Thelma Ritter

Thelma Ritter


Birth Place
Brooklyn, New York, USA
February 14, 1905
February 05, 1969
Cause of Death
Heart Attack


With her salty humor, crackling New York accent and seen-it-all demeanor, Thelma Ritter was one of the most accomplished and dependable character actresses in American film. Throughout a 21-year screen career she worked numerous variations on her standard character of a wry, salt-of-the-earth everywoman and was equally convincing as lowly maid or wealthy dowager. She performed particul...

Photos & Videos

Pillow Talk - Movie Posters
A Hole in the Head - Movie Poster
How the West Was Won - Program Book

Family & Companions

Joseph Moran
Survived her.


With her salty humor, crackling New York accent and seen-it-all demeanor, Thelma Ritter was one of the most accomplished and dependable character actresses in American film. Throughout a 21-year screen career she worked numerous variations on her standard character of a wry, salt-of-the-earth everywoman and was equally convincing as lowly maid or wealthy dowager. She performed particularly well with other actresses and was often cast as sidekick to a female star. Ritter was Oscar®-nominated six times as Best Supporting Actress but, in what seems a major injustice, never won the award itself. Born in Brooklyn in 1902, Ritter trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and acted in stock theater and radio and in small roles on the Broadway stage before taking a break from her career to raise two children by her husband, actor/advertising executive Joseph Moran. She resumed acting on radio and made an impression in uncredited roles in her first three films, playing a weary Christmas shopper in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), a policeman?s secretary in Call Northside 777 (1948) and a beer-guzzling neighbor in A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, was impressed enough to sign Ritter to a contract. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the writer-director of Letter, remembered Ritter when creating All About Eve (1950) and wrote the plum part of Bertie, Bette Davis?s wisecracking dresser, especially for her. The film brought Ritter her first Oscar® nomination. In Perfect Strangers, Ritter is very funny as a ditzy juror hearing a murder case. She made the most of her larger-than-usual roles in The Mating Season, in which she is a woman who pretends to be her son?s maid to impress her wealthy new in-laws; and The Model and the Marriage Broker, in which she shares the title roles with Jeanne Crain and plays the straight-talking matchmaker. Ritter won her second nomination for The Mating Season and her third for the biopic With a Song in My Heart, playing the no-nonsense physical therapist of Susan Hayward as singer Jane Froman. Ritter also was nominated for the tough film noir Pickup on South Street, in which she has one of her most affecting roles as a street peddler/stool pigeon who comes to no good end. Her touching performance has been described as ?the soul of this film.? She lends her droll presence to the shipwreck drama Titanic, playing a fictionalized version of survivor Molly Brown; and to the musical Daddy Long Legs as Fred Astaire?s perceptive, plain-spoken secretary. Yet another nomination came for Pillow Talk, with Ritter cast as Doris Day?s hard-drinking housekeeper. Ritter memorably lent poignant support to Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in the early parts of The Misfits (1961) as the sidekick of Monroe?s troubled character. In The Second Time Around, she plays an eccentric rancher who hires young widow Debbie Reynolds as her only ranch hand. Reynolds and Ritter are reunited in another Western, How the West Was Won, the Cinerama epic in which Debbie plays a dance-hall gal headed for California and Thelma is her husband-hunting companion. Ritter won her sixth and final Oscar® nomination for Birdman of Alcatraz, playing the possessive mother of convicted murderer/bird expert Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster). Ritter appeared in three amusing comedies in 1963: For Love or Money, as the screwball mother of Mitzi Gaynor; A New Kind of Love, as the love-starved assistant of Joanne Woodward; and Move Over, Darling, as the sympathetic mother-in-law of Doris Day. Ritter?s final film performance, like her first, was a brief cameo ? in What?s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968), a comedy starring George Peppard and Mary Tyler Moore. Ritter, who died in 1969, also had several television credits and enjoyed a Broadway triumph in New Girl in Town (1957), winning a Tony award as Best Actress in a Musical in a tie with her costar, Gwen Verdon.

Life Events


Made screen debut in small role in "Miracle on 34th Street"


Had first Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress for "All About Eve"


Played the Unsinkable Molly Brown in "Titanic"


Originated role of mother in Paddy Chayefsky's "The Catered Affair" on TV (NBC)


Made final film, "What's So Bad About Feeling Good?"

Photo Collections

Pillow Talk - Movie Posters
Pillow Talk - Movie Posters
A Hole in the Head - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959), starring Frank Sinatra. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
How the West Was Won - Program Book
Here is the souvenir Program Book sold at Roadshow engagements for the 1962 epic in Cinerama, How the West Was Won.
Pickup on South Street - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Pickup on South Street (1953), directed by Sam Fuller. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
A Hole in the Head - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959), starring Frank Sinatra. Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.


Movie Clip

Letter To Three Wives, A -- (1948) - Pomp And Hysteria Now well inside complex flashbacks, radio soap opera writer Rita (Ann Sothern), with husband George (Kirk Douglas), who's not excited about the dinner she's planned, gets a gift from local vixen Addie (voice by Celeste Holm), in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter To Three Wives, 1948.
Pickup On South Street (1953) - Come Back Right Away! Famous first scene in which Jean Peters and two FBI guys (Willis Bouchey, Jerry O'Sullivan) are among the straphangers, when pickpocket Richard Widmark appears, after which she calls Joey (Richard Kiley), in writer-director Samuel Fuller's Pickup On South Street, 1953.
Pickup On South Street (1953) - You Get Paid For It Frantic Candy (Jean Peters), trying to find her stolen wallet with the microfilm, visits first Lightning Louie (Victor Perry) then savvy Moe (Thelma Ritter) in Samuel Fuller's Pickup On South Street, 1953.
Move Over, Darling (1963) - She's Drownded! Doris Day is Ellen, still in her Navy dungarees, returning unannounced to her Beverly Hills home, her daughters (Pami Lee, Leslie Farrell) having no idea she's been rescued after five years on a desert island, her mother-in-law (Thelma Ritter) plain shocked, in the re-make of My Favorite Wife, Move Over, Darling, 1963 co-starring James Garner.
Titanic (1953) - When I Was One And Twenty Day two of the voyage, Thelma Ritter as the "Molly Brown" character placing a bet, Robert Wagner as "Giff" approaching Barbara Stanwyck as "Mrs. Sturgess," fortuitously reading from A.E. Houseman's A Shropshire Lad, about her daughter, her husband (Clifton Webb) non-plussed, in Titanic, 1953.
Titanic (1953) - I Must Be On That Ship Quick survey of passengers, starting with Miss Stanwyck as fictional "Julia Sturgess" and ending with Clifton Webb as her husband, others including Frances Bergen, Richard Basehart and Thelma Ritter as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown figure, departing Cherbourg, April 10, 1912, in Titanic, 1953.
Titanic (1953) - Iceberg Dead Ahead! Director Jean Negulesco recreates 11:40 P.M., April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic, Barry Bernard as the officer on duty, Brian Aherne the captain, Clifton Webb, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart among passengers taking note, in 20th Century Fox's Titanic, 1953.
Hole in the Head, A (1959) - A Couple Dollars! Hotel owner Tony (Frank Sinatra) and older brother Mario (Edward G. Robinson) move from friendly to furious in a discussion about money in director Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head, 1959.
Hole In The Head A (1959) - Water's Good For You Brother Mario (Edward G. Robinson), with wife Sophie (Thelma Ritter), is too candid as he introduces widow Eloise (Eleanor Parker) to his brother, cash-strapped Miami hotel owner and single dad Tony (Frank Sinatra), Eddie Hodges the kid, Frank Capra directing, in A Hole In The Head, 1959.
All About Eve (1950) - The Touchiest Thing In Show Business After a performance, Margo (Bette Davis) forgets professional etiquette in accommodating starstruck assistant Eve (Anne Baxter), alarming aide Birdie (Thelma Ritter) and leading to a revealing moment in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s box-office and critical sensation All About Eve, 1950.
Rear Window (1954) - Open, Here Lie The Broken Bones Following his own credit, one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous openings, "The Composer" (Ross Bagdasarian) and "Miss Torso" (Georgine Darcy) among the neighbors featured, in the view from James Stewart's apartment, in Rear Window, 1954, co-starring Grace Kelly.
Rear Window (1954) - Fat, Alcoholic And Miserable Insurance company nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) at work on invalided photographer "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart), the night after he's watched "The Salesman" across the way behaving strangely, early in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, 1954.


Letter to Three Wives, A - (Original Trailer) In A Letter to Three Wives (1949), a woman claims to have run off with one of their husbands. But which?
Mating Season, The - (Original Trailer) Thelma Ritter pretends to be a cleaning lady to get to know her son's high-society in-laws in The Mating Season, 1951, also starring Gene Tierney and John Lund, directed by Mitchell Leisen.
With A Song In My Heart - (Original Trailer) Singer Jane Froman (Susan Hayward) comes back after a plane crash in the biopic With A Song In My Heart (1952).
Pickup on South Street - (Original Trailer) A pickpocket (Richard Widmark) accidently steals microfilm from the purse of a Communist spy in Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953).
Daddy Long Legs - (Original Trailer) A tycoon (Fred Astaire) anonymously sponsors a college education for a French girl (Leslie Caron) in the musical Daddy Long Legs (1955).
Boeing Boeing - (Original Trailer) A playboy (Tony Curtis) uses airline schedules to maintain "exclusive" relationships with three flight attendants at the same time in Boeing Boeing (1965) co-starring Jerry Lewis.
Pillow Talk - (Original Trailer) Doris Day and Rock Hudson give each other interference on their shared telephone line in Pillow Talk (1959).
Model and the Marriage Broker, The - (Original Trailer) A marriage broker can't resist meddling in the life of a model (Jeanne Crain), with disastrous results in The Model and the Marriage Broker (1952).
Hole In The Head, A - (Original Trailer) Frank Sinatra is a single father whose swinging lifestyle could cost him custody of his son in Frank Capra's A Hole In The Head (1959).
Birdman of Alcatraz - (Original Trailer) Burt Lancaster stars as Robert Stroud, the prison lifer who became an expert on birds in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), featuring a music score by Elmer Bernstein.
Move Over, Darling - (Original Trailer) Doris Day and James Garner in a color, widescreen remake of My Favorite Wife, Move Over, Darling (1963).
Misfits, The - (Original Trailer) A sensitive divorcee (Marilyn Monroe) gets mixed up with modern cowboys roping mustangs in the desert in The Misfits (1961) also starring Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.


Monica Moran
Actor. Survived her.


Joseph Moran
Survived her.