Get the Inside Scoop on Anna Lee
Several weeks ago Soapdom reported that long time General Hospital veteran, Anna Lee (Lila) was taken off contract. Fans were outraged. A flurry of support flourished. The call to sign Petitions to keep Lee went out.
But was she fired? To get to the bottom of the controversy, Soapdom contacted General Hospital and was assured that Lee was not fired from the soap, as the rumor mill had suggested. However, she was placed on recurring status, and as such would continue to be used whenever storyline dictated her presence on the show. The official statement went like this:
“Anna Lee has been a beloved cast member of General Hospital for many years,” the spokesperson for GH told Soapdom. “It is our intent to continue to use her in a recurring role as Lila Quartermaine on the show as story needs may dictate."
Shortly thereafter, Soapdom was contacted by Lee’s personal publicist to set the record straight from Lee’s side of things. Here’s what he told us:
Lee has been on an annual contract for many years.
Each year in November her contract is picked up for another year.
Her contract guarantee was one day of work a week. (A guarantee is how many days per week you get paid, whether you actually work them or not.)
In recent years, she worked about four days a year.
When her son, Jeffrey Bryon, called ABC to get the ball rolling on the renewal for this year, as he has done every year, he was informed that the contract would not be renewed this time, meaning the guarantee was no longer in effect.
According to Lee’s publicist, Anna Lee herself was never personally told of the change in her contract status. When her son finally did break the news, she was devastated. Her publicist says that till this day, Lee has not been personally contacted by ABC. Not only is Lee upset about the contract situation, she is hurt that no one at ABC took the time to tell her personally.
That's such a shame. Where's the gold watch? Where's the retirement dinner? Where's the send off on the set? Maybe it hasn't happened because Lee is still on the show on recurring status. Still --
Soapdom passed on to GH the fact that Lee was hurt in regard to the lack of personal contact. We would like to believe that we had some impact, and although we don’t know for certain, we would hope that the higher ups at ABC would have made personal contact with Lee by now. The spokesperson assured me just yesterday that GH stands by the statement: “Anna Lee has been a beloved cast member of General Hospital for many years. It is our intent to continue to use her in a recurring role as Lila Quartermaine on the show as story needs may dictate."
So the question is –
Is the support and well-being of an actress, albeit a Hollywood icon, a 25-year veteran of the show, and a wheelchair-bound 90 year old, the financial responsibility of General Hospital? Let us know your thoughts on the Soapdom GH Message Boards.
Here is the reality of the situation. Although Soapdom feels for Lee and the situation, especially after the tragedy she has endured in her life, the hard truth of the matter is networks and studios make money decisions that affect the lives of the people that work for them, or worked for them. Lee’s contract status is a victim of that “machine.”
Case in point. Someone works on a prime time series as an actor, a producer, a director, production personnel, etc. The series ranks miserably in the ratings. The series is cancelled. Over 100 people are out of work. Just like that. Over night. Boom. Gone.
This has just happened to someone very near and dear to me. He went in to work on a Monday morning and was told, bye bye. The show’s done. Over. We’ll shoot the rest of this current episode, but that’s it. This after the network promised them a 13-episode commitment, they only shot 11 episodes and then ABC pulled the plug. Nothing can be done about it. The show is cancelled. It's history. But what about the mortgage payments that need to be made? Not ABC’s concern. ABC’s concern is being in third place in the prime time ratings race, and needing to make changes to the programming. It is the risk you take when you have a career in the entertainment industry, especially television. Shows get cancelled. Contracts do not get renewed. Actors are out of work.
Another case. A major studio is spending too much on in-house post production personnel. After seven years as an editor in good standing, you get notified that November 30 is your last day of work. Not the best news right before Christmas.
The bottom line with the Anna Lee situation is most likely that although the producers would love to continue to ‘carry” her contract and have carried it for a number of years, it’s an expense to the bottom line for the network and for the studio that owns the network, namely Disney, that can no longer be justified.
Can’t you just picture the meeting with the network execs and the producers of the show? “Anna Lee. Delightful woman, fine actress. A great looker in her day. But what’s this? We only work her four days a year? We’re paying her for one day a week on contract? Put her on recurring. We can’t afford to pay for days she is not working or contributing to the storytelling… “ yadda yadda yadda.
It is a harsh reality, and we regret that this 90-year old Hollywood icon has felt the brunt of it. We wish Anna Lee the best of everything and will keep her in our thoughts and prayers.
If you want to see Lee appear on more episodes of General Hospital, sign the petition and snail mail the show. (See Breaking News ~ GH’s Anna Lee Gets Pink Slip? )
On October 27, 2003, the following press release was distributed by Anna Lee’s personal publicist:
Screen Legend Anna Lee’s Son’s Plea to Disney Boss
“Please Let My Mother Work”
How’s this for the plot of a daytime TV drama? A wheelchair-bound 90-year old movie star, whose co-stars have included John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Ronald Colman, and Paul Muni, has been guaranteed a lifetime tenure on the TV show she’s appeared on for 25 years. Then, new management comes in and announces they’re not going to renew the actress’ contract. She won’t be able to make her mortgage payments or pay her 24-hour caregiver.
But being a daytime drama, this will have a happy ending, right? Unfortunately, this is real life and veteran actress Anna Lee is facing expulsion from her home on ABC’s General Hospital after 25 years.
Having appeared in such screen classics as How Green Was My Valley, The Sound of Music, the original King Solomon’s Mines, Fort Apache, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ms. Lee joined the cast of General Hospital in 1978 as the Port Charles matriarch, Lila Quartermaine.
Five years into her run on the show, Ms. Lee, then 70, was involved in a car accident, which left her permanently handicapped. Another actress would have chosen to retire gracefully, but Anna Lee is a fighter – all those John Ford movies – and she elected to continue playing her role in a wheelchair. Twenty years later, she remains a poster girl for the elderly and the handicapped. Fan letters pour into her regularly saying what an inspiration she has been.
According to Ms. Lee, Wendy Rich, the former executive producer of GH (as it’s know to cast and fans) once promised her a “lifetime contract” on the show.
Her appearances on General Hospital have become less frequent in recent years, but Anna Lee has always had an annual contract. Until this year.
ABC recently informed Ms. Lee, via Jeffrey Byron, her son, that they won’t be renewing her contract when it comes up in November. “This job has been a fountain of youth for mother,” says actor Byron, himself a veteran of General Hospital spinoff, Port Charles. Without General Hospital, it’s likely, as with many elderly people, mother would have lost purpose and most likely given up.”
Married for many years to acclaimed novelist Robert Nathan, Ms. Lee borrowed heavily against her home to pay for his medical expenses during his final years. As her own heath declined with advancing age, the weekly salary from General Hospital allowed her to meet her monthly mortgage payments and pay for round-the-clock care to get her out of bed, drive her to work, help her get dressed. Things she never dreamt she couldn’t do herself when her film career began 70 years ago. If that wasn’t enough, another tragedy struck when her home was lost in a fire several years ago. Underinsured, rebuilding meant increasing her already heavy debt.
Now Anna Lee faces an uncertain future. Jeffrey Byron knows that the promise made to his mother for lifetime tenure has no legal merit. But this is Anna Lee, a Hollywood legend. He has written to Jill Ferren Phelps, the show’s current executive producer, and to Michael Eisner, the CEO of Disney, which owns ABC. Neither has responded to his letters.
Byron hasn’t told his mother about ABC not renewing her contract. “I cannot share this with her until I absolutely have to,” says Byron. “Knowing her as well as I do, I can tell you emphatically that it will kill her emotionally and spiritually.
Let’s hope ABC ignores the bottom line and gives General Hospital’s faithful fans the kind of happy ending they love.
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