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 112th Birthday, Sterling Holloway!

Character actor Sterling Holloway was born 112 years ago today in Cedartown, Georgia. Here are 10 SH Did-You-Knows:

  • Holloway was the first of two sons born to grocer (and Cedartown mayor for one year when Sterling Jr. was seven years old) Sterling P. Holloway, Sr. and his wife, Rebecca.
  • Holloway graduated from Georgia Military Academy in 1920 and though only 15, he immediately left the South for New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Spencer Tracy was a classmate and friend).
  • In his late teens, Holloway joined a touring company of The Shepherd of the Hills, performing in a series of one-nighters out west. Afterwards, he returned to NYC, where he performed small roles in Theatre Guild productions. He also was cast in the Rodgers and Hart review The Garrick Gaieties, in which he introduced the popular standard Manhattan.
  • In 1926, Holloway moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in pictures, and he would go on to appear in 100 of them. His bushy red hair and prominent features made him a natural for comedies, and he got his start in silent pictures, appearing in three shorts and one feature (Casey at the Bat [1927]).
  • In 1932, after four years without a film role (a director had reportedly told him he was “too repulsive” for silent pictures), Holloway began to work in talkies, where his high-pitched, chalky voice served him well, and he kept very busy indeed. From 1932-35, he averaged 10 pictures (some of them short subjects) a year.
  • Over the course of his 50-year, Holloway appeared in (or did voice work for) more than 100 features and shorts, and made nearly as many television appearances.
  • In addition to his picture and television work, Holloway worked frequently on radio, a medium to which his unique and memorable voice was well-suited. Among the shows to which Holloway lent his talents were The Railroad Hour, The United States Steel Hour, Suspense, Lux Radio Theater and Fibber McGee and Molly.
  • Holloway was one of the first actors to make the jump to television, appearing in 1949 on the anthology series Your Show Time, which featured half-hour adaptaions of literary short stories from the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was the first American dramatic series to be shot on film and the first series to win an Emmy award.
  • Holloway frequently did voice work for animated features, including Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Alice in Wonderland (1951), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970) and perhaps most famously, he provided the voice of Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s popular series of Pooh featurettes.
  • College Street, where the Holloway family resided in Cedartown, is now called Sterling Holloway Place and there’s a plaque at the site of his boyhood home.

Happy birthday, Sterling Holloway, wherever you may be!

Sterling Holloway

Happy 100th Birthday, Kirk Douglas!

Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch not 80, not 90, but 100 years ago today in Amsterdam, New York! Here are 10 KD Did-You-Knows:

  • Douglas’ parents emigrated to the United States from what is now Belarus (it was at the time part of the Russian Empire). As Douglas wrote in his autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, “My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes. … Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder. And I was the ragman’s son.”
  • Douglas worked many odd jobs in his youth before attending St. Lawrence University. Upon graduation, he was given a special scholarship to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. One of his classmates there was Betty Joan Perske (Lauren Bacall, don’tcha know).
  • Coming from a poor family, Douglas struggled greatly while studying at the American Academy, so much so that Bacall, who had acquired a crush on Douglas, gave him one of her uncle’s old coats. Douglas and Bacall were good pals, but never romantic.
  • In 1941, Kirk Douglas enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He received a medical discharge in 1944, due to injuries he’d received.
  • Douglas planned to pursue a life in the theatre, but Hollywood came calling in 1946 when Bacall, who was already a success in pictures, recommended him to producer Hal Wallis to play opposite Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).
  • Among Douglas’ most memorable early roles were his portrayals of a steely gangster in the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947) and an unscrupulous boxer in Champion (1949). The latter gave Douglas the first of his three Oscar nominations in the Best Leading Actor category.
  • Douglas made his Broadway debut in Katharine Cornell‘s production of Chekov‘s Three Sisters.
  • In January 1981, Douglas, who has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the US State Department since 1963, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter.
  • Douglas suffered a severe stroke in 1996 that impaired his ability to speak, but he diligently pursued treatment and rehabilitation and just weeks later, when he received a honorary Academy Award “for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community,” he was able to be on hand to deliver an inspiring acceptance speech to those on hand and millions more watching on television.
  • Douglas is the author of no fewer than 10 books.

Happy birthday, Kirk Douglas, and many happy returns of the day!

Kirk Douglas

Happy 92nd Birthday, Lauren Bacall!

Our former neighbor Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske 92 years ago today in the Bronx, New York. Here are 10 LB Did-You-Knows:

Bacall’s mother emigrated from Romania as a child; her father, whose forebears came from Poland, was born in New Jersey.

Bacall was born in the Bronx, but grew up in Brooklyn after family moved to a residence on that borough’s Ocean Parkway. Her parents were divorced when she was five, and her father disappeared from her life. She would later take her mother’s maiden name

A wealthy uncle paid for Bacall’s schooling at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls in Tarrytown, New York, and at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. In 1941, Bacall studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Kirk Douglas was a classmate), working as a fashion model and ushering at the St. James Theatre to pay for her studies.

In 1942, Bacall made her Broadway debut in a small part in a play called Johnny 2 X 4. She was just 17 years old. That same year, she was crowned Miss Greenwich Village, which is where she was living with her mother at that time.

During this time, Bacall volunteered as a hostess at NYC’s Stage Door Canteen on Monday nights, when the theatres were dark.

In 1943, Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Director Howard Hawks‘ wife, Slim, spotted Bacall on the cover and convinced her husband to test the young model for his upcoming film, To Have and Have Not. Hawks asked his secretary to find out more about Bacall, but the secretary misunderstood and instead sent Bacall a ticket to Hollywood. Upon meeting Bacall, Hawks signed her to a seven-year contract.

Lauren Bacall lived in the Dakota at 72nd and Central Park West, the same building where John Lennon resided with spouse Yoko Ono (who still lives there). Bacall once told an interviewer that she heard the shot that killed the former Beatle near the building’s entrance, but thought it was a vehicle backfiring.

Bacall was a two-time Tony award winner, in the category of Best Actress (Musical), in 1970 for her role as Margo Channing in Applause! and in 1981 for Woman of the Year.

Bacall was nominated for one Oscar, in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) and she was awarded a honorary Oscar in 2010 in recognition of her place in the Golden Age of motion pictures. Bacall was the only Oscar winner to have been married to two other Oscar winners (Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards).

Her autobiography, By Myself, was a 1980 National Book Award winner.

Happy birthday, Lauren Bacall, wherever you may be!

Lauren Bacall