‘Unholy Rollers,’ ‘Sugar Hill’ Actress Was 81

Betty Anne Rees, who portrayed tough women who weren’t very nice in The Unholy Rollers and Sugar Hill, two 1970s offerings from the B-movie factory American International Pictures, has died. She was 81.

Rees died Monday at her home in Hemet, California, after a series of falls and a possible stroke, her niece, Kathleen Loucks, told The Hollywood Reporter. She also was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the early 1990s.

The Ohio native played Janet Ingram, the secretary for Fred MacMurray’s Steve Douglas, on the last of My Three Sons’ 12 seasons in 1971-72. (Abby Dalton was Janet on an episode three years earlier.)

In The Unholy Rollers (1972), directed by Vernon Zimmerman, Rees portrayed Mickey Martinez, a star of the Los Angeles Avengers roller derby team who does not get along with popular new player Karen Walker (1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year Claudia Jennings).

The film, executive produced by Roger Corman and edited by Martin Scorsese, was rushed into production to take advantage of the publicity generated by MGM’s big-budget roller derby movie, Kansas City Bomber, starring Raquel Welch.

Betty Anne Rees (left) and Claudia Jennings in 1972’s The Unholy Rollers.

Courtesy Everett Collection

Paul Maslansky’s cult blaxploitation film Sugar Hill (1974) starred Marki Bey as Diana “Sugar” Hill, a woman who enlists a voodoo priestess (Zara Cully of The Jeffersons) to bring back long-dead African slaves to take revenge on the Southern mob boss (Robert Quarry) responsible for her fiancé’s death.

As Celeste, the mobster’s racist girlfriend, Rees gets into a fight in a bar with Sugar and (spoiler alert) gets carried off by the zombies at the end.

Elizabeth Anne Rees was born on April 14, 1943, in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Her father, James, was an attorney who owned racehorses, and her mother, Margaret, was a homemaker.

She graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1961 and attended the University of Miami before studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse and appearing on the daytime soap operas General Hospital and The Doctors. In New York, she roomed with future Benson star Caroline McWilliams, later the wife of Michael Keaton.

Rees showed up on a 1966 episode of the ABC series Shane, starring David Carradine, then made her way onto two films released the following year, The Cool Ones and Banning.

Rees went on to appear on such other shows as Adam-12, Medical Center, Mannix, Mod Squad, The F.B.I., Police Woman, S.W.A.T., The Streets of San Francisco, Lou Grant, Barnaby Jones and, in 1978 for her last credit, The Incredible Hulk.

Later, she ran Gloria Marshall Figure Salons, designed kitchens and was said to have invented a goofy ’80s gift for bosses called the “Executive Teething Ring.”

In addition to her niece, survivors include her sister, Barbara; her nephew, Brian; and her cats, Honey Bear and Lovey, who need a home. (Please email Loucks at keloucks620@gmail.com if you can help.) 

Rees never married, but her niece said she had a romance in the 1960s with Art Modell, who had recently acquired the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

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