Such sad news to hear that Sally Ann Howes, the enduring British singer-actress whose career was launched over 80 years ago, has died. She passed away on December 19 from an unspecified cause, three months after losing her husband of 49 years.
Warmly remembered internationally for her performance in the 1968 musical-fantasy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Howes tirelessly worked, mainly onstage, until about a dozen years ago.
Born July 20, 1930, in London, into a show-biz family that included her variety star father Bobby Howes (1895-1972) and his stage-actress wife Patricia Malone (1899-1971), Howes was bitten by the acting bug at school.
In 1943, she was cast in the film Thursday's Child, written and directed by Rodney Ackland (1908-1991), a family neighbor. She was tapped for the role after hundreds of other child actresses had been passed over.
That film and The Halfway House in 1944 won the English rose a contract at Ealing Studios, launching a six-decade career on the stage, screen, radio, and TV.
Howes appeared in such films as Dead of Night (1945), Nicholas Nickleby (1947), and Anna Karenina (1948) ahead of her musical debut in the BBC-TV production of Cinderella (1950).
An overnight star on London's West End, she replaced Julie Andrews (b. 1935) in My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1958. Establishing dual citizenship in the U.K. and the U.S., she became a familiar face on talk shows and game shows, and performed for three U.S. presidents.
Howes's first Tony nomination was for Brigadoon in 1962, earning the distinction of being the first performer nominated for a revival. She went on to star in the long-running What Makes Sammy Run? (1964).
However, Howes's most lasting contribution to film came with James Bond creator Ian Fleming's (1908-1964) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opposite Dick Van Dyke (b. 1925), playing the role of Truly Scrumptious.
The lavish film — notorious for its frightful Child-Catcher sequence — earned mixed reviews at the time and did not recoup its huge budget, but through television reruns has become an undisputed family classic that spawned the 2002 London and 2005 Broadway musical of the same name.
Among the film's highlights, her meticulous performance of "Music Box," which she told Rosie O'Donnell (b. 1962) in 1998 was "my favorite... It's the most difficult thing in the whole world. I really was very proud of it... I did it on the set and I was a bit nervous about it, going on the set, because it was that huge thing with about 150 extras and everything and they put me up on this little box and off I went. And I got it in one [take]!"
She continued her stage career, starring in dozens of productions, and in 1990 performed her one-woman show From This Moment On at the esteemed Edinburgh Festival.
While less active on TV and in film, she celebrated her 50th year as an actor with an appearance in the U.S. miniseries Secrets in 1992 — her final work on film or TV.
Married three times, Howes was preceded in death by her husband Douglas Rae, and by one of her adopted sons, Christopher, who died in 1984. She is survived by her adopted son Andrew.