The inimitable Thelma Ritter was born 115 years ago today in Brooklyn (natch), New York. She was a spectacular character actress, bringing a touch of magic to everything she appeared in with her portrayals of a very particular type of world-weary, wise and wisecracking New Yorker. Here are 10 TR Did-You-Knows:
Ritter found work on the stage in her early years, but took a hiatus from acting to raise her two children with former actor and advertising executive Joseph Moran. Ritter and Moran were married for 42 years until her death in 1969.
When money was tight early in their marriage, Ritter and Moran made a practice of entering the advertising slogan and jingle contests that were so prevalent at the time.
Once her children were of age, Ritter returned to stock theatre and also found work in radio, but it was her first motion picture role, a small part as a harried shopper in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), that sparked her ascent as an actress. She was 45 years old.
From 1953-1961, Ritter was nominated six times for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without ever winning. Deborah Kerr was also nominated six times, but for Best Actress, and Glenn Close has been nominated three times each in those two categories. Like Ritter, Kerr never won an Oscar, and Close, too, has come up empty so far.
Having launched her professional career at the Wharf Theatre in Provincetown, Massachusetts, she started going by her middle name professionally when she learned there was already another Muriel Wright in Actors Equity.
Her Broadway debut came in Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town; she was initially cast in a small role and as the understudy for the lead role of Emily Webb, but when the original lead, Martha Scott, answered the siren song of Hollywood, Wright took over the lead role.
Wright’s Hollywood debut saw her starring with Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941). Wright remains the only actor to have been nominated for an Academy Award for her first three motion pictures: The Little Foxes (supporting actress), 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees (best actress) and Mrs. Miniver (for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role).
Her first husband, Niven Busch, wrote the female lead in Duel in the Sun (1946) with Wright in mind, so that she might break out of her girl-next-door rut, but she discovered she was pregnant and the role went to Jennifer Jones.
Wright was among the earliest movie actors to work on television. Her first appearance came on Robert Montgomery Presents in 1952, and she went on to appear as a guest or a star in more than fifty more series and TV movies.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Wright also worked frequently on the stage—on Broadway, in regional theatres and in touring companies.
Wright died of a heart attack on March 6, 2005. On July 5 of that year, during Old-Timer’s Day festivities at Yankee Stadium, her name was included in a list of former Yankees and other members of the Yankees family who had passed away in the previous twelve months because of her memorable performance as Lou Gehrig‘s wife, Eleanor, in Pride of the Yankees.
Happy birthday, Teresa Wright, wherever you may be!
In February 2008, NYC’s Film Forum held a tribute to director Sidney Lumet, who died today at the age of 86. The celebration of Lumet’s life and career took the form of a two-hour Q&A, interspersed with clips from some of his most memorable films. We were lucky enough to be on hand, and we are pleased to offer, as a tribute to a very talented movie maker, our account of the evening.
Lumet shared in the early part of the discussion that his father, Baruch, was an actor in the Yiddish theatre, and Sidney himself got his start there at a very early age.
Lumet went on to appear in a number of Broadway shows, among them a Max Reinhardt production, before slipping behind the camera as a television director in the 1950s.
So it was fitting that the evening opened with a clip from One Third of a Nation (1939), which boasts Lumet’s only film acting appearance. The then-14-year-old director-to-be starred as the nephew of Sylvia Sidney.
The next clip shown was from the first movie he directed, Twelve Angry Men (1957). Asked if he’d made a specific effort to make the film in a cinematic style, so as to prove to the industry bigwigs that he could direct as well for the large screen as for the small, Lumet admitted with a laugh, “I was too arrogant. It never occurred to me that I might need to convince anyone.”
Asked later about working with Henry Fonda, Lumet said Fonda was constitutionally unable to make a false or dishonest move as an actor. “I don’t think he could’ve done it if I’d asked him to,” Lumet said. “He could only play the truth.”
Lumet said that filming on Twelve Angry Men was completed in 19 days. He said he shot the film in a very particular way. There were three levels of lighting in the film—sunlight through the windows, cloudy skies, as a storm approached outside, and with the overhead lighting in the jury room illuminated once the storm is underway.
Lumet shot the film entirely out of sequence, rotating around the room, getting each shot he needed from each actor under that particular lighting. Once he’d shot all of his sunlit shots, Lumet had the set relit to suggest cloudy conditions and slowly worked his way around the room again, going from character to character, getting every shot he needed.
Finally, he had the set relit once last time, with overhead lighting lit, and made the rounds again.
Lumet said he never used storyboards, as Alfred Hitchcock was famous for doing. Instead, he preferred to rehearse his actors for two weeks, as if they were mounting a play, and when he had all the blocking down, then he considered where to place the camera in each scene. Read More »