Double Life, A: Cukor Made Shelley Winters a Serious Dramatic Actress

George Cukor perceived thinking as a photogenic quality–it had to register on camera. “Cukor understood that words are a result of thoughts, and thoughts are a result of emotions,” Shelley Winters, who was cast in the small, but important, role of Pat, the waitress, said about his method. “Don’t close your eyes,” he instructed Winters, “The eyes are the mirror to your soul. You must think every moment.” “Cukor knew how delicate the actor’s psyche is,” she said, “and that you can actually hear actors think if you concentrate.”

This was one of many things Winters learned from Cukor. Winters had read for the role of Scarlett, but to this day she is not sure whether Cukor recognized her when she came to audition for A Double Life. Of the Scarlett test, Winter said, “I was only 13 or 14, and I wore for the audition wobbly high heels, looking pretty funny. I am probably the only girl who played Scarlett with a terrible Brooklyn accent.” Cukor just laughed. Trying not to offend her, he sent for two bottles of Coca Cola and chased everybody out of the office. “Are you serious about acting” Cukor asked. “Of course,” said the young Winters. He then told her to go to college and work on her speech. Cukor also instructed Winters to visit many museums in order to see how people walked and talked.

At the end of the shoot, Cukor gave Winters a bust statue of Colman, which she still treasures. For her part, realizing that the film showed off her talent, Winters thanked Cukor for “opening the door” and gave him a box of pills for stomach pain and heartburn.

Released on February 20, l948, A Double Life scored a huge success and enjoyed some nice reviews. The film was nominated for four Oscar Awards, this time including Best Director. Winning his first and only Oscar Award, Colman thanked Cukor for his patience and kindness. “Without these grand qualities of yours,” Colman said, “and your valuable direction and help, I couldn’t have done half the job. Remember me the next time you are casting.”

Cukor failed to win a directorial Oscar; the winner that year was Elia Kazan, for Gentleman’s Agreement. But Cukor was pleasantly surprised to find himself on Variety’s list of top directors, one that included John Huston, George Stevens, and David Lean.