Oscar Actors: Sondergaard, Gale–

Career Summary:

Stage debut:

Broadway debut:

Occupational inheritance:

Social Class: Upper-middle (father professor)

Education: drama student, University of Minnsota

Film debut: Anthony Adverse, age 37

Oscar awards: 1 (Supporting Actress)

Oscar noms: 2 (Supporting Actress, Anna and the King, 1946; age 47

Career span: interruption by blacklisting. no films between 1949 and 1969

Last film: 1983 (age 84)

Death: 1985; age 86


Gale Sondergaard was born as Edith Holm Sondergaard on February 15, 1899 in Litchfield, Minnesota to Danish-American parents, Hans and Christin (Holm) Sondergaard. Her father taught at University of Minnesota, where she was a drama student.

She studied acting at the Minneapolis School of Dramatic Arts before joining the John Keller Shakespeare Company. She later toured in productions of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, and Macbeth.

After becoming a member of the Theatre Guild, she began performing on the New York stage.

Sondergaard made her first film appearance in Anthony Adverse (1936) as Faith Paleologue and became the first recipient of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Her career as an actress flourished during the 1930s, including a role with Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (1937).

During pre-production of MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz (1939), an early idea was to have the Wicked Witch of the West portrayed as a slinky, glamorous villainess in a black, sequined costume, inspired by the Evil Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Sondergaard was cast as the witch and was photographed for wardrobe tests, both of which survive. One was as a glamorous wicked witch and another as a conventionally ugly wicked witch. After the decision was made to have ugly wicked witch, Sondergaard, reluctant to wear the disfiguring makeup and fearing it would damage her career, withdrew from the role, and it went to vet character actress Margaret Hamilton.

Sondergaard was, however, cast as the sultry and slinky Tylette (a magically humanized but devious cat) in The Blue Bird (1940).

Shee played the role of the exotic, sinister wife in The Letter (also 1940), a film starring Bette Davis. She featured in a supporting role in The Spider Woman (aka Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman, 1943), part of the Universal cycle, followed by The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), also for Universal.

She received a second Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as the king’s principal wife in Anna and the King of Siam (1946).

Sondergaard’s career suffered irreparable damage during the Congressional HUAC Red Scare of the early 1950s when her husband was accused of being a communist and named as one of the Hollywood Ten.

In the 2000 “One of the Hollywood Ten,” Sondergaard was portrayed by actress Greta Scacchi while Jeff Goldblum was cast as Biberman. The movie chronicled Sondergaard’s relationship with Biberman and her role in the making of Salt of the Earth.

With her career stalled, she supported her husband during the production of Salt of the Earth (1954), after which they moved to New York where Sondergaard was able to work in theatre.

In 1969, she appeared in off-Broadway one-woman show entitled Woman. Sondergaard resumed her career in film and television, which extended into the early 1980s.