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Sylvia Sidney

Sylvia Sidney

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Also Known As: Sylvia Sydney, Sophia Kosow Died: July 1, 1999
Born: August 8, 1910 Cause of Death: throat cancer
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

During the Great Depression, actress Sylvia Sidney was said to possess the saddest eyes in Hollywood. The native New Yorker had only just debuted on Broadway when the movies lured her westward, where she cornered a devalued market playing little ladies with big problems in "City Streets" (1930) and "An American Tragedy" (1930). Her real life love affair with Paramount executive B. P. Schulberg kept Sidney working but typecast as victims, prompting the actress to crack that the studio paid her by the tear. In time, she enjoyed more varied roles, among them "Madame Butterfly" (1932), while Fritz Lang made expressionistic use of her in "Fury" (1936) and "You Only Live Once" (1937). Acquiring the reputation in Hollywood for being choosy and difficult, Sidney found sanctuary on the stage, performing with the Group Theatre on Broadway and touring as Jane Eyre and Eliza Doolittle. Having weathered three failed marriages and all but given up on film, Sidney was drawn out of retirement to play Joanne Woodward's elderly mother in "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" (1973), for which she received an Oscar nomination. The attention propelled Sydney towards a comeback, in which the diminutive, weathered, yet wholly...

During the Great Depression, actress Sylvia Sidney was said to possess the saddest eyes in Hollywood. The native New Yorker had only just debuted on Broadway when the movies lured her westward, where she cornered a devalued market playing little ladies with big problems in "City Streets" (1930) and "An American Tragedy" (1930). Her real life love affair with Paramount executive B. P. Schulberg kept Sidney working but typecast as victims, prompting the actress to crack that the studio paid her by the tear. In time, she enjoyed more varied roles, among them "Madame Butterfly" (1932), while Fritz Lang made expressionistic use of her in "Fury" (1936) and "You Only Live Once" (1937). Acquiring the reputation in Hollywood for being choosy and difficult, Sidney found sanctuary on the stage, performing with the Group Theatre on Broadway and touring as Jane Eyre and Eliza Doolittle. Having weathered three failed marriages and all but given up on film, Sidney was drawn out of retirement to play Joanne Woodward's elderly mother in "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" (1973), for which she received an Oscar nomination. The attention propelled Sydney towards a comeback, in which the diminutive, weathered, yet wholly indomitable actress was a bracing presence in such films as "Damien: Omen II" (1978), "Beetlejuice" (1988), "Used People" (1992), and "Mars Attacks!" (1998). A lifelong smoker, Sydney succumbed to throat cancer in 1999, her death capping the picaresque career of a leading lady whose star shone brightest the farther she got from the camera.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Mars Attacks! (1996) Grandma Norris
2.
 Used People (1992) Becky
3.
 Beetlejuice (1988) Juno
4.
 Pals (1987) Fern Stobbs
5.
 Finnegan Begin Again (1985) Margaret Finnegan
6.
 Early Frost, An (1985) Beatrice Mckenna
7.
8.
 Copkiller (1983) Margaret Smith
9.
 Hammett (1982) Donaldina Cameron
10.
 Having It All (1982) Marney
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1926:
Stage acting debut in "The Challenge of Youth" in Washington, DC
1926:
Broadway debut, "The Squall"
1927:
Won acclaim as the ingenue in "Crime"
1929:
Film acting debut "Thru Different Eyes"
1930:
Breakthrough stage role "Bad Girl"
:
Put under contract at Paramount
1931:
Starred in film version of "An American Tragedy"
1931:
First of six films with director Marion Gering, "Jennie Gerhardt" and "Pick Up"
1931:
Loaned to United Artists to appear in King Vidor's "Street Scene"
1932:
Had title role in "Madame Butterfly"
1934:
Paired with Cary Grant in "Thirty Day Princess", co-written by Preston Sturges
1935:
Starred as "Mary Burns, Fugitive"
1936:
Appeared opposite Spencer Tracy in "Fury"; first of three films directed by Fritz Lang
1936:
Starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Sabatoge"
1937:
Played major role in "Dead End", directed by William Wyler
1939:
Last Broadway appearance for 11 years, "The Gentle People"; performed with the Group Theatre
1942:
Toured in the stage play "Angel Street"
1945:
Appeared alongside James Cagney in the melodrama "Blood on the Sun"
1946:
Starred opposite Robert Young and Ann Richards in the Lillian Hellman-scripted "The Searching Wind"
1951:
Returned to Broadway in "The Fourposter"
1952:
Played Fantine in remake of "Les Miserables"
1955:
Was a regular performer on the omnibus NBC series "Star Stage"
1956:
Last film for 17 years, "Behind the High Wall"
1958:
Had title role in the touring company of "Aunti Mame"
1962:
Earned first Emmy Award nomination for guest appearance in "The Madman" episode of "The Defenders"
1963:
Had featured role in the Broadway production "Enter Laughing"
1966:
Assumed the role of Mrs. Banks in the Broadway play "Barefoot in the Park"; also toured in the part
1971:
TV-movie debut, "Don Not Fold Spindle or Mutilate" (ABC)
1973:
Received Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Joanne Woodward's critical mother in "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams"
1975:
Had recurring role on the ABC daytime drama "Ryan's Hope"
1976:
Returned to Broadway in the short-lived "Me Jack, You Jill"
1977:
Appeared in the docudrama "Raid on Entebbe" (NBC)
1980:
Portrayed a hospice resident in the TV-movie "The Shadow Box" (ABC), directed by Paul Newman
1985:
Garnered second Emmy nomination as Aidan Quinn's understanding grandmother in the ground-breaking NBC TV-movie "An Early Frost"
1986:
Was series regular on the short-lived CBS drama "Mornigstar/Eveningstar"
1988:
First collaboration with Tim Burton, played the gatekeeper of purgatory in "Beetlejuice"
1990:
Co-starred in the PBS drama "Andre's Mother"
1990:
Hospitalized with a near-fatal bronchial infection
1990:
Honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center
1992:
Appeared alongside Shirley MacLaine in "Used People"
1995:
Sustained injuries after being struck by a car
1996:
Returned to features in Burton's "Mars Attacks!"
1998:
Appeared as a regular in the remake of the ABC series "Fantasy Island"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Washington Irving High School: New York , New York -
Theatre Guild Drama School: New York , New York - 1925

Notes

"I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I retired. I'm an actress, and I'll take any part they give me. I have to work." --Sylvia Sydney in a 1990 interview

"I just know Tim [Burton] and I were great lovers and great friends in another life 3,000 years ago." --Sydney quoted in BOXOFFICE, November 1996

In a 1977 interview, Sidney spoke of how producers came to typecast her as "the girl of the gangster, then the sister who was bringing up the gangster, then later the mother of the gangster, and they always had me ironing somebody's shirt." --From her obituary in THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 2, 1999

"The actress, with her saucer-shaped eyes and low voice, could play tough or vulnerable, and her work was always intelligent and never sentimental. She was rarely recognized with awards, perhaps because she made it look easy." --From the DAILY VARIETY obituary by Richard Natale, July 2, 1999

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
B P Schulberg. Executive. Head of Paramount Pictures; had long-term romantic relationship in the 1930s.
husband:
Bennett A Cerf. Publisher. Married in October 1935; divorced in 1936.
husband:
Luther Adler. Actor. Married in 1938; divorced in 1946; father of Sidney's son Jacob/Jody.
husband:
Carlton Alsop. Publicist. Married in 1947; divorced in 1951.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Victor Kosow. Clothing salesman. Divorced Sidney's mother c. 1920.
mother:
Rebecca Kosow. Divorced from Sidney's father c. 1920; remarried to a dentist who adopted Sidney.
step-father:
Sigmund Sidney. Dental surgeon. Adopted Sidney.
cousin:
Albert Sabin. Doctor. Developer of oral polio vaccine.
son:
Jacob Adler. Born in October 1945; died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1985.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Sylvia Sidney's Needlepoint Book" Reinhold
"The Sylvia Sidney Question and Answer Book on Needlepoint" Galahad Books

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