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Shelley Winters Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (3) | Trivia (38) | Personal Quotes (22)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 18 August 1920St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Date of Death 14 January 2006Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NameShirley Schrift
Nickname The Blonde Bombshell
Height 5' 4" (1.63 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Shelley Winters was born Shirley Schrift of very humble beginnings on August 18, 1920 (some sources list 1922) in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her mother, Rose (Winter), was born in Missouri, to Austrian Jewish parents, and her father, Jonas Schrift, was an Austrian Jewish immigrant. Her father moved the family to Brooklyn when she was still young so that he, a tailor's cutter, could find steadier work closer to the city's garment industry. An unfailing interest in acting occurred quite early for Shelley and she appeared in high school plays. By her mid-to-late teens she had already been employed as a Woolworth's store clerk, model, borscht belt vaudevillian and nightclub chorine, all in order to pay for her acting classes. During a nationwide search in 1939 for GWTW's Scarlett O'Hara, Shelley was advised by auditioning director George Cukor to get acting lessons, which she did. Apprenticing in summer stock, she made her Broadway debut in the short-lived comedy "The Night Before Christmas" in 1941 and followed it with the operetta "Rosalinda" (1942) initially billing herself in both shows as Shelley Winter (without the "s").

Within a short time, Shelley pushed ahead for a career out west. Hollywood proved to be a tough road. Toiling in bit roles for years, many of her scenes were excised altogether during her early days. Obscurely used in such movies as What a Woman! (1943), The Racket Man (1944), Cover Girl (1944) and Tonight and Every Night (1945), her breakthrough did not occur until 1947, and it happened on both the stage and big screen. Not only did she win the replacement role of Ado Annie Carnes in "Oklahoma!" on Broadway but, around the same time, scored excellent notices on film as the party girl waitress who ends up a victim of deranged strangler (and Oscar winner) Ronald Colman in the critically-hailed A Double Life (1947) directed by Cukor. From this moment, a somewhat earthy film stardom was to be hers playing second-lead broads who often met untimely ends (as in Cry of the City (1948) and The Great Gatsby (1949)), or tawdry-black-stockinged and feather-boa-adorned leads, as in South Sea Sinner (1950) in which her eclectic co-stars included Macdonald Carey and Liberace!

As a tarnished glamour girl and symbol of working class vulgarity in Hollywood, Shelley was about to be written off in pictures altogether when one of her finest movie roles arrived on her front porch. Her best hard luck girl storyboard showed up in the form of depressed, frumpy-looking Alice Tripp, a factory girl seduced and abandoned by wanderlust Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951). Favoring gorgeous society girl Elizabeth Taylor who is totally out of his league, Clift is subsequently blackmailed by Winters' pathetic (and now pregnant) character into marrying her. For her desperate efforts, she is purposely drowned by Clift after he tips their canoe. The role, which garnered Shelley her first Oscar nomination, finally plucked her out of the sordid starlet pool she was treading and into the ranks of serious femme star contenders. But not for long.

The Brooklyn-bred Shelley just couldn't escape the lurid bottle-blonde quality she instilled in her characters. During what should have been her peak time in films were a host of badly-scripted "B" films. The obvious, two-dimensional chorines, barflies, floozies and gold diggers she played in Behave Yourself! (1951), Frenchie (1950), Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), Playgirl (1954) and Mambo (1954), the latter of which co-starred second husband Vittorio Gassman, pretty much said it all. Shelley grew extremely disenchanted and decided to return to dramatic study. Earning membership into the famed Actor's Studio, she went to Broadway and earned kudos, thereby reestablishing her reputation as a strong actress with the drug-themed play "A Hatful of Rain" (1955). Co-starring in the show was the up-and-coming hunk Anthony Franciosa, whom she took as her third husband in 1957. Shelley's renewed dedication to pursuing quality work was shown by her appearances in a number of heavyweight theater roles including Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1955). In later years, the Actors Studio enthusiast became one of its most respected coaches, shaping up a number of today's fine talent with the Strasberg "method" technique.

By the late 1950s Shelley had started growing in girth and wisely eased into colorful character supports. The switch paid off. After a sterling performance as the ill-fated wife of sadistic killer Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1955), she scored big in the Oscar department when she won "Best Supporting Actress" for her shrill and hypertensive role of Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). From this period sprouted a host of revoltingly bad mamas, blowsy matrons, and trashy madams in such film fare as Lolita (1962), The Chapman Report (1962), The Balcony (1963) Wives and Lovers (1963), and A House Is Not a Home (1964). She topped things off as the abusive prostitute mom in A Patch of Blue (1965) who was not above pimping her own blind daughter (the late Elizabeth Hartman) for household money. The actress managed to place a second Oscar on her mantle for this riveting support work.

With advancing age and increasing size, Shelley found a comfortable niche in the harping Jewish wife/mother category with loud, flashy, unsubtle roles in Enter Laughing (1967), Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) and, most notably, The Poseidon Adventure (1972). She earned another Oscar nomination for "Poseidon" while portraying her third drowning victim. At around the same time, she scored quite well as the indomitable Marx Brothers' mama in "Minnie's Boys" on Broadway in 1970.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Shelley developed into an oddly-distracted personality on TV, making countless talk show appearances and becoming quite the raconteur and incessant name dropper with her juicy Hollywood behind-the-scenes tales. Candid would be an understatement when she published two scintillating tell-all autobiographies that reached the best seller's list. "Shelley, Also Known as Shirley" (1981) and "Shelley II: The Middle of My Century" (1989) detailed her notorious dalliances with such famous movie stars as Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, William Holden, Sean Connery and Clark Gable, to name a few.

Thrice divorced (her first husband was a WWII captain, while her only child, Vittoria, came from her second union to Italian stallion Gassman), Shelley remained footloose and fancy free after finally breaking it off with the volatile Franciosa in 1960. Her stormy marriages and notorious affairs, not to mention her ambitious forays into politics and feminist causes, kept her name alive for decades. She worked in films until the beginning of the millennium, her last film being the easily-dismissed Italian feature La bomba (1999). She also enjoyed Emmy-winning TV work and had the recurring role of Roseanne Barr's tell-it-like-it-is grandmother on the comedienne's self-named sitcom. Shelley's last years were marred by failing health and, for the most part, she was confined to a wheelchair. Suffering a heart attack in October of 2005, she died in a Beverly Hills nursing home of heart failure on January 14, 2006. It was reported that only hours earlier on her deathbed she had entered into a "spiritual" union with her longtime companion of 19 years, Gerry McFord. Gregarious, brazen, ambitious and completely unpredictable -- that would be Shelley Winters, the storyteller, whose amazing career lasted over six colorful decades.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (4)

Gerry DeFord (13 January 2006 - 14 January 2006) (her death)
Anthony Franciosa (4 May 1957 - 18 November 1960) (divorced)
Vittorio Gassman (28 April 1952 - 2 June 1954) (divorced) (1 child)
Capt. Mack Paul Mayer (1 January 1942 - 1 October 1948) (divorced)

Trade Mark (3)

Later on, played mostly overweight, loud and somewhat tacky women
Often played neurotic, needy women
Brassy sexuality

Trivia (38)

Her father was Jonas Schrift, her mother was Rose Schrift, and her sister was Blanche Schrift.
Her early acting training was under the tutelage of actor Charles Laughton.
Was roommates with Marilyn Monroe when they were both starting out in Hollywood.
Taught Marilyn Monroe how to "act" pretty by tilting her head back, keeping her eyes lowered and her mouth partly opened.
Born at 12:05am-CDT
Godmother of actress Sally Kirkland. Kirkland, also an ordained minister, conducted the wedding ceremony between Winters and Gerry DeFord ten hours before Winters died.
Made her Broadway debut as Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!" - five years into its run.
Has the distinction of currently being the highest ranked female performer on The Oracle of Bacon's list of the top 1000 performers based upon their "center of the film universe" average number. Winter's average link number is 2.696842, placing seventeenth on the list. This places her well above Kevin Bacon, who is currently ranked 1161st, despite being the original focus of the quirky game of linking actors through their co-stars.
Godmother of Laura Dern.
She donated her Oscar for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) to the Anne Frank museum.
In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), she plays an award winning swimmer and in A Place in the Sun (1951), she can't swim and drowns.
Gave birth to her only child at age 32, a daughter Vittoria Gassman on February 14, 1953. Child's father was her 2nd ex-husband, Vittorio Gassman.
Has played the Marx Brothers' mother Minnie in the Broadway musical "Minnie's Boys", which ran at the Imperial Theatre for 80 Performances from March 26 to May 30, 1970. It was the penultimate performance of her eight Broadway appearances. She appeared in only one more Broadway show, "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds", which ran at the Biltmore Theatre for 16 performances from March 14 to March 26, 1978.
In her most important films such as A Place in the Sun (1951), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Lolita (1962), A Double Life (1947), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and many others, her character is murdered.
She was a huge fan of the television series Babylon 5 (1994).
Suffered a heart attack on October 14, 2005.
On the September 26, 1975 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), she grew tired of Oliver Reed's attitude towards women. They had a heated conversation and, after Winters told Reed what she thought of his opinions, she left the set. The show continued with Reed going on about women while Johnny Carson looked at him in a daze. Shortly afterward, Winters appeared from stage left, unannounced to Reed and to the shock of Carson. She was carrying a beverage glass and surprised Reed by dumping it over his head. Reed went on to finish his statement as if nothing had happened and later claimed the beverage was whiskey.
Her marriage to Anthony Franciosa broke up when he had an affair with Lauren Bacall. During their affair, Bacall called up Winters and complained, "I've been waiting for Tony for an hour. Where the hell is he?". Shelley said, "You're complaining to me because my husband is late for a date with you?". Bacall answered, "If your husband doesn't respect your marriage, why should I?".
She had a role in Always (1985) and filmed a few scenes, but at one point she had a tantrum and left the set. Her agent pleaded with her to go back and resume her role, but she refused and her character was replaced. She does not appear in the final film.
Shirley Schrift took her mother's maiden name (Winter) as her stage name and added Shelley for her favorite poet. When she saw the call sheet for A Double Life (1947), she discovered that Universal had added an "s", making her Shelley Winters.
Attended and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in New York City.
Showed up drunk on her first day of shooting of The Linguini Incident (1991) and was fired by director Richard Shepard.
When Shelley and Marilyn Monroe were roommates in the late 1940s in Hollywood, Shelley said that one day she had to step out and asked Marilyn to "wash the lettuce" for a salad they were to share for dinner. When she got back to the apartment, Marilyn (aparently new to the art of cooking) had the leaves of lettuce in a small tub of soapy water and was scrubbing them clean.
In Italy, most of her films were dubbed by either Lidia Simoneschi, Dhia Cristiani or Rosetta Calavetta. She was once dubbed by Wanda Tettoni in Cry of the City (1948) and once by Miranda Bonansea in Behave Yourself! (1951). Gabriella Genta lent her voice to Winters in the role of Belle Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
Is one of ten actresses to win an Academy Award for portraying a prostitute. The others in chronological order are Helen Hayes (The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)), Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity (1953)), Susan Hayward (I Want to Live! (1958)), Elizabeth Taylor (BUtterfield 8 (1960)), Shirley Jones (Elmer Gantry (1960)), Jane Fonda (Klute (1971)), Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite (1995)), Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential (1997)) and Charlize Theron (Monster (2003)).
Was originally considered for the female lead in Forbidden (1953), which went to Joanne Dru.
She was a lifelong progressive Democrat who was active in the campaigns of Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; as well as attended everyone of the Democratic National Conventions until her death.
Winters considered A Place in the Sun (1951) her best work.
Winters got her first screen test after Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn saw her on Broadway in Max Reinhardt's "Rosalind" in 1942. He met her on a Saturday night backstage and asked that she audition the following day during a blizzard. Although she was only 16, she told Cohn she was 21, and he personally directed her test. Cohn left immediately afterward for Hollywood, and three weeks later she received two train tickets with an order to report to Columbia Studios for a role in Cover Girl (1944). Cohn personally called Washington to free up Winters' husband, who was finishing basic training in Louisiana. Unfortunately, she arrived too late for Cover Girl (1944).
She considered Ralph Richardson the greatest actor with Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando both second to him.
Underwent two abortions as a teenager, the first occurring when she was just age 15.
Was the 50th actress to receive an Academy Award; she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) at The 32nd Annual Academy Awards (1960) on April 4, 1960.
Had appeared with Telly Savalas in five films: The Young Savages (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968), The Scalphunters (1968) and Alice in Wonderland (1985).
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1752 Vine Street in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1960.
Following her death, she was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Turned down the role of prostitute Alma Burke in From Here to Eternity (1953) as she had just given birth to her daughter Vittoria Gassman. Donna Reed, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, was cast instead.
She died only five days before her third husband Anthony Franciosa.
Along with Dianne Wiest, she is one of only two actresses to have won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress on two occasions: Winters won for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch of Blue (1965) and Wiest won for Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Bullets Over Broadway (1994).

Personal Quotes (22)

In Hollywood, all the marriages are happy. It's trying to live together afterwards that causes all the problems.
I did a picture in England one winter and it was so cold I almost got married.
The best way to find out about a man is to have lunch with his ex-wife
I had to gain forty pounds for this movie.
I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn't last long.
(her career-longevity advice) You gotta play mothers. If you don't, you won't get a long career in Hollywood.
[on Fredric March] He was able to do a very emotional scene with tears in his eyes, and pinch my fanny at the same time.
Anna Magnani could act anybody off the stage or screen.
My face was always so made up, it looked as though it had the decorators in.
It's sad that people are so open about their sexuality. Sex is much more fun when you have to sneak around and cover it up.
I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience.
[on Joanne Woodward] Joanne always made it her business to hold back her career while Paul Newman was on the up and up. And that girl is one helluva talented actress. But she knew what side her bread was buttered on and let Paul become the superstar of the family. The result? They're still happily married today.
[on director George Stevens] George photographs what goes on in the air between people.
[on Anthony Franciosa] I'll never forget the night I brought my Oscar home and Tony took one look at it and I knew my marriage was over.
[on Robert De Niro] Bobby needs someone to watch over him. He doesn't even know enough to wear a coat in the wintertime. When we did Bloody Mama (1970) he didn't even know how much money they were paying him. I found out how little it was and insisted they at least give him some expense money.
[on Oscar Levant] A tortured man who sprayed his loathing on anyone within range.
(on Robert Taylor who was her co-star in A House Is Not a Home (1964)) He was the sweetest man to work with. By that I mean he was cooperative and understanding in contrast to most leading men today, who try to either elbow you out of camera range or are off in a corner somewhere practicing 'Method acting'.
[on Marlon Brando in the stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)] There was an electrical charge and almost an animal scent he projected over the footlights that made it impossible for the audience to think or watch the other performers on the stage. All you could do was feel, the sexual arousal was so complete. I don't believe that quality can be learned; it's just there, primitive and compelling. The only time I experienced a similar reaction was when I saw Elvis Presley perform in Las Vegas.
[on her role in A Patch of Blue (1965)] Can you imagine me using words like "nigger" and "wop"? I've always found something to like in the characters I've played, but not this time. I really hate this woman. She blinds her daughter by accident when she was trying to blind her husband. And when the girl grows up, she beats her. How's that for a role?
[on Norman Mailer] Norman's not capable of sleeping with a starlet and using her and then just saying "That was great, kid. Goodbye." Unlike most men in Hollywood, he's actually a feminist. He sees women as people, not just sex objects. He reveres women. He feels there's kind of respect they must have.
[In a 1980 interview] Jean Arthur was ALWAYS my favorite actress when I was a kid. And I love Bette Davis for a very peculiar reason. Bette Davis is not afraid to stink! There are these careful actresses who look pretty, and they're never bad, they're never great. But Bette Davis goes; she'll take chances. I love to watch her on the set. Sometimes it's awful, but sometimes it's FANTASTIC!
After three times, I realize marriage is not for me. Not for me. I love to get married, you know, but I don't like to be married. You go away on a honeymoon, you have a great time, you come home, they want to come in the house!

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