Stella, Sadie, Birdie and Moe

According to the IMDb, she was nominated for Oscars six times. She never won, which makes Thelma Ritter (1905-1969) the Deborah Kerr of Best Supporting Actress nominees. Except that Ms. Kerr’s performances were varied and Ms. Ritter gave us the same irascible woman every time. And whenever she opened her mouth, out came Brooklyn.

Her professional highlights are well known. After working in the theater, Ritter used a small bit in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) to launch a twenty-year Hollywood career. By the time she played Stella in RW she’d already played Sadie in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Birdie in All About Eve (1950), and Moe in Pick-up on South Street (1953). Later films include Pillow Talk (1959), The Misfits (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and How the West Was Won (1962). In all, she made 42 appearances on film and television before a heart attack cut her career short.

Her best work was done with Mankiewicz and Hitchcock, directors who insisted she be given lines equal to her talent. Stella, Sadie, Birdie: they’re all the same character, Thelma with “A” material. Great in support, she could however get pretty annoying when center stage.

Even those who aren’t fans of Ms. Ritter’s work may enjoy this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “The Baby Sitter,” where she–her character, I mean–finally gets her comeuppance.


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