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Shelley Winters (born Shirley Schrift; August 18, 1920 – January 14, 2006) was an American actress whose career spanned five decades.
She appeared in numerous films, and won Academy Awards for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and A Patch of Blue (1965), and received nominations for A Place in the Sun (1951) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Other roles Winters appeared in include A Double Life (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Lolita (1962), Alfie (1966), and Pete's Dragon (1977).
In addition to film, Winters also appeared in television, including a years-long tenure on the sitcom Roseanne, and also authored three autobiographical books.
Shelley Winters was born Shirley Schrift in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Rose (née Winter), a singer with the Muny, and Jonas Schrift, a designer of men's clothing. Her parents were Jewish; her father emigrated from Austria, and her mother was born in St. Louis to Austrian immigrants. Her parents were third cousins.
Her family moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was 9 years old, and she grew up partly in Queens, New York as well. As a young woman, she worked as a model. Her sister Blanche Schrift later married George Boroff, who ran the Circle Theatre (now named El Centro Theatre) in Los Angeles. At age 16, Winters relocated to Los Angeles, California, and later returned to New York to study acting at the New School.
Early work; breakthrough- Winters originally broke into Hollywood films as a Blonde Bombshell type, but quickly tired of the role's limitations. She claims to have washed off her makeup to audition for the role of Alice Tripp, the factory girl, in A Place in the Sun, directed by George Stevens, which is still a landmark American film. As the Associated Press reported, the general public was unaware of how serious a craftswoman Winters was. "Although she was in demand as a character actress, Winters continued to study her craft. She attended Charles Laughton's Shakespeare classes and worked at the Actors Studio, both as student and teacher." She studied in the Hollywood Studio Club, and in the late 1940s, she shared an apartment with another newcomer, Marilyn Monroe.
Her first film appearance was in What a Woman! (1943). Working in films (in mostly bit roles) through the 1940s, Winters first achieved stardom with her breakout performance as the victim of insane actor Ronald Colman in George Cukor's A Double Life, in 1947. She quickly ascended in Hollywood with leading roles in The Great Gatsby (1949) with Alan Ladd, and in Winchester 73 (1950), opposite James Stewart. Her performance in A Place in the Sun (1951), a departure from the sexpot image that her studio, Universal Pictures, was grooming her for at the time, brought Winters her first acclaim, earning her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Throughout the 1950s, Winters continued in films, including Meet Danny Wilson (1952) as Frank Sinatra's leading lady, notably in Charles Laughton's 1955 Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish, and the less successful I Am a Camera starring opposite Julie Harris and Laurence Harvey. She also returned to the stage on various occasions during this time, including a Broadway run in A Hatful of Rain, in 1955–1956, opposite future husband Anthony Franciosa. She won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for The Diary of Anne Frank in 1960, and another, in the same category, for A Patch of Blue in 1966. She donated her Oscar for The Diary of Anne Frank to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Notable later roles included her lauded performance as the man-hungry Charlotte Haze in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita; starring opposite Michael Caine in Alfie; and as the fading, alcoholic former starlet Fay Estabrook in Harper (both 1966). In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), she was the ill-fated Belle Rosen (for which she received her final Oscar nomination), and also appeared in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976). She returned to the stage during the 1960s and 1970s, most notably in Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana. She appeared in such cult films as 1968's Wild in the Streets and 1971's Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?. She also starred in the 1970 Broadway musical Minnie's Boys as Minnie Marx, the mother of Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo Marx.
Later career- As the Associated Press reported, "During her 50 years as a widely known personality, Winters was rarely out of the news. Her stormy marriages, her romances with famous stars, her forays into politics, and feminist causes kept her name before the public. She delighted in giving provocative interviews and seemed to have an opinion on everything." That led to a second career as a writer.
Though not a conventional beauty, she claimed that her acting, wit, and "chutzpah" gave her a love life to rival Monroe's. Her alleged "conquests" included William Holden, Sean Connery, Burt Lancaster, Errol Flynn, and Marlon Brando.
Later audiences knew her primarily for her autobiographies and for her television work, in which she usually played a humorous parody of her public persona. In a recurring role in the 1990s, Winters played the title character's grandmother on the ABC sitcom Roseanne. Her final film roles were supporting ones: she played a restaurant owner and mother of an overweight cook in Heavy (1995) with Liv Tyler and Debbie Harry, as an aristocrat in The Portrait of a Lady (1996), starring Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, and as an embittered nursing home administrator in 1999's Gideon.
Personal life- Winters was married four times. Her husbands were:
Captain Mack Paul Mayer, whom she married on December 29, 1942 in Brooklyn; they divorced in October 1948. Mayer was unable to deal with Shelley's "Hollywood lifestyle" and wanted a "traditional homemaker" for a wife. Winters wore his wedding ring up until her death, and kept their relationship very private.
Vittorio Gassman, whom she married on April 28, 1952 in Juarez, Mexico; they divorced on June 2, 1954. They had one child: Vittoria, born February 14, 1953, a physician who practices internal medicine at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut. She was Winters' only child.
Anthony Franciosa, whom she married on May 4, 1957; they divorced on November 18, 1960.
Gerry DeFord, whom she married on January 14, 2006.
Hours before her death, Winters married long-time companion Gerry DeFord, with whom she had lived for 19 years. Though Winters' daughter objected to the marriage, the actress Sally Kirkland performed the wedding ceremony for the two at Winters' deathbed. Kirkland, a minister of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, also performed non-denominational last rites for Winters.
Winters also claims to have had a romance with Farley Granger that became a long-term friendship (according to her autobiography Shelley Also Known As Shirley). She starred with him in the 1951 film, Behave Yourself!, as well as in a 1957 television production of A. J. Cronin's novel, Beyond This Place.
Winters was a Democrat and attended the 1960 Democratic National Convention. In 1965, she addressed the Selma marchers briefly outside Montgomery on the night before they marched into the state capitol.
She became friendly with rock singer Janis Joplin shortly before Joplin died in 1970. Winters invited Joplin to sit in on a class session at the Actors' Studio at its Los Angeles location. Joplin never did.
Death- Winters died at the age of 85 on January 14, 2006, of heart failure at the Rehabilitation Center of Beverly Hills; she had suffered a heart attack on October 14, 2005. Her body was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City. Her third former husband, Anthony Franciosa, had a stroke on the day she died and died five days later.
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