Ann Doran; Veteran Character Actress

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You may not know her name.

But you’ve seen her face a thousand times--maybe even 1,500.

Ann Doran, durable character actress who appeared in about 500 motion pictures and 1,000 television shows over an astonishing eight-decade career, died Sept. 19 in a senior citizens complex in Carmichael, Calif. She was 89.

“Very simply, I was a working actress all my life,” she said in an interview earlier this year, with no regrets that you might not know her name.

Never a star, but applauded for her professionalism and hard work as well as her long service to the entertainment industry, Doran may be best remembered as James Dean’s mother in the legendary actor’s signature “Rebel Without a Cause.”


But she was also memorable as Phil Harris’ panic-stricken wife in “The High and the Mighty,” the 1954 granddaddy of all airplane disaster films; as the Stanford coach’s wife in “The Bob Mathias Story” and Betty Hutton’s twin in Bing Crosby’s wartime musical comedy “Here Come the Waves.”

Doran was a regular in the “Blondie” series of motion pictures, made from 1938 to 1950, and on the 1960s television series “National Velvet,” as Velvet’s mother, and “The Legend of Jesse James,” as Ma James.

She also darted nimbly from small screen to large and back again as a waitress or nurse, a receptionist, maid, salesgirl, hairdresser, supportive friend or whatever the script required.

“I love the atmosphere of the set. I love the long hours. I love my feet hurtin’ because I stand up so much,” Doran told The Times in 1981 for an article on working character actors 70 and older. “I love coming home exhausted so that I can’t eat and all I can do is flop into bed.”

Born in Amarillo, Texas, Doran was the daughter of silent film actress Carrie Barnett and began appearing in silents at the age of 4--under a variety of stage names so her father’s disapproving family wouldn’t know. She was, for example, as she once described herself, “one of the knobby-kneed little pages” in the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. version of “Robin Hood.”

After high school and college, Doran appeared as a girl in a swimming pool in “The Night Life of the Gods.” From 1934 to 1936 she made 17 films, clearly establishing that she had made the uneasy transition from child to adult actress.


Although she was billed only once in a leading role--as Jean opposite actor Charles Starrett in the 1939 “Rio Grande”--Doran never once groused about playing second fiddle, or even thirty-second.

“I’m happy in the leak light,” she told The Times. With the spotlight on the star, “whatever leaked over the side, that’s what I got.”

Doran worked for her profession off screen as well as on, serving as an officer in the Screen Actors Guild and helping to launch its John L. Dales Scholarship Fund. In 1990, SAG gave her its Ralph Morgan Award for distinguished service to the organization.

She also served on the boards of the industry’s Actors Fund, Theater Authority, Permanent Charities and Motion Picture and Television Fund.

No services are planned. Memorial donations may be sent to the John L. Dales Scholarship Fund, SAG Foundation, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.