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Shelley Winters

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Also Known As: Shelley Winter, Shirley Schrift, Miss Shelley Winters, Shelley Winter Died: January 14, 2006
Born: August 18, 1920 Cause of Death: heart failure
Birth Place: St Louis, Missouri, USA Profession: actor, model, acting teacher, chorus girl, store clerk

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Over a six-decade (and counting) career, Brooklyn-born Shelley Winters has proven to be a highly prolific, galvanic presence on stage and screen. As a teenager, she auditioned for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in her thick "Noo Yawk" accent, prompting director George Cukor to suggest she consider college. Undaunted, Winters persisted and landed an understudy job for the 1940 Broadway production of "The Time of Your Life". The following year, she made her Broadway debut in "The Night Before Christmas". A voluptuous bottle blonde, the actress soon caught the attention of talent scouts and was put under contract by Columbia Pictures in 1943. Underutilized, Winters auditioned for and landed a role in "Knickerbocker Holiday" (1944) at United Artists upsetting studio head Harry Cohn who eventually dropped her option.After Columbia released her, George Cukor came to Winters' rescue, casting her in a major part in "A Double Life" (1947). The film proved a breakthrough, offering her a meaty role as a buxom waitress who falls for an actor (Ronald Coleman) gearing up to play Othello. Additionally, it provided Winters with the first of her many memorable on-screen death scenes. Before signing a seven-year...

Over a six-decade (and counting) career, Brooklyn-born Shelley Winters has proven to be a highly prolific, galvanic presence on stage and screen. As a teenager, she auditioned for the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara in her thick "Noo Yawk" accent, prompting director George Cukor to suggest she consider college. Undaunted, Winters persisted and landed an understudy job for the 1940 Broadway production of "The Time of Your Life". The following year, she made her Broadway debut in "The Night Before Christmas". A voluptuous bottle blonde, the actress soon caught the attention of talent scouts and was put under contract by Columbia Pictures in 1943. Underutilized, Winters auditioned for and landed a role in "Knickerbocker Holiday" (1944) at United Artists upsetting studio head Harry Cohn who eventually dropped her option.

After Columbia released her, George Cukor came to Winters' rescue, casting her in a major part in "A Double Life" (1947). The film proved a breakthrough, offering her a meaty role as a buxom waitress who falls for an actor (Ronald Coleman) gearing up to play Othello. Additionally, it provided Winters with the first of her many memorable on-screen death scenes. Before signing a seven-year contact with Universal on strength of her work, she returned to Broadway to play Ado Annie (the girl who can't say no) in the hit stage musical "Oklahoma!".

Once back in Hollywood and working at Universal, Winters became typecast as, in her words, "the bad blonde bimbo usually going up against the sweet brunette". She fared slightly better as the tarty wife of a slow-witted mechanic in 1949's "The Great Gatsby" and cut a fine figure as a dance hall girl torn between Charles Drake and James Stewart in the fine Western "Winchester '73" (1950). Winters fought hard to land the role of the mousy factory worker who falls for a cad in George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" (1951). The director initially did not want to cast her because of her brassy screen persona. Winters met with him, dressed down, without make-up. Stevens was impressed enough but asked her to test for the role which the actress managed to avoid. The director eventually gave her the part and elicited one of her finest screen portrayals which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The downside was that it created a new screen persona for Winters: that of the frowsy, blowsy harridan. She embodied these characteristics in such acclaimed films as "Executive Suite" (1954) and "The Big Knife" (1955). Charles Laughton also tapped into that vein when he cast her as the lusty widow of a bank robber who falls victim to a charismatic con (Robert Mitchum) in the superb "Night of the Hunter" (also 1955).

Feeling a need to reinvigorate her career, Winters took four years away from Hollywood to study at the Actors Studio and return to Broadway as the wife of a drug addict in "A Hatful of Rain" (1956). When she ventured back to L.A., she embarked on a career as a character player with roles like the loquacious Mrs. Van Daan in George Stevens' screen adaptation of "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959), for which she picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Winters made an indelible impression as the pathetically lovelorn Charlotte Haze in "Lolita" (1962). The 60s saw her undertake a string of memorable roles, the best being her Oscar-winning turn as the bigoted Southern mother of a blind girl in "A Patch of Blue" (1965).

Since the late 60s, however, her work has been in substandard vehicles, partly from her seemingly endless stream of projects. Winters had lent her considerable talents to roles that bordered on camp ("Who Slew Auntie Roo?" and "What's the Matter With Helen?" both 1971) to memorable (her Oscar-nominated turn as an elderly former swimming champion in "The Poseidon Adventure" in 1972 and the Machiavellian agent in "S.O.B." in 1981). Among her more recent work was the accompanist to a motley group of tap dancers in "Stepping Out" (1991) and a lovely cameo as the wife of the dying John Gielgud in Jane Campion's "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996). Perhaps ironically, though, despite accolades, status as one of the leading teachers and practitioners of "the Method", over 100 films and numerous stage credits and two volumes of memoirs, Winters became best known to an entirely new generation for her six-year (1991-97) recurring role as Nana Mary on the hit ABC sitcom "Roseanne".

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Once Upon a Time in Little Italy (1999) Professor Summers
2.
 Gideon (1998) Mrs Willows
3.
 Portrait of A Lady, The (1996) Mrs Touchett
4.
 Mrs. Munck (1996) Aunt Monica
5.
 Back Fire! (1995)
6.
 Jury Duty (1995) Mom
7.
 Raging Angels (1995) Grandma Ruth
8.
 Heavy (1994) Dolly
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Brooklyn, New York
1938:
Auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind"; George Cukor reportedly told her she should attend college
1940:
Stage debut as understudy in "The Time of Your Life"
1941:
Broadway debut in "The Night Before Christmas"
1943:
Signed to a contract by Columbia Pictures
1943:
Film acting debut in "What a Woman!"
1944:
Appeared in "Knickerbocker Holiday", billed as Shelley Winter
1947:
Gained attention in film with her performance in "A Double Life"
1947:
Played Ado Annie on Broadway in the musical "Oklahoma!"
1948:
Signed seven-year contract with Universal
1948:
Played small role in "Red River", starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift
1951:
Received Best Actress Oscar nomination as the doomed, working-class girl in love with Clift in "A Place in the Sun", directed by George Stevens
1955:
Starred in "The Night of the Hunter", directed by Charles Laughton
1955:
Portrayed the promiscuous shopgirl Crystal Allen in NBC version of "The Women"
1955:
Returned to Broadway as co-star of "A Hatful of Rain"
1959:
Received first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Mrs Van Daan in the film version of "The Diary of Anne Frank", directed by George Stevens
1962:
Cast as the blowsy Charlotte Haze in Stanley Kubrick's comic take on "Lolita"
1962:
Succeeded Bette Davis in the role of Maxine Faulk in Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana"
1964:
Received Emmy for appearance in "Two Is the Number", a drama special aired as part of "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" (NBC)
1964:
Appeared in featured role in the Actors Studio film version of "Three Sisters", starring Geraldine Page
1965:
Garnered second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as the bigoted mother of a blind girl in "A Patch of Blue"
1970:
Starred in the Roger Corman film "Bloody Mama"; first time working with Robert De Niro
1970:
Played Minnie Shean Marx in "Minnie's Boys", the unsuccessful musical biography of the Marx Brothers
1971:
TV-movie debut in ABC's "Revenge"
1972:
Received fourth Academy Award nomination as the grandmotherly ex-swimmer who risks her life to save others in "The Poseidon Adventure"
1973:
Debut as playwright with "One Night Stands of a Noisy Passenger", a series of three one-act plays; hand-picked Robert De Niro for one of the roles
1974:
Starred as Rose Winters (a character named after her real-life mother) in the CBS TV-movie "Big Rose", an unsold series pilot
1976:
Acted the role of the Concierge in Roman Polanski's thriller "The Tenant"
1979:
Played Gladys Presley in the acclaimed ABC biopic "Elvis", starring Kurt Russell and directed by John Carpenter
1981:
Cast as a duplicitous agent in Blake Edwards' satirical "S.O.B."
1991:
Played the pianist in "Stepping Out"
:
Played recurring role as Roseanne's grandmother Nana Mary on the ABC sitcom "Roseanne"
1995:
Cast as Pauly Shore's mother in the lame comedy "Jury Duty"
1995:
Co-starred in "Heavy"
1996:
Played small role of Mrs Touchette in Jane Campion's "The Portrait of a Lady"
1996:
Had supporting role in Diane Ladd's TV directorial debut, the Showtime movie "Mrs. Munck"
1999:
Played a retirement home resident in "Gideon's Web"; shown at the Cannes Film Festival market
1999:
Acted in "La Bomba", featuring ex-husband Vittorio Gassman and his son Alessandro
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Thomas Jefferson High School: New York , New York -
Wayne State University: Detroit , Michigan -
Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research: -
Actors Studio: New York , New York -

Notes

In the 1940s when both were struggling actresses, Winters and Marilyn Monroe shared an apartment

She donated her 1959 Oscar to the Anne Frank Home in Amsterdam.

In her memoirs, Winters recounts her many love affairs, including those with Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Adlai Stevenson, Sean Connery and William Holden, among others

"She is eccentric, highly gifted, unique, unusual, creative--and off-the-wall. Working with Shelley is extraordinarily challenging. She is extremely difficult to work with. I found that not to be helpful for my work. She said I was better because she was difficult. I say it would have been easier or better for my health to have had a little less turmoil on the set." --Debbie Reynolds, co-star of "What's the Matter With Helen?", quoted in LOS ANGELES TIMES, April 9, 1995

"I think that because Shelley was a pretty, zaftig blonde and worked in the era of where those movie role proliferated, she played a lot of not-so-birght roles, victims and floozies--and yet somehow, you always knew that there was a strength there. She never seemed to feel she had to adopt a masculine style in order to show that she was strong." --Gloria Steinem quoted in LOS ANGELES TIMES, April 9, 1995

"I'll tell you, I'm a little confused about why there;s all this interest in me. In 'Mrs. Doubtfire', Robin Williams says he wants to get older, and Harvey Fierstein says 'Like Shirley MacLaine or Shelley Winters?' Then, in 'The Adventures of Prsicilla, Queen of the Desert'. one of those men says ,'Take that off. Who do you think you are, Shelley Winters?' [Laughs] Now, I haven't been a babe for a long time, you know. And there's a wonderful picture called 'Swimming With Sharks'; under the titles, this agent trying to tell these young producers who I am, trying to get me a part. Nothing was really insulting, except one of them said I looked older, but I think I prefer to look older than have things operated on. . . . Why, all of a sudden am I public domain. I mean, I've been here all the time!" --Shelley Winters in INTERVIEW, May 1966

"The ONLY love scene I ever tried to do was in 'Lolita' with James Mason. I had to lower my robe and snuggle up to him in bed. I couldn't do it. I knocked him out of bed and broke his glasses." --Winters in PREMIERE, January 1995

"I've got four Oscar nominations and two Oscars, and guess what? Peole know me from 'Roseanne', where I play her grandmother." --Winters to PEOPLE, December 16, 1996

Winters was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Hollywood Film Festival in August 1998.

She was quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES in July 1998 as admitting she had been lying about her age for years and that in reality she was born in 1920 not 1922 as all the record books list.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Paul Meyer. Textile salesman. Married in October 1943; divorced in 1946.
husband:
Vittorio Gassman. Italian actor. Married on April 28, 1952; divorced in 1954.
husband:
Anthony Franciosa. Actor. Married on May 4, 1957; divorced in November 1960.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jonas Schrift. Clothing designer.
mother:
Rose Schrift. Singer.
daughter:
Vittoria Gassman. Physician. Born c. 1953.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Shelley, Also Known as Shirley"
"Shelley II: The Middle of My Century (The Best of Times, the Worst of Times)" Simon & Schuster

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