Sally Ann Howes, whose cheerful songs and luminous English rose beauty lit up so many of our childhoods, has “died peacefully in her sleep” at the age of 91.
The London-born actress and singer, best known for starring as Truly Scrumptious in the 1968 family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, opposite Dick Van Dyke, died on Sunday, December 19, her nephew Toby Howes confirmed on Twitter.
Her nephew tweeted: “I can also confirm the passing of my beloved Aunty Sally Ann Howes who died peacefully in her sleep yesterday. My brother & I thought Sally Ann might hold on until the [annual] Christmas screening of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘ as this would have greatly appealed to her mischievous side.”
Meanwhile, her only son, the artist Andrew Hart Adler, shared a beautiful old photograph of the two of them together on a boating trip yesterday, December 22, saying she would now be reunited with her husband of 48 years, Douglas Rae, who died earlier this year.
“Sally Ann and I in 1967 off of Catalina. You are finally with Douglas. All my memories of you live on,” wrote Adler.
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Howes, who replaced Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady on Broadway, was just 12 years old when she appeared in the film Thursday’s Child. She went on to have a glittering career spanning six decades across screen, stage and television. In 1963, she was nominated for a prestigious Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in Brigadoon.
Howes won rave reviews in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where she played a confectionery magnate’s daughter, singing iconic songs such as Toot Sweets, Hushabye Mountain and Doll On A Music Box, which she performed memorably as she twirled atop a music box.
Decades later, when asked by American talk show queen Rosie O’Donnell to describe the cult-classic children’s movie, written by 007 author Ian Fleming, Howes replied:
‘Well, I suppose if you put Mary Poppins together with James Bond, this would be their child.”
According to the BBC, she also went on to tell O’Donnell that she and Van Dyke had been “just thrown together” out of the blue.
“I just got the role. I didn’t have to test for it, which was a joy because I never get anything I auditioned for. I’m terrible – I get kind of frozen and I become terribly English. And they think, ‘who’s this cold woman?’ and I’m not a bit like that – I have a good time.
Despite Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s huge fame, Howes remained devoted to her first love, the stage.
“I would have liked a film career, but I didn’t pursue it – I just loved connecting with an audience,” Howes is reported to have said by the BBC. “The theatre is a drug. The problem is that to be remembered, you have to do films.”
Howe’s other iconic theatre roles included What Makes Sammy Run?, The King and I, and Cinderella.
Howes was married three times, adopting two sons while married to her second husband, Broadway lyricist Richard Adler.
Sally Ann Howes on the cover of the March 3, 1958, issue of LIFE magazine. pic.twitter.com/eYjefOXhsi
— Jessica Pickens (JP) (@HollywoodComet) December 22, 2021