Ann Willis Ratray, broadway and screen actress and youth drama coach to many other stars, passed away on June 9th at her home in New York. She was aged 81. The actress was survived by husband Peter Ratray, her partner for almost 55 years, who was with her along with other family members when she died after a long illness.
When it was known that Ann Willis Ratray was not going to recover from her illness, her former students asked what they could do, as Covid restrictions meant that they were unable to visit. Her husband told them that they should write letters to her, which they did by the bucket load. Peter spent the last days of Ann’s life reading the letters from those she had mentored, which thanked her for the inspiration she provided them as they progressed in their career.
Born in Cranston, Rhode Island, in November 1939, Ann Willis Ratray was one of eight children in a family that struggled financially. In 1958 she was named Miss Congeniality in the Miss America Pageant and partially used the prize money to fund training at the New York American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She appeared on Broadway in 1968 in Mame, which also starred Angela Landbury, in a revival of Candida in 1981, and she consulted on Bobbi Boland, a play that starred Farrah Fawcett as an aging Miss America.
It was at the end of the touring run of Mame that Ann and her husband decided to move to Hollywood and try to make their careers there. They stayed there for nine years, working on TV and theater, and also welcoming two sons into the world. As well as appearing in a few small roles on TV and her forays on the stage, it was in 1990 when she became acting coach to her son, Devin, when he was cast as Macaulay Culkin’s brother Buzz in Home Alone. After working with her son on the movie, she soon decided she wanted to help other child actors reach their potential.
From that point, it took no time for her to become the highest regarded drama teacher for child actors in New York. Many casting directors would contact her when they were in need of young actors, and she ended up coaching a whole generation to fame and accolades. Her students included Merritt Wever, who won Emmys for Nurse Jackie and Godless; YaYa DaCosta who appeared in Chicago Med, Kaitlyn Nichol from Blackish; and David Alvarez, who appears in the upcoming remake of West Side Story along with another of her students, Corey Stoll.
The actress and coach will be a great miss to the industry, but is fondly remembered by the many she has helped achieve something in life that they may not have without her help. A tweet by Catch-22 star Graham Patrick Martin at the news of her passing read, “Ann Ratray is the reason I am an actor. Forever grateful.” It certainly seems like that is a sentiment that is shared by the many she worked with over the years, and there are many who are forever grateful.
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