Thelma Ritter (February 14, 1902 – February 5, 1969) was an American actress, best known for her comedic roles as working-class characters and her strong New York accent. She received six Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress—more than any other actress in history—and won one Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
Thelma was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902, the first child of Charles and Lucy Ritter, both natives of the United States. According to the New York State Census of 1905, her father at that time was a bookkeeper. Thelma's acting career began as a teenager, when she appeared in high-school plays and stock companies. She later received formal training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. 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—by her husband Joseph Moran (whom she married in 1927), who was also an actor, but changed professions in the mid-1930s, opting to become an agent and then an advertising executive.
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 second 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 in All About Eve (1950), which earned her an Oscar nomination. A second nomination followed for her work in Mitchell Leisen's' 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, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour. Other film roles were as James Stewart's nurse in Rear Window (1954) and as Doris Day's maid 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.
Awards and nominations
During her career, Ritter was nominated for an Oscar six times, giving her the distinction of being one of the three actresses (tied with Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close) most nominated for the award in an acting category without a win. The current record for all actors is Peter O'Toole with eight nominations without a win, followed by Richard Burton with seven nominations. Both Kerr and O'Toole received honorary awards from the Academy, however. In 1954, Thelma Ritter co-hosted the Oscar ceremony, notably trading wisecracks with Bob Hope.
Nominated Best Actress in a Supporting Role for:
- All About Eve (1950)
- The Mating Season (1951)
- With a Song in My Heart (1952)
- Pickup on South Street (1953)
- Pillow Talk (1959)
- Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Golden Globe Awards
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for:
|1953||Theatre Guild on the Air||A Square Peg|
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- 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.
- Born in 1902 as per Social Security Death Index under the name "Thelma Ritter"
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- Kirby, Walter (March 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved June 25, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
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