“My acting was only average. I wasn’t dedicated. Starting as a tot and working for twenty years was long enough, so I quit. The fan mail still arrives . . . Why? I don’t know.” –Anne Shirley
While Anne Shirley did not stay in the entertainment industry for as long as many of her peers did, she offered audiences a variety of notable performances.
Born Dawn Evelyeen Paris on April 17, 1918, in New York City to Henry and Mimi Paris, Paris began modeling as a baby and would make her film debut just three years after her birth. Her father was born in the United States, while her mother was from England.
Paris lost her father, who was working as a storage house clerk, when she was a baby. This led her to begin working as a child to help make ends meet for her mother. While modeling allowed young Paris to contribute to the family’s finances, her mother saw a greater opportunity for financial prosperity with her daughter in films.
In the film industry, Paris circulated through several different stage names, including Lenn Fondre, Lindley Dawn, and Dawn O’Day. She appeared in The Hidden Valley (1922) and Moonshine Valley (1922) while her stage names were in flux, among other films. Thanks to her successes in films, both mother and daughter left New York for California.
Once in California, Paris carried out various minor roles for Paramount. She soon appeared in Walt Disney’s silent animated series, Alice in Cartoonland, working as the live-action Alice. Paris also attended the Lawlor Professional School for young performers in Hollywood.
As Paris grew, she often appeared in roles that cast her as the daughter of a film’s lead actor or actress. This was the case in films like Mother Knows Best (1928), Sins of the Fathers (1928), and Liliom (1930). In other cases, she played a younger version of a film’s lead actress, as she did in 4 Devils (1928), Rich Man’s Folly (1931), and So Big! (1932). Most of her roles during this period were uncredited.
In the 1930s, Paris appeared in several Vitaphone shorts and attracted the attention of casting agents once again. After appearing in films like Rasputin and the Empress (1932) and The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), she landed the coveted role of Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables (1934). She subsequently changed her stage name for the final time and adopted the name of the film’s heroine: Anne Shirley.
With the success of Anne of Green Gables propelling her career forward, Shirley took on many different ingénue roles. Unfortunately, they would soon lead to predominantly B movies, save for a notable appearance in Stella Dallas (1937) alongside Barbara Stanwyck. Both Shirley and Stanwyck were nominated for Academy Awards because of their performances in the film, though neither would take home the award.
Off-screen, Shirley met and married fellow actor John Payne in 1937. The couple had a daughter named Julie Payne, who would also pursue acting. The couple divorced in 1943.
While Shirley would work in box office successes like Vigil in the Night (1940), several of her film roles were disappointing. One setback happened to be Anne of Windy Poplars (1940), the sequel to Anne of Green Gables. Her final appearance would be alongside Dick Powell in the hit film noir Murder, My Sweet (1944).
Shirley married the producer of Murder, My Sweet, Adrian Scott, in 1945. Adrian’s 1947 blacklisting, however, led to the couple’s divorce.
In 1949, Shirley married for the final time to screenwriter Charles Lederer, nephew of Marion Davies. The marriage produced a son: Daniel Lederer. The couple would remain together until Lederer’s passing in 1976.
No longer working in films, Shirley instead enjoyed painting and living as a Hollywood socialite. After her husband’s death, she struggled with alcoholism and became increasingly private. Though she considered reentering the film industry as a dialogue coach, she remained outside of the limelight.
Shirley passed away on July 4, 1993, from lung cancer. She was 75 years old.
Due to Anne’s abbreviated time in the industry, there are few tributes to her.
The Lawlor Professional School building was demolished in 1980.
In 1920, she resided in an apartment at 510 136th St., New York, New York. The building remains today.
In 1930, she was living at 1619 Cherokee Ave in Los Angeles, California. The home has since been razed.
Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring her work in motion pictures, remains at 7020 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
Today, Anne is remembered for her more notable film roles and continues to delight audiences to this day.