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 98th Birthday, Teresa Wright!

Quintessential girl-next-door Teresa Wright was born Muriel Teresa Wright 98 years ago today in New York City. Here are 10 TW Did-You-Knows:

  • Wright was born in Harlem, but her parents divorced when she was very young, after which she lived primarily in Maplewood, New Jersey.
  • Wright was inspired to take up acting as a teenager when she saw Helen Hayes perform in a production of Victoria Regina.
  • 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).
  • Wright is one of 10 actors to have been nominated for Academy Awards in both the Best Supporting and Best Lead acting categories in the same year. The others are are Fay Bainter, Barry Fitzgerald, Jessica Lange, Sigourney Weaver, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore and Jamie Foxx.
  • 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!

Teresa Wright

Happy 97th Birthday, Jennifer Jones!

Oscar winner Jennifer Jones was born Phyllis Lee Isley 97 years ago today in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She led something of a star-crossed life, outliving three husbands and two of her children, one of whom committed suicide, and struggling at times with mental health issues of her own.

Jones tried to commit suicide, too, and when she survived the attempt, she became very involved in mental health issues, contributing to many mental health organizations and donating $1 million in 1980 to establish the Jennifer Jones Simon Foundation for Mental Health and Education.

Given that Jones was nominated once for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and four times for Best Leading Actress (she won in 1944 for her work in The Song of Bernadette), it’s regrettable that she’s not better known today. Hers was as lovely a face as ever graced the screen, and her talent was estimable.

Happy birthday, Ms. Jones, wherever you may be!

Jennifer Jones

Hands of Fame

There are so many obscure careers in the world, jobs that get performed with almost no one ever noticing.

In one of the opening scenes of Vittorio De Sica‘s Stazione Termini (released in the US under the title Indiscretion of an American Wife), the titular wife, played by Jennifer Jones, is writing a Dear Giovanni letter to her Italian lover (Montgomery Clift).

We see, close-up, a pair of hands inscribing words of passion and sorrow on a piece of stationery, and, naturally, we’re meant to take those hands for Jones’s.

But the chances are very good, of course, that they weren’t her hands at all.

Whose hands were they? Was she satisfied with her limited role, or did she have bigger dreams—aspirations of stardom?

It’s commonly known now (thanks to a particular episode of Seinfeld and other references throughout popular culture) that there are people who make their livings as hand models, foot models, and body doubles.

But the person writing the goodbye note in Stazione Termini was required not only to have attractive hands (though, if we remember correctly, they were gloved) but legible and appealing handwriting.

We wonder if, somewhere, the family of the woman who wrote that note in Stazione Termini—her children and grandchildren—don’t get excited when they see that the film is airing. Or perhaps they needn’t depend on just that one film to get a glimpse of her; it may be that she had a long, successful career lending her skin and skills to the art of cinematic notation.

We’ve long thought it must be a little strange and yet somehow comforting for the families of deceased stars to see their loved ones once again vital and alive on the silver screen, just as they remember them. Is it equally poignant for those who are shown only their dear departed’s lovely hands and exquisite penmanship?