When most people think “early scream queen,” they probably think Jamie Lee Curtis. Goodness knows she earned the role; if she didn’t have a lot of horror roles, she did play the most iconic Final Girl in movie history. However, as I’m sure she herself is well aware, there’s a long history of scream queens before her. If “Final Girl” is a relatively modern concept, really starting with Curtis herself, she herself probably knows that her role as scream queen has Anne Gwynne in its DNA.
Oh, Gwynne did more than horror, not unlike Curtis herself. She started out in light show biz dramas and comedies and a spattering of Westerns. In 1941, she was in one of each—with the name “Patricia” in both. Her characters tended to have normal, wholesome names like that. She played Mary and Susan and Jane. In 1942, she played two women named Kit. One of them was the secretary of a talent agency who falls in love with a bandleader . . . and the niece he’s caring for. It’s the sort of movie she seems to have made a lot.
But in the other one, a doctor is doing an experiment that involves putting the brain of a gorilla into a human body. Now, it’s clear there’s comic relief in it—it features Shemp Howard and Mantan Moreland. (It is, in fact, the film that made Howard suggest Moreland as a replacement Stooge.) On the other hand, that’s still a thriller plot, and it wasn’t Gwynne’s first. She’d already done The Black Cat, with Basil Rathbone, Broderick Crawford, and Bela Lugosi. As the ‘40s went on, she’d do even more, with even her appearance as Tess Trueheart featuring in a Dick Tracy movie with Boris Karloff as the villain.
Now, she still appears to have played the sweet, wholesome characters—after all, she was Tess Trueheart. Even her status as a pin-up girl didn’t change that. She was pure and wholesome and so forth. Probably her move to TV didn’t change that, either; she was one of the first people to have a role on a recurring taped series. I can’t help wondering if it’s still available anywhere or if it’s been destroyed. Either way, there’s a clear similarity between her and Jamie Lee Curtis in several ways—Curtis did TV, too.
Now, an interesting difference is that, so far as I can tell, neither Annie nor Ruby Guest have any interest in acting. Gwynne’s daughter, Gwynne Gilford, did some acting herself—while her mother wouldn’t let her when she was a child, she did some as an adult. She married fellow minor performer Robert Pine, although she has since retired and works as a psychotherapist. Pine did several episodes in various Star Trek shows over the years. Though he does not seem to have done any of the Star Trek featuring his son, Anne Gwynne’s grandson, Chris.