An im­per­son­ator from Shearstown in New York City


I’m a writer to­day partly as a re­sult of Ann Frances Sharpe Ameen Brown. She was born in Shearstown in 1908; she died of heart dis­ease in her home­town in 1998.

Dur­ing those 89 years, her life was what J. M. Sul­li­van called a “ wide-rang­ing odyssey.” It was rich and colour­ful, var­ied and strange. Artist Bruce John­son de­scribed her life story as “a novel of her own telling.” The de­tails about this four­foot 10-inch artist and evan­ge­list “ were in­vented and ide­al­ized,” John­son adds.

In 1928, a news­pa­per re­porter wrote that Ann “shared the world­wide fem­i­nine long­ing for an ac­tress’ fame and ro­mance.” In­spired by a mag­a­zine pic­ture of Swan Lake, she “cast a few mea­gre be­long­ings in a hand­bag and started for New York.” Her age? Nineteen. Her am­bi­tion? To be­come a bal­le­rina.

If Ann her­self is to be be­lieved, in vaudeville and on Broad­way, she played the role of an­gels and swans. She mod­eled in the win­dows of Gim­bels depart­ment stores. Her im­age was used for the car­toon char­ac­ter Betty Boop.

“ Frances wanted to be in the movies and had the good sense to re­al­ize that the de­sire alone would not con­vince pro­duc­ers she had the mak­ings of a star. But one day some­one who knew more about the id­iosyn­cra­cies of pro­duc­ers than (Ann) did gave her a tip.

“ Pub­lic­ity,” he ad­vised. some pub­lic­ity.”

How­ever, Ann’s ris­ing ca­reer was cut short by scan­dal. A moviestruck girl posed as Lady Florence Ro­han, al­leged to be the beau­ti­ful daugh­ter of Sir John Ro­han, a wealthy English baronet. Ann claimed to be the im­per­son­ator, be­liev­ing “ that a ti­tle and a well­spun tale might be the open sesame to Hollywood.”

The per­sona of Ann Sharpe dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view. In her place was Lady Florence, who be­gan an af­fair with an art dealer, Bernard Ros­ner.

Lady Florence was seem­ingly un­aware that her lover was al­ready mar­ried.

Shortly af­ter, Lady Florence was called to an at­tor­ney’s of­fice “and told that Mrs. Ros­ner con­tem­plated a $100,000 alien­ation of af­fec­tions suit.

“ There Lady Florence made her great ges­ture.

“He’s worth it,” she said as she put her arm about Ros­ner, stand­ing at her side. “I’ll pay the $100,000.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, many pic­tures of Lady Florence and Ros­ner ap­peared in news­pa­pers.

“ Ul­ti­mately, of course, Ros­ner had to learn that he had not met a ti­tled lady. When he did, he re­fused to see Frances any more.”

The next day, “an am­bu­lance drew up to a lit­tle rooming house on Man­hat­tan Av­enue. Ly­ing limp in a gas-filled room was Frances Sharpe. In her hand was the sum­mons in the alien­ation suit, ad­dressed to ‘Lady Florence Ro­han.’ Nearby were two notes — one ad­dressed to Frances’ mother and the other to ‘ Dear Any­body, the World.’

“My love was real,” the lat­ter one said, “ but I am not. I am just a sim­ple coun­try girl who wanted to get into the movies. Life is too com­pli­cated. I lost the love I wanted and I do not care to live any longer.”

Ann’s bud­ding ro­mance was shat­tered.

“ That was the end of Lady Frances, but not of Frances Sharpe. When she was taken to Belle­vue Hos­pi­tal and re­vived for a brief moment, she told the doc­tors fee­bly that she wanted to die.” But she was kept un­der watch­ful care to en­sure against fur­ther sui­cide at­tempts.

The re­porter con­cluded, “ The ro­mance of Lady Florence ( had) lost its tin­sel and left only bit­ter­ness.”

Ear­lier I noted that I’m a writer to­day partly as a re­sult of Ann Frances Sharpe Ameen Brown.

In the 1970s, when my late par­ents pa­s­tored in Shearstown, Ann Ameen oc­ca­sion­ally at­tended the church.

She was then in her six­ties. She had lost a hus­band, Rev. Ameen, and re­mar­ried a Brown. She had taken the ti­tle of “ Sis­ter.” She had writ­ten a three-vol­ume au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

And, she had a ton of stuff in her house in Shearstown. My fa­ther and I vis­ited her from time-to-time.

Once I saw an an­tique type­writer among her be­long­ings. I had

“ Get started writ­ing as a teenager. Dad owned a type­writer, but I of­ten said it came over on Noah’s Ark. When I saw Ann Ameen’s type­writer, which looked like a more re­cent model, I men­tioned it to Dad, who men­tioned it to Ann.

Within days, her type­writer was in our home. I used it for years.

Ann Frances Sharpe Ameen Brown of Shearstown, at age 57.

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