Sandy Sturges, 79; widow of director Preston Sturges

Times Staff Writer

Anne Margaret "Sandy" Sturges, who used the unfinished manuscript of an autobiography by her late husband, film auteur Preston Sturges, as the basis for the book "Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges," has died. She was 79.

Sandy Sturges died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan Beach. The cause was cancer, her son Tom Sturges said.

Decades after her husband died of a heart attack in 1959, Sturges edited together excerpts from his letters and diaries and combined them with his incomplete manuscript to create "a charming better-late-than-never autobiography," Kenneth Turan wrote in a review for The Times. "If you want a sense of the man, if you want to hear the beguiling voice ... this book succeeds where all the others have come up short," Turan wrote.

Sandy Sturges was in her early 20s and her husband in his 50s when they married in 1951. The ceremony took place on the stage in the Players restaurant, a popular dinner and theater spot in Hollywood that he owned. It was his fourth marriage, her second.

He was past the height of his fame as the writer and director of such ingenious romantic comedies as "The Lady Eve" in 1941 and "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" in 1944. He turned his attention to his new family.

The couple had two children -- Preston Jr., born in 1953, and Thomas, born two years later -- and spent long periods in Europe before Preston Sturges died.

Sandy Sturges once recalled the unlikely details of their meeting. She was walking past his restaurant on her way home from work and noticed that the neon sign outside was shooting sparks.

She went to the door to warn the people inside and assumed the man who met her was the foreman of a work crew installing the restaurant's stage.

"When he introduced himself, there was this infinitesimal pause that famous people do," Sturges said of her late husband in a 1991 interview with the Boston Globe. "Of course, there was no reaction on my part. I didn't know his films."

She had been educated in Catholic schools, and the nuns discouraged most movies, "anything that bothered our faith," she told the Globe.

She quoted his recollection of their meeting in her book. Sturges wrote of her, "I deduced ... with some relief that she must be older than the 14 years she appeared to be, indeed that she had reached the age of consent. Still she was very young."

She stopped by often to see the stage coming together.

"One afternoon," Sturges wrote in his autobiography, "I told her that I was in two minds: I didn't know whether to adopt her or to marry her. She thought I was joking."

After they married, Sandy Sturges later said, her husband taught her something she did not learn in school.

"I had been raised to believe that perfection was the goal," she told the Globe. "Through Preston I began to appreciate the foibles of humanity, to appreciate lapses."

Anne Margaret Nagle was born Jan. 3, 1927, in Washington, D.C., one of four children. Her father abandoned the family during the Depression.

She moved to Los Angeles with her first husband in the late 1940s. Soon afterward they divorced, but she stayed on and got a job with Blue Cross.

After the death of Preston Sturges, she graduated from the now defunct Mid-Valley College of Law in 1974 and worked as a paralegal, her son Tom said.

Along with her sons Preston Jr. of Redondo Beach and Tom of Manhattan Beach, Sturges is survived by four grandchildren.

Contributions in her name can be made to the City of Hope, Development Office, 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017. Donations should be designated for cancer research.


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