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 Birthday, Deborah Kerr!

Few women stars of the Cladrite Era starred in more iconic motion pictures than Deborah Kerr, born 94 years ago today in Helensburgh, Scotland. The list is an impressive one: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Black Narcissus (1947), From Here to Eternity (1953), Tea And Sympathy (1956), The King and I (1956), and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), to name just a few.

And yet, in our sometimes foggy recollection, it seems she played primarily two disparate types of roles (mind you, we haven’t done the math on this): nuns and adulterous wives.

Kerr’s low-key elegance is still quite appealing, though we fear that, considering how big a name she once was, her star has fallen more than many others of her time. And that’s a shame. She was supremely talented—at six, she holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations for Best Actress without a win (she was, thankfully, finally awarded an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar)—and she seems to been a person of principles as well: She was patron of Britain’s National Society of Clean Air and Environmental Protection from 1992 until her death in 2007.

Happy birthday, Ms. Kerr, wherever you may be.

Deborah Kerr quote

A don’t-miss classic from Blighty

A scene from The Life and Death of Colonel BlimpIf you live in NYC or have plans to be here in the next two weeks, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit to Film Forum for a screening of the fully restored Technicolor marvel The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Blimp, which stars Deborah Kerr and Roger Livesay, ranks as one of the best pictures ever turned out by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and given the stellar lineup of movies they were responsible for—The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, among many others—that’s saying something.

In fact, it’s one of the greatest pictures ever made in Great Britain. Film critic Andrew Sarris wrote of the picture, “When I first saw the badly butchered American release version of Colonel Blimp more than 40 years ago, I never imagined I’d live to see the day when I would have the effrontery to write that I preferred it to Citizen Kane.”

We’d hate to have to choose between Blimp and Kane, but you get the point. Blimp is a must-see.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp