Birthday: August 18, 1920
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Leo
Born in: St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Anthony Franciosa (m.1957–1960; divorced), Gerry DeFord (m. 2006–2006; her death), Mack Paul Mayer (m.1942–1948; divorced), Vittorio Gassman (m.1952–1954; divorced; 1 child)
father: Jonas Schrift
mother: Rose Winter Schrift
Died on: January 14, 2006
place of death: Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
U.S. State: Missouri
Shelley Winters was a two-time ‘Academy Award’ winning American actress whose career span of over five decades saw her performing in films, television and stage with equal élan. She began her acting career onstage in the late 1930s and got her big break with Max Reinhardt directed Broadway play ‘Rosalinda’. Over the years she performed in several noted ‘Broadway’ plays like ‘Oklahoma!’, ‘A Hatful of Rain’, ‘The Night of the Iguana’ and ‘Minnie's Boys’. Her career in films started in the early 1940s that saw her initially performing trivial roles, many of which often went without any credit. More prominent roles came in the 1950s with films like ‘A Place in the Sun’, the first film that fetched her both ‘Academy Award’ and ‘Golden Globe Award’ nomination for Best Actress; ‘Executive Suite’, ‘The Night of the Hunter’ and ‘The Big Knife’. She earned her first ‘Academy Award’ for Best Supporting Actress with her outstanding performance as Mrs. Petronella Van Daan in the film ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. She gave the statuette to Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, for the Anne Frank Museum. Her second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress came with ‘A Patch of Blue’. Her other notable films included ‘Lolita’, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village’, ‘Pete's Dragon’ and ‘A Double Life’.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born Shirley Schrift on August 18, 1920, in St. Louis, Missouri, to the Jewish family of Jonas Schrift and Rose Winter Schrift. Her father was an Austrian immigrant who was by profession a tailor’s cutter for men’s clothing and her mother, born in Missouri to Austrian immigrants, was an aspiring opera singer.
When she was three years old, her family relocated to Brooklyn, New York. She attended ‘The New School’ in New York City. Her interest in acting was quite palpable from her early days when she used to perform in high school plays.
A personal adversity cropped up in her childhood when her father faced a prison sentence due to an arson charge which he did not commit. Although her father was later acquitted, the incident left a deep impact in her.
In 1938 a casting call for the leading role of ‘Gone With the Wind’ was being conducted in New York. Winters attempted but failed to grab the role. It was then that the auditioning director George D. Cukor advised her to complete her schooling and take acting lessons.
While still in her teens she worked in several places to pay for her acting classes, which she attended at night. She became a model, worked as a Woolworth's store clerk, nightclub chorine and as borscht belt vaudevillian.
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She made her onstage acting debut in the late 1930s first with off-Broadway play and then with Broadway plays like ‘The Time of Your Life’ (1939-41) and ‘The Night Before Christmas’ (1941).
By such time she adopted the stage name Shelley Winter (without the ‘s’) inspired by noted poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and her mother, Rose Winter. The last ‘s’ is said to have been added later by ‘Universal Pictures’ after she landed up with a new contract with the studio. Thereafter she used the name Shelley Winters.
Her onstage career picked up momentum after she landed up with the comedic part of Fifi in Max Reinhardt directed ‘Broadway’ play ‘Rosalinda’ that premiered at the 44th Street Theatre on October 28, 1942, and closed after 611 performances on January 22, 1944. While performing in the show, she was spotted by President of ‘Columbia Pictures’ Henry Cohn and soon she was hired by the studio.
She relocated to Los Angeles where she began working with the ‘Columbia Pictures’ as a contract performer with a weekly income of $100. In 1943 she made her debut into films with an uncredited and trivial role of a secretary in the black-and-white romantic comedy ‘What a Woman!’.
Thereafter she did several tit-bit roles mostly uncredited in films like ‘Tonight and Every Night’(1945), ‘Two Smart People’ (1946) and ‘The Gangster’ (1947) before landing up with the role of a waitress Pat Kroll in the critically acclaimed film noir ‘A double Life’ (1947) directed by George Cukor. Her remarkable characterisation in the film earned her a contract with ‘Universal Pictures’, a significant move that opened a new chapter in her film career and paved her way for better opportunities.
Films like ‘Larceny’ (1948), ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1949) and Winchester ‘73’ (1950) followed. However Winters wanted to get out of the bombshell image and was more eager to work on meaningful roles. In this pursuit she went to New York City and studied at the ‘Actors Studio’.
Then came one of the most pivotal films of her career, George Stevens directed drama ‘A Place in the Sun’, released on August 14, 1951, where she starred with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. Both critical and commercial success the film earned Winters’ first ever ‘Oscar’ nomination for her outstanding portrayal as Alice Tripp.
Her next landmark film was ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, released on March 18, 1959. It was adapted from a play of same title based on the diary of Anne Frank. The film bagged three ‘Academy Awards’ including one for Winters as Best Supporting Actress.
Moving on she gave another remarkable performance as Rose-Ann D'Arcey in the Guy Green directed drama ‘A Patch of Blue’ released on December 10, 1965. The film was a huge commercial success apart from receiving positive response from critics. It fetched Winters her second ‘Academy Awards’ as Best Supporting Actress.
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While excelling in films she continued to give laudable performances onstage with ‘Broadway’ plays like ‘A Hatful of Rain’ (1955), ‘The Night of the Iguana’ (1962), ‘Minnie's Boys’ (1970) and many more.
Her last ‘Academy Awards’ nomination as supporting actress came with the 1972 released action-adventure disaster film ‘The Poseidon Adventure’. Her portrayal of an ill-fated elderly woman Belle Rosen earned her the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Other notable films of Winters included ‘Lolita’ (1962), ‘Alfie’ (1966), ‘Wild in the Streets’ (1968) and ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village’ (1976).
The television series she appeared included ‘Alcoa Premiere’ (1962); ‘Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre’ (1964) that earned her a Primetime Emmy Award; ‘McCloud’ (1974); and ‘The Love Boat’ (1982). She also worked in television movies like ‘The Devil's Daughter’ (1973), ‘The Initiation of Sarah’ (1978) and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1985).
She tasted a new kind of success as a bestseller author after publishing her autobiography ‘Shelley, Also Known as Shirley’ in 1980 where she gave an explicit account of her romantic associations with yesteryear heroes like Burt Lancaster, Sean Connery, William Holden and Marlon Brando. She also mentioned an account of her time spent with Marilyn Monroe as roommate in the late 1940s while she was studying in Hollywood Studio Club. A sequel of the autobiography titled ‘Shelley II: The Middle of My Century’, was published by her in 1989.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married four times in her life. Her first marriage was with Captain Mack Paul Mayer (January 1, 1942 to October 1, 1948).
Thereafter she got married to Vittorio Gassman (April 28, 1952 to June 2, 1954) with whom she had one child, Vittoria (born on February 14, 1953).
Her third marriage was with Anthony Franciosa (May 4, 1957 to November 18, 1960).
She got married for the fourth and last time to Gerry DeFord (at her death bed on January 14, 2006).
She succumbed to a heart failure on January 14, 2006, at the Beverly Hills Rehabilitation Center. She was buried at ‘Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery’ in Culver City.