It is not often that an actress makes her Hollywood debut in her fifties and goes on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress! Shirley Booth, the immensely talented and charismatic actress was one such rare species. Having already established herself as a stage actress, she decided to make her entry into films and found immediate success. Though it should be mentioned that she had lied about her age in order to bag the role! Nonetheless she had to be extremely convincing as she did prove her mettle. Even as a little girl, she knew that she wanted to become an actress. Since her father opposed her choice of a career, she ran away from home to pursue her passion. She began acting as a teenager, starting out as a stage actress. With her dedication, hard work and passion for acting, she soon found herself a much sought after actress. She moved on to give radio performances as well and finally made her film debut when she was 54 and won an Academy Award for her debut! The ambitious actress eventually made her entry into television and shone there as well.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Marjory Ford to Albert James and Virginia Ford. But some records suggest that she was known as Thelma Booth Ford. She had one younger sister.
She loved acting from a young age and was determined to become an actress. However, her father did not support her choice of profession. So in an act of rebellion, she ran away from home.
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She began acting in stock company productions as a teenager and was soon a popular actress in Pittsburgh theatre. She made her Broadway debut opposite Humphrey Bogart in 1925.
It was during the mid 1930s that she began to garner attention. She played the female lead in the play ‘Three Men on a Horse’ which ran from 1935 to 1937 which increased her popularity.
In 1940, she appeared in the comedy play ‘My Sister Eileen’ which was the funny story of two sisters, Ruth and Eileen, one of whom wants to be a writer and the other an actress.
Over the 1940s her stage career thrived as she acted in several plays which became hits and further boosted her fame. Some of her best plays were ‘Hollywood Pinafore’ (1945), ‘The Men we Marry’ (1948) and ‘Goodbye, my Fancy’ (1949).
She played the role of an unhappy housewife in the play ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ in 1950. The play was a hit and was made into a movie in 1952 in which Booth reprised her role, making her Hollywood debut.
In 1953, she played Leona Samish, a single American vacationing in Europe, in the play ‘The Time of the Cuckoo’. It is about the story of an illicit affair between an American and an Italian.
She played Mrs. Leslie in the movie ‘About Mrs. Leslie’ in which she is a rooming house landlady who reminisces about her past and her involvement with a mysterious man. The movie received good reviews.
She acted in a serious and somber stage production, ‘Juno’ in 1959 which was about the disintegration of an Irish family during the Irish War of Independence. The audience however wanted to see Shirley in a comic role and was disappointed with her portrayal of a sad woman.
After finding success in both stage and films, Booth made her entry into television with the American sitcom ‘Hazel’ in which she plays a live-in maid named Hazel Burke. The show was very successful and everyone fell in love with Hazel. It ran for five seasons till 1965.
In 1966 she appeared in the television film ‘The Glass Menagerie’ adapted from a play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. She was nominated for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for this role.
She was active in theatre and television till the early 1970s though her appearances became less frequent. She retired from all forms of acting in 1974.
She played a dull, talkative and unhappily married woman in the drama film ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ which also marked her Hollywood debut. Her performance was critically appreciated and this role earned her several awards and accolades.
Awards & Achievements
She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Lola Delaney in the drama film ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’ in 1953. She also won Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama and Best Actress Award at Cannes Film Festival.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married comedian Ed Gardner in 1929 but after some years their marriage unraveled and they divorced in 1942.
In 1943, she married United States Army Corporal William Baker. Baker was a soft spoken and kind man who treated his wife very well. They were happily married till Baker’s death and Booth never remarried.
After retiring she spent her later years living with her pet poodle. She lived a long life and suffered some health problems during her last years. She died in 1992 at the ripe old age of 94.