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January 15, 2005

Actress Shelley Winters Dies


Film and TV Legend was 85

Beverly Hills, CA Actress Shelley Winters, whose nearly six-decade career included two Oscars, an Emmy and numerous other accolades, died January 14 at the Rehabilitation Centre of Beverly Hills. Winters, who was 85, had suffered a heart attack in October of last year.

Winters, whose own life included enough drama, comedy and adventure for several movies, got her start playing shapely seductresses, reinvented herself as a serious dramatic performer with the Actors Studio and eventually became one of Hollywood’s most versatile and prolific character actresses.

She won the first of her Academy Awards, both of which were for Best Supporting Actress, for 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank. She played Petronella Van Daan, one of eight Jewish refugees in World War II Holland who hid for more than a year in a small attic. Winters donated her Oscar to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Her second Oscar came for 1965’s A Patch of Blue, in which she portrayed a manipulative mother who tries to prevent her blind daughter (Elizabeth Hartman), who is white, from seeing the kind black man (Sidney Poitier) who has befriended her.

She won her Emmy—for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role—for the 1963 production Two Is the Number, which was presented as part of the series Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.

Born in East St. Louis, Illinois, on August 18, 1920, Winters moved with her family to Brooklyn, New York, as a child. Entranced by movies and the theater as an adolescent, she would frequently skip school on Wednesday afternoons to sneak into Broadway matinees.

She began working as a model and chorus girl in her teens, and used the money she earned to pay for acting classes. She eventually began performing on the New York stage, and a role in director Max Reinhardt’s Rosalinda led to a screen test with Columbia Pictures. She made her film debut in the 1943 production What a Woman!, and continued to take acting classes at night. Early In her career she shared an apartment with a then-unknown Marilyn Monroe.

Her first major break came in 1947 when she was cast opposite Ronald Colman in the Oscar-winning drama A Double Life. She went on to appear in numerous films over the next several years, including Larceny, Johnny Stool Pigeon, Frenchie, A Place in the Sun (for which she earned her first Oscar nomination, for Best Actress), Night of the Hunter and Winchester 73.

In 1955 she left California for New York, where she joined the Actors Studio and starred on Broadway with Ben Gazzara and Anthony Franciosa in the grim drama A Hatful of Rain. Film work continued, including memorable roles in The Young Savages, The Chapman Report, Alfie, Harper and Lolita. Her fourth and final Oscar nomination came for the 1972 action drama The Poseidon Adventure. Other noteworthy film credits include Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Heavy and The Portrait of a Lady.

Winters amassed a formidable television resume a well, beginning in the 1950s with such anthology series as Ford Television Theater, The Alcoa Hour, The United States Steel Hour and DuPont Show of the Month. Her many guest appearances included episodes of Wagon Train, Ben Casey, Batman, McCloud (for which she was nominated for an Emmy), Kojak, Chico and the Man, The Love Boat and Hotel. In the 1990s she starred on the hit sitcom Roseanne as star Roseanne Barr’s grandmother.

Winters was also a frequent guest on TV talk shows. Her opinionated, pull-no-punches manner and ribald sense of humor made her a favorite of such hosts as Johnny Carson. In one memorable Tonight Show incident, she poured her drink over actor Oliver Reed’s head after Reed made sexist remarks during his conversation with Carson.

In addition to her work as an actress, Winters became a best-selling author with a pair of memoirs, Shelley, Also Known as Shirley (1980) and Shelley II: The Middle of My Century (1989), in which she chronicled her life and career, as well as intimate relationships with such Hollywood legends as Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, William Holden and Sean Connery.

Winters was married three times. The first marriage, to a World War II Army Air Force captain, lasted until the end of the war. She married Italian actor Vittorio Gassman in 1952. They divorced in 1954 after the birth of a daughter—and Winters’ only child—Vittoria, who is now a physician in Connecticut. In 1957 Winters married her Hatful of Rain co-star Anthony Franciosa. They divorced in 1960. Winters is survived by her companion of 19 years, Jerry DeFord, her daughter and two grandchildren.

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