Born Miriam Lilygren in Seattle, Wash. in 1918, she grew up with music
and dance lessons, and homegrown theatrical productions.
When attending the University of Washington, she participated in the
drama program where she was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout. After
successful screen tests, she was contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(MGM) and given the stage name Jo Ann Sayers.
She spent 1938-1940 performing increasingly-important roles in over a
dozen movies and documentaries produced by MGM and Columbia. During
this time, she worked with many of Hollywood’s leading luminaries,
including Rosalind Russell, Mickey Rooney, Boris Karloff, Lionel
Barrymore, Victor Jory, George Burns, and Gracie Allen.
In 1940, during a visit to New York, she auditioned for the new
Broadway play, “My Sister Eileen”. She was chosen to play the lead
role of Eileen opposite Shirley Booth. The play, which opened in
December 1940, was a smash hit and had a successful 18-month run.
While doing appearances to support the war effort, she met lawyer
Anthony A. Bliss, who was serving in the Navy. They were married in
1942. In subsequent years, while giving up full time acting, she
participated in summer stock in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and
performed in occasional theatrical appearances on Long Island where
the couple moved after the war.
While raising three children in Locust Valley, N.Y., she continued her
life-long interest in the arts. She co-founded the Children’s World
Theatre of New York, was president of the Long Island Little
Orchestra, and was a co-founder and president of the Pro Arte Symphony
Orchestra. She was a member of the Advisory Council Department of Art
& Archeology at Columbia University from 1964 to 1970; served as a
trustee of Hofstra University from 1965 to 1974; and was a board
member and Vice President of the American National Theatre & Academy
(ANTA) from 1946 to 1965.
After her marriage to Mr. Bliss ended in divorce in 1967, she moved to
Princeton and married architect Charles K. Agle in 1968. She continued
to support the arts and was a member of the Princeton University
Concerts Committee, the president of Friends of Music at Princeton
University, and a community fellow of Mathey College at the
She is survived by her sister, Mary K. Ramsey; two children, Eileen B. Andahazy-Chevins and Anthony A. Bliss Jr.; five grandchildren; and two
Donations may be made to Princeton University Concerts, Room 301,
Woolworth Center for Music Study, Princeton, N.J. 08544.
SAYERS, Jo Ann (Miriam Lucille Lilygren)
Born: 10/22/1918, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
Died: 11/14/2011, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Jo Ann Sayers’ western – actress:
The Light of Western Stars – 1940 (Madeline ‘Majesty’ Hammond