‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ star Sally Ann Howes dies at 91

sally ann howes chitty chitty bang bang
Image via Eon Productions

The legendary English actress and singer Sally Anne Howes has died at the age of 91. Family and friends shared news of her passing on Dec. 19. The star’s nephew, Toby Howes, shared on Twitter that his aunt had passed peacefully in her sleep. “My brother & I thought Sally Ann might hold on until the Christmas screening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as this would have greatly appealed to her mischievous side,” he said.

Howes was born in London to actors Bobby Howes and Patricia Malone and grew up in the safety of Hertfordshire during World War II. She took to the screen age 12 as the lead in 1943’s Thursday’s Child. A brief film career followed, but Howes traded it for work in the theater in the 1950s. Eventually, Howes was made a household name after filling Julie Andrews’s shoes as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1958.

Howes was nominated for a Tony in 1963 for her work in the musical Brigadoon and would reprise her role as Fiona in the television adaptation. That’s where James Bond producer Albert Broccoli, nicknamed “Chubby,” first met her. That eventually led to her most famous role as Truly Scrumptious in the screen adaptation of 007 author Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Directed by Ken Hughes, Howes starred alongside Dick Van Dyke in what she described as the narrative child of James Bond and Mary Poppins.

Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

She did not pursue a film career, however, and was drawn to the stage. “The theatre is a drug,” she told the Palm Beach Post in 2013, “The problem is that to be remembered, you have to do films.” She performed in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at the New York City Opera in 1990 and returned to My Fair Lady in 2007 as Mrs. Higgins.

Fans and colleagues alike took to remembering Howes online. The actress Emma Williams shared: “She was the epitome of class, a generous and kindly soul who offered the sweetest words of advice and support to me when I met her.”

Welsh stage actress Caroline Sheen called Howes “a glorious inspiration.”

Howes married three times and adopted two sons with Broadway lyricist Richard Adler. She is survived by Andrew Hart Adler, who shared a family picture with his mother on Instagram along with the message: “You are finally with Douglas. All my memories of you live on.” Douglas Rae was Howes’ third husband, who passed away earlier this year.