Sally Ann Howes, who has died at the age of 91, was a film actor and musical theatre star best known for playing the role of Truly Scrumptious opposite Dick Van Dyke in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was directed by Ken Hughes from a screenplay he co-wrote with Roald Dahl.
When she appeared on The Rosie O’Donnell Show in 1998, she described the popular movie as: “If you put Mary Poppins together with James Bond, this would be their child.”
She also shared that she was thankful she did not have to audition for the role, as she would get “kind of frozen” and become “terribly English” when she tried out for parts. According to Howes, it gave the false impression that she had a cold demeanour.
When filmmakers asked if she could dance, she claimed she could – and quickly set about learning how to.
In one scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Howes pretends to be a doll in a music box and performs stunning choreography. She told O’Donnell she got the shot in one take.
Howes made her name in theatre. In 1958, she played Eliza Doolittle in a Broadway production of My Fair Lady, and in 1963, she received a Tony nomination for her role in Brigadoon at the New York City Opera. The musical was later turned into a movie, where Howes reprised her role as Fiona.
The actress also sang for three American presidents – John F Kennedy, Dwight D Eisenhower and Lyndon B Johnson.
Sally Ann Howes was born in London, to a family that was heavily involved in the showbusiness industry. Both her mother, Patricia Malone (née Clark), and her father, Bobby Howes, acted and sang. She followed in their footsteps, while her brother Peter pursued a career in classical music.
Aged 12, Howes appeared in her first film, playing the main character in the 1943 film Thursday’s Child. Written and directed by Rodney Ackland, the film was about a schoolgirl who becomes a successful child actor.
Eight years later, she would make her musical theatre debut in the 1950 show Caprice.
In 1990, Howes took a one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which won critical acclaim. In 2007, she appeared in a stage production of My Fair Lady for a second time, playing Mrs Higgins.
She joked about returning to the play: “I was laughing to myself when I was young, saying: ‘I wonder if I’m going to be around to be able to play this role when I’m older?’ And here I am!”
Howes married four times. Her first marriage, to the actor Maxwell Coker, ended in 1953. In 1958, she married Richard Adler, who wrote lyrics for musicals. She also adopted his two sons. They divorced in 1966.
She married Andrew Maree in 1969 but they divorced shortly after. In 1972, she married the literary agent Douglas Rae. He died in September 2021. Howes is survived by her adopted son, the artist Andrew Hart Adler.
Sally Ann Howes, actress, born 20 July 1930, died 19 December 2021