Thelma Ritter: 101 Today

Thelma RitterThelma Ritter: Six-time Oscar nominee would have turned 101 today

Six-time Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee Thelma Ritter, who was born on Feb. 14, 1905, in Brooklyn, would have turned 101 years old today. Ritter's movie career began rather late – she was 42 at the time of her film debut in a small role in George Seaton's The Miracle on 34th Street – but in a few years she was to become one of the best-known faces in Hollywood movies, working mostly at 20th Century Fox. (Image: Thelma Ritter publicity shot ca. early 1950s.)

Though never a star big enough to carry her own films, Thelma Ritter was what is referred to as a “star supporting player.” She was honored with star billing every now and then, though her roles were subordinate to those of other players from whom she usually stole both the films and the reviews. For instance, as far as I'm concerned, James Stewart and Grace Kelly cease to exist whenever Ritter is on screen in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.

Thelma Ritter: Pickup on South Street and Oscar nominations

My favorite Thelma Ritter performance is her tragicomic informer in Samuel Fuller's 1953 spy thriller Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark and Jean Peters. Ritter was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award that year, but lost to Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity.

And even though she was never to win an Oscar, Thelma Ritter still holds the record for the most nominations in the supporting categories. For the record, her six Oscar nods were for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Best Picture winner All About Eve (1950), as Bette Davis' sardonic assistant; Mitchell Leisen's The Mating Season (1951), as John Lund's mother and Gene Tierney's maid-by-mistake; Walter Lang's With a Song in My Heart (1952), as Susan Hayward's assistant; Pickup on South Street (1953); Michael Gordon's Pillow Talk (1959), as Doris Day's dipsomaniac housekeeper; and John Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), as Burt Lancaster's mother.

Thelma Ritter died of a heart attack on February 4, 1969, ten days before her 64th birthday.

Thelma Ritter publicity image: 20th Century Fox.

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