James Joyce’s The Dead.
She has sung at the White House for three US Presidents – Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.
She is a naturalized U.S. citizen and resides in New York. She has been married for over 30 years to Douglas Rae.
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