Happy 115th Birthday, Thelma Ritter!

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 began acting at an early age, appearing in high productions and stock theatre in the New York area before studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
  • 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.
  • Four of Ritter’s Oscar nominations came in consecutive years—1950-53—a feat achieved by just four other actors: Jennifer Jones (1943-1946), Marlon Brando (1951-1954), Elizabeth Taylor (1957-1960) and Al Pacino (1972-1975).
  • Ritter did win a Tony in 1958 in the Best Actress (Musical) category for her work in the show New Girl in Town. She tied for the award with her costar, Gwen Verdon.
  • Though she was fourth-billed in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window, under James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Wendell Corey, Ritter received the highest salary of any member of that picture’s cast: $25,694.
  • In addition to her work in the theatre, in picture and in radio, Ritter was active on television in the 1950s and early ’60s, on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour.
  • Director George Seaton helmed both Ritter’s first movie, the aforementioned Miracle on 34th Street, and her last, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968).

Happy birthday, Thelma Ritter, wherever you may be!

Thelma Ritter

Happy 109th Birthday, Fay Wray!

Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray 109 years today in Cardston, Alberta. We have a special fondness for Ms. Wray, given that, some years ago, we enjoyed a brief but memorable encounter with her. Here are 10 FW Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Wray grew up in Utah and Southern California and began working as an extra in pictures as a teen. Her first credited roles were in westerns made at Universal.
  • In 1926, The Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose her as one of thirteen young actresses most likely to be stars in Hollywood (Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor were among the other twelve chosen that year).
  • After early success in westerns, Wray became known as a scream queen, due to a run of horror pictures she made in the early 1930s, among them King Kong, Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat and The Most Dangerous Game.
  • Wray was paid $10,000 for her work in King Kong, a picture that was so successful it is said to have saved RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
  • Wray valued her writing abilities over her acting career. She published an autobiography—On the Other Hand: A Life Story—and saw one of her plays, The Meadowlark, produced. (She collaborated with Sinclair Lewis on another play, Angela Is Twenty-Two.)
  • She was offered the role of Rose in Titanic (1997), but turned it down, leaving the role open for Gloria Stuart.
  • Though she lived there only a few years, there is a fountain in Cardston that is named after Wray.
  • In the 1950s, Wray worked frequently on television, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in three episodes of Perry Mason, among many others.
  • Peter Jackson had hoped to have Wray speak the final line in his 2005 remake of King Kong, but she passed away, aged 96, before the picture finished filming.
  • Two days later, the lights on the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes as a tribute to her.

Happy birthday, Fay Wray, wherever you may be!

Fay Wray