Oscar Actors: Ritter, Thelma–Greatest Loser (Six Nominations!)

f0dppmbcthxThelma Ritter was an extremely accomplished American character actress, best known for her comedic roles as working class women, often applying very strong attitude as well as heavy New York accent.


Photo: Ritter with Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window

Ritter’s career both benefited and suffered from the fact that she never looked young (even in her thirties) and was not conventionally attractive.

One of two or three greatest losers in Oscar history, Ritter received six Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and won one Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Born in New York’s Brooklyn, February 14, 1902, Ritter appeared in high school plays and stock and regional theater, after studying at the American Adacemty of Dramatic Arts. Her husband, Joseph Moran, wan an actor turned advertising executive.

Ritter’s first movie was George Seaton’s Moracle on 34th Street (1947), in which she made a strong impact in a brief part, as a frustrated mother unable to find the toy promised to her son.

Her second role, in writer-director Mankiewicz’s serious comedy, A Letter to Three Wives (1949), left a mark, though Ritter was again uncredited.

Mankiewicz then cast Ritter as “Birdie” in the Best Picture Oscar winner, All About Eve(1950), which earned her the first of six Oscar nominations. A second nomination followed for Mitchell Leisen’s screwball comedy, The Nating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney.

She enjoyed steady film work for the next decade, shining in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), in which she played Jimmy Stewart’s nurse, delivering the wittiest, most sarcastic lines with verve and panache, as Doris Day’s alcoholic housekeeper in the hit comedy, Pillow Talk (1959), and in The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), as the demanding mother of Burt Lancaster’s lifetime prisoner.

Though best known for comedy, she also played effectively dramatic roles, in  the Oscar nominated biopic With a Song in My Heart (1952), opposite Susan Hayward, Sam Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953), the ensemble disaster feature Titanic (1953), and John Huston’s The Misfits (1961), in which she held her own against Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Monty Clift.

She last appeared on The Jerry Lewis Show, on January 23, 1968, and died of heart attack on February 5, 1969, at age 66.