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Thelma Ritter

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Thelma Ritter
Ritter in All About Eve (1950)
Born(1902-02-14)February 14, 1902
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 5, 1969(1969-02-05) (aged 66)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1913–1968
Joseph Moran
(m. 1927)

Thelma Ritter (February 14, 1902 – February 5, 1969) was an American character actress who, known for her strong New York City accent, diminutive size, and plain look, favored working-class roles. She earned a Tony Award and six Academy Award nominations, more than any other actress in the Best Supporting Actress category.

These nominations were for her performances in All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Her other film roles include those in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Rear Window (1954), The Misfits (1961), and How the West Was Won (1962).

Ritter shared the 1958 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for performance in the musical New Girl in Town with her co-star Gwen Verdon. She received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series nomination for Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1956.

Early and personal life[edit]

Ritter was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 14, 1902, the first child of Charles and Lucy Ritter.[1][2] Her father was a bookkeeper,[1] later an office manager.[3]

At age 11, Ritter played Puck in a semi-professional dramatic society's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.[3] As a teenager she appeared in high-school plays and stock companies. After initially being rebuffed, she received formal training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (ADA)[4] upon her graduation from Manual Training High School.[3]

Although she subsequently struggled to establish a stage career, Ritter decided to take a hiatus from acting to raise her two children, Monica and Joe.[5] Their father, her husband, Joseph Moran, was also an actor; in the mid-1930s, he changed professions, becoming an actors' agent and then an advertising executive.[4]


Ritter's first professional experience came with stock theater companies in New York and New England.[3] Her Broadway credits include UTBU (1965), New Girl in Town (1956), In Times Square (1931), and The Shelf (1926).[6]

Ritter's first movie role was in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). She made a memorable impression in a brief uncredited part, as a frustrated mother unable to find the toy that Kris Kringle has promised her son. Her third role, in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949), left a mark, although Ritter was again uncredited. Mankiewicz kept Ritter in mind, and cast her as Birdie Coonan in All About Eve (1950), which earned her an Oscar nomination. A second nomination followed for her work in the Mitch Leisen ensemble screwball comedy The Mating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney and John Lund. She enjoyed steady film work for the next dozen years.

She appeared in many of the episodic drama TV series of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour ‘’Wagon Train’’. Other film roles were as James Stewart's nurse in Rear Window (1954) and as Doris Day's housekeeper, Alma, in Pillow Talk (1959). Although best known for comedy roles, she played the occasional dramatic role, most notably in With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Titanic (1953), The Misfits (1961), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), for which she received her final Oscar nomination. Her last work was an appearance on The Jerry Lewis Show on January 23, 1968.[7]


On January 27, 1969, Ritter suffered a heart attack at her residence in Queens, New York City.[8] She died from a second heart attack on February 5, in New York City, at age 66.[3][9]


In 2019, Ritter was listed at number 1 on The Evening Standard list of ten women who changed the face of film forever.[10]



Year Title Role Director Notes
1947 Miracle on 34th Street Peter's Mother George Seaton Uncredited
1948 Call Northside 777 Receptionist Henry Hathaway Uncredited
1949 A Letter to Three Wives Sadie Dugan Joseph L. Mankiewicz Uncredited
City Across the River Mrs. Katie Cusack Maxwell Shane
Father Was a Fullback Geraldine John M. Stahl
1950 Perfect Strangers Lena Fassler Bretaigne Windust
I'll Get By Miss Murphy Richard Sale
All About Eve Birdie Coonan Joseph L. Mankiewicz
1951 The Mating Season Ellen McNulty Mitchell Leisen
As Young as You Feel Della Hodges Harmon Jones
The Model and the Marriage Broker Mae Swasey George Cukor
1952 With a Song in My Heart Clancy Walter Lang
1953 Titanic Maude Young Jean Negulesco
Pickup on South Street Moe Williams Samuel Fuller
The Farmer Takes a Wife Lucy Cashdollar Henry Levin
1954 Rear Window Stella Alfred Hitchcock
1955 Daddy Long Legs Alicia Pritchard Jean Negulesco
Lucy Gallant Molly Basserman Robert Parrish
1956 The Proud and Profane Kate Connors George Seaton
1959 A Hole in the Head Sophie Manetta Frank Capra
Pillow Talk Alma Michael Gordon
1961 The Misfits Isabelle Steers John Huston
The Second Time Around Aggie Gates Vincent Sherman
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Elizabeth Stroud John Frankenheimer
How the West Was Won Agatha Clegg John Ford
Henry Hathaway
George Marshall
1963 For Love or Money Chloe Brasher Michael Gordon
Move Over, Darling Grace Arden
A New Kind of Love Leena Melville Shavelson
1965 Boeing Boeing Bertha John Rich
1967 The Incident Bertha Beckerman Larry Peerce
1968 What's So Bad About Feeling Good? Mrs. Schwartz George Seaton final film role


Year Title Role Notes
1954 Lux Video Theatre Lux Video Theatre Guest Episode: Christmas in July
1955 The Best of Broadway Mrs. Fisher Episode: The Show-Off
The 20th Century Fox Hour Abby Episode: Christopher Bean
Goodyear Television Playhouse Aggie Hurley Episode: The Catered Affair
1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lottie Slocum Season 1 Episode 32: The Baby Sitter
1957 Telephone Time Mary Devlin Episode: Plot to Save a Boy
The United States Steel Hour Ma Garfield Episode: The Human Pattern
1960 GE True Theatre Doris Green Episode: Sarah's Laughter
Startime Mrs. Gillis Episode: The Man
1961 Frontier Circus Bertha Marie Beecher Episode: Journey from Hannibal
1962 Wagon Train Madame Sagittarius Episode: The Madame Sagittarius Story


Year Title Role Notes
1926 The Shelf Miss Paterson Morosco Theatre, Broadway
1931 In Times Square Sally Stewart Longacre Theatre, Broadway
1957 New Girl in Town McCathy 46th Street Theatre, Broadway
1961 UTBU Performer Hayes Theatre, Broadway


Year Program Notes Ref.
1953 Theatre Guild on the Air Episode: A Square Peg [11]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Ritter received six Academy Award nominations during her career, without a win. This ties her with Deborah Kerr and Amy Adams with the second most such nominations among actresses, behind Glenn Close’s eight. Peter O'Toole also has eight without a win among men. Only Kerr and O'Toole have received honorary awards from the Academy.

In 1955 Ritter co-hosted the Oscar ceremony, notably trading wisecracks with Bob Hope.

Academy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1950 Best Supporting Actress All About Eve Nominated [12]
1951 The Mating Season Nominated
1952 With a Song in My Heart Nominated
1953 Pickup on South Street Nominated
1959 Pillow Talk Nominated
1962 Birdman of Alcatraz Nominated

Primetime Emmy Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1956 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Goodyear Television Playhouse Nominated [13]

Tony Award

In 1958, Ritter won a Tony Award in a rare tie (with her co-star, Gwen Verdon) for their work in New Girl.

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1958 Best Actress in a Musical New Girl in Town Won [14]

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1950 Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture All About Eve Nominated [15]
1951 The Mating Season Nominated [15]
1965 Boeing Boeing Nominated [15]


  1. ^ a b The New York State Census of 1905", 16th Assembly District, Borough of Brooklyn, Kings County, State of New York, June 1, 1905. Digital copy of original 1905 enumeration page available on FamilySearch, an online genealogical database provided as a public service by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  2. ^ Born in 1902 as per Social Security Death Index under the name "Thelma Ritter"
  3. ^ a b c d e "Thelma Ritter, Versatile Actress With the Raspy Voice, Dies at 63". The New York Times. February 5, 1969. p. 45. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  4. ^ a b LoBianco, Lorraine."Thelma Ritter Profile", Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a Time Warner Company, New York, N.Y. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  5. ^ Nissen, Axel (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland. pp. 171–172. ISBN 9780786427468. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  6. ^ "("Thelma Ritter" search results)". Playbill Vault. Playbill. Archived from the original on 26 September 2017. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Appearance on Jerry Lewis Show". Thewindmillsofyourmind.com. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
  8. ^ "Thelma Ritter - Actress Thelma Ritter Dies at 64". Leader-Telegram. 1969-02-07. p. 5. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  9. ^ "Thelma Ritter Is Dead at 65". Janesville Daily Gazette. 1969-02-05. p. 13. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  10. ^ Fletcher, Harry (2019-03-08). "10 women that changed the face of film". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2024-03-08.
  11. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 25, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  12. ^ "("Thelma Ritter" search results)". Academy Awards Database. Retrieved 26 September 2017.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "("Thelma Ritter" search results)". EMMYS. Television Academy. Archived from the original on 26 September 2017. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  14. ^ "("Thelma Ritter" search results)". Tony Awards. Archived from the original on 31 August 2016. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  15. ^ a b c "Thelma Ritter". Golden Globe Awards. HFPA. Archived from the original on 26 September 2017. Retrieved 26 September 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Thelma Ritter". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 221–223. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.

External links[edit]