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LIer Ann Hillary Knott dead; TV, stage actress was 93

A working actress for decades, she was the widow of "Dial M for Murder" and "Wait Until Dark" playwright Frederick Knott.

Actress Ann Hillary Knott, right, on the set

Actress Ann Hillary Knott, right, on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 movie, "Dial M for Murder." She was not in the movie but was on the set because she and her husband, who wrote the play on which the movie is based, were friends  with Hitchcock, center, and his wife, Alma, left. Photo Credit: Knott family

Actress Ann Hillary Knott of Southampton, the widow of "Dial M for Murder" and "Wait Until Dark" playwright Frederick Knott, died March 27 at a care facility in White Plains. She was 93.

The cause of death was complications from colon cancer, said her son, Dr. Anthony Knott, 60, a former East Moriches resident who spent 10 years in family practice in Montauk.

A working actress for decades in theater and television, Knott had left her Tennessee hometown for Atlanta and then Miami, where she had a brief modeling career, her son said. She made her way to New York to study at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and lived at the historic Barbizon Hotel for Women.

Acting work proved scarce after graduation. “She was about ready to give up," said her son. "She came to New York with $800 and had just about spent it all, and was ready to pack her bags and go home when she got a phone call about the first play she was cast in," the short-lived Broadway comedy "Be Your Age," which ran Jan. 14-17, 1953. "From then on, she got work."

Born Ann Francis and taking the stage name Ann Hillary, she appeared on such Golden Age of Television anthologies as "Armstrong Circle Theatre," "Studio One" and "Kraft Theatre," and such radio shows as "The Brighter Day," as the girlfriend of a small-town reporter played by Hal Holbrook. On Broadway, she appeared in the dramas "The Lark" and "Separate Tables" in the mid-1950s. Then, segueing to the newly emerging Off-Broadway, she played opposite Conrad Bain, future star of TV's "Diff'rent Strokes," in "Dark of the Moon" at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse.

The daughter of coal miner Paul Francis and his wife, Sallie Bailey, she was born in Jellico, Tennessee, on Jan. 8, 1926, and raised in nearby LaFollette.

Following a hiatus from acting to raise her only child, she returned to Off-Broadway in the mid-1980s, appearing in "The Puppetmaster of Lodz," "Total Eclipse" and, opposite Geraldine Page, "The Circle." That same decade she appeared in the TV horror-anthology series "Monsters" and "Tales From the Darkside."

She moved to Southampton in the mid-2000s, after Frederick Knott died in 2002. She is survived by her son and two grandsons, Brendan and Ian Knott.

"My mom was a huge character in her own right and cared for her family a great deal," her son said. "Sometimes the craziness of a theatrical career can be all-consuming, but she took time out for me and was devoted to my sons."

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