Evelyn Ankers was born on August 17, 1918, in Valparaiso, Chile. The daughter of British parents, she was brought up in England, and later attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. By the time she completed her studies in school in the mid 1930s, Ankers was landing small roles in British film productions, including Rembrandt (1936), Fire Over England (1937) with Raymond Massey, and Bells of St. Mary's (1937). Ankers' beauty and talent was evident even in these small parts, so much so that she soon was cast in starring roles in the low-budget crime dramas The Villiers Diamond (1938) and Murder in the Family (1938) opposite an equally youthful Jessica Tandy.
She came to America in 1940, after Britain had been attacked by the Nazis. Her first success there came on the Broadway stage in Ladies In Retirement, which starred Flora Robson. However, when Columbia Pictures purchased the film rights to the play, Ankers was not awarded the privilege of recreating her role for the screen version. She came to Hollywood in 1941 and, after a brief contractual obligation to MGM which yielded not a single film role, she was contracted by Universal. She returned to the screen in Bachelor Daddy (1941), but her first big break came in the Abbott and Costello vehicle Hold That Ghost (1941).
Immediately after, she co-starred opposite Lon Chaney, Jr., in the smash hit The Wolf Man. In 1942, Ankers married handsome B-movie lead Richard Denning. While he went off to war, Ankers' exercised her larynx in numerous Universal horror flicks. That year Ankers joined Chaney again for the fourth installment in the continuing saga of Universalís greatest monster, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) with Bela Lugosi as the monster. Also that year, Ankers joined Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror. Rathbone and Bruce had appeared as Holmes and Watson in two features at Twentieth Century Fox prior to coming to Universal to continue the adventures of the screenís most famous detective.
By 1943, Ankers was firmly established as Universal's number one horror film heroine. She was menaced by the "shockingly savage" Acquanetta in Captive Wild Woman, an unusual film that ultimately spawned two sequels. In Son of Dracula, she was cast in a supporting role as the sister of a morbid Louise Allbritton, who marries the undead Count (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to gain immortality. Ankers then held the female lead in yet another shocker, The Mad Ghoul, which co-starred George Zucco and David Bruce. The following year she was featured in The Invisible Manís Revenge, the last of the series that began with Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933).
She occasionally got to play a villainess, as in 1944's Weird Woman and the Sherlock Holmes entry The Pearl of Death, and there were also some non-horror films among Ankers' Universal output, too, among them North to the Klondike (1942), His Butler's Sister (1943), Ladies Courageous, and Pardon My Rhythm (both 1944). Her final Universal credit was the Inner Sanctum mystery The Frozen Ghost released in June 1945. Ankers was pregnant with her first child during the production, and chose to leave the studio for the life of a wife and mother following the completion of filming.
Ankers worked less frequently on-screen after leaving Universal in 1945, turning up in Queen of Burlesque, The French Key (both 1946), The Lone Wolf in London (1947), Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949), and The Texan and Calamity Jane (1950, as Jane). Her only noteworthy appearance thereafter was in a 1960 religious film, No Greater Love. She eventually retired to Hawaii with her husband (where Denning continued his career portraying the governor in the highly successful television series Hawaii Five-O.
If Fay Wray was the "Scream Queen" of the 1930s, then Evelyn Ankers surely held that title in the 1940s. Content to stay out of camera range for the remainder of her life, Evelyn Ankers passed away on August 28, 1985 at the age of 67.
--LEONARD MALTIN, from
Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia.
A selection of Evelyn Ankers films.
Find Evelyn Ankers on eBay.com
A selection Evelyn Ankers related books.
A History of Horror
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