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Shelley Winters

Shelley Winters

The basics
Occupation Actor Film actor Writer Autobiographer Stage actor Television actor
Country United States of America
AKA Shirley Schrift
Date of birth East St. Louis, Illinois, U.S.A.
Date of death Jan 14, 2006 Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A.
Spouse: Anthony Franciosa Vittorio Gassman
Awards Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Education The New School
Authority IMDB id NNDB id All Movie id Library of congress id VIAF id ISNI id
The details

Shelley Winters (born Shirley Schrift; August 18, 1920 – January 14, 2006) was an American actress whose career spanned almost six 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.

Early life

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 make-up to audition for the role of Alice Tripp, the factory girl, in A Place in the Sun, directed by George Stevens, now 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.

With James Stewart in Winchester 73 (1950)

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.

Winters made an appearance at the 1998 Academy Awards telecast, which featured a tribute to Oscar winners past and present including Gregory Peck, Claire Trevor, Jennifer Jones, and Luise Rainer.

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, an aristocrat in The Portrait of a Lady (1996), starring Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich, and an embittered nursing home administrator in 1999's Gideon.

Personal life

Winters in publicity photo, circa 1950

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.


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.


Uncredited in Tonight and Every Night (1945), Winters is behind Rita Hayworth.


Year Film Role Notes
1943 There's Something About a Soldier Norma Uncredited
What a Woman! Secretary
1944 Sailor's Holiday Gloria Flynn Credited as Shelley Winter
Knickerbocker Holiday Ulda Tienhoven
Cover Girl Chorus Girl Uncredited
She's a Sailor Too 'Silver' Rankin
Dancing in Manhattan Margie
Together Again Young Woman Fleeing Nightclub Raid
1945 Tonight and Every Night Bubbles
Escape in the Fog Taxi Driver
A Thousand and One Nights Handmaiden
1946 The Fighting Guardsman Nanette
Two Smart People Princess
Susie Steps Out Female Singer
Abie's Irish Rose Bridesmaid Uncredited
1947 New Orleans Ms. Holmbright
Living in a Big Way Junior League Girl
The Gangster Hazel - Cashier
Killer McCoy Waitress / Autograph Hound
A Double Life Pat Kroll
1948 Red River Dance Hall Girl in Wagon Train Uncredited
Larceny Tony
Cry of the City Brenda Martingale
1949 Take One False Step Catherine Sykes
The Great Gatsby Myrtle Wilson
Johnny Stool Pigeon Terry Stewart
1950 Winchester '73 Lola Manners
South Sea Sinner Coral
Frenchie Frenchie Fontaine
1951 A Place in the Sun Alice Tripp New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (2nd place)
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
He Ran All the Way Peggy Dobbs
Behave Yourself! Kate Denny
The Raging Tide Connie Thatcher
Meet Danny Wilson Joy Carroll
1952 Phone Call from a Stranger Binky Gay
Untamed Frontier Jane Stevens
My Man and I Nancy
1954 Tennessee Champ Sarah Wurble
Saskatchewan Grace Markey
Executive Suite Eva Bardeman Venice Film Festival Special Prize for Ensemble Acting
Playgirl Fran Davis
Mambo Toni Salermo
To Dorothy a Son Myrtle La Mar
1955 I Am a Camera Natalia Landauer
The Night of the Hunter Willa Harper
The Big Knife Dixie Evans Credited as Miss Shelley Winters
The Treasure of Pancho Villa Ruth Harris
I Died a Thousand Times Marie Garson
1959 The Diary of Anne Frank Mrs. Petronella Van Daan Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Odds Against Tomorrow Lorry
1960 Let No Man Write My Epitaph Nellie Romano
1961 The Young Savages Mary diPace
1962 Lolita Charlotte Haze Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
The Chapman Report Sarah Garnell
1963 The Balcony Madame Irma
Wives and Lovers Fran Cabrell
1964 A House Is Not a Home Polly Adler
Time of Indifference Lisa
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Healed Woman
A Patch of Blue Rose-Ann D'Arcey Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance
1966 Harper Fay Estabrook
Alfie Ruby Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance (2nd place)
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
The Three Sisters Natalya
1967 Enter Laughing Mrs. Emma Kolowitz
1968 The Scalphunters Kate
Wild in the Streets Mrs. Daphne Flatow
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell Shirley Newman
1969 The Mad Room Mrs. Armstrong
Arthur? Arthur! Hester Green
1970 Bloody Mama "Ma" Kate Barker
How Do I Love Thee? Lena Marvin
Flap Dorothy Bluebell
1971 What's the Matter with Helen? Helen
Revenge! Amanda Hilton
1972 Something to Hide Gabriella
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? Mrs. Forrest
The Poseidon Adventure Belle Rosen Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1973 Blume in Love Mrs. Cramer
Cleopatra Jones Mommy
The Stone Killer Drunk Woman in Police Station Cameo; uncredited
1975 Poor Pretty Eddie Bertha
That Lucky Touch Diana Steedeman
Journey Into Fear Mrs. Mathews
Diamonds Zelda Shapiro
1976 La dahlia scarlatta Catrina
The Tenant The Concierge
Next Stop, Greenwich Village Faye Lapinsky Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Mimì Bluette... fiore del mio giardino Caterina
1977 Tentacles Tillie Turner
An Average Little Man Amalia Vivaldi David di Donatello Special Distinction Award
Pete's Dragon Lena Gogan
Black Journal Lea
1978 King of the Gypsies Queen Rachel
1979 The French Atlantic Affair Helen Wabash
The Visitor Jane Phillips
City on Fire Nurse Andrea Harper
The Magician of Lublin Elzbieta
1981 S.O.B. Eva Brown
Looping Carmen
1983 Fanny Hill Mrs. Cole
1984 Over the Brooklyn Bridge Becky
Ellie Cora Jackson
1985 Déjà Vu Olga Nabokova
1986 The Delta Force Edie Kaplan
Witchfire Lydia
Very Close Quarters Galina
1988 Purple People Eater Rita
1989 An Unremarkable Life Evelyn McEllany
1990 Touch of a Stranger Ida
1991 Stepping Out Mrs. Fraser
1992 Weep No More, My Lady Vivian Morgan
1993 The Pickle Yetta
1994 The Silence of the Hams Mrs. Motel
1995 Heavy Dolly Modino
Backfire! The Good Lieutenant
Jury Duty Mom
Mrs. Munck Aunt Monica
Raging Angels Grandma Ruth
1996 The Portrait of a Lady Mrs. Touchett
1998 Gideon Mrs. Willows
1999 La bomba Prof. Summers
2006 A-List Herself


Year Title Role Notes
1954 The Ford Television Theatre Sally Marland Episode: "Mantrap"
1955 Producers' Showcase Crystal Allen Episode: "The Women"
1957 The Alcoa Hour Pat Kroll Episode: "A Double Life"
The United States Steel Hour Evvie Episode: "Inspired Alibi"
Wagon Train Ruth Owens Episode: "The Ruth Owens Story"
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Mildred Corrigan Episode: "Smarty"
DuPont Show of the Month Louisa Burt Episode: "Beyond This Place"
1960 Play of the Week Rose Episode: A Piece of Blue Sky
1962 Alcoa Premiere Meg Fletcher
Millie Norman
Episode: "The Way From Darkness"
Episode: "The Cake Baker"
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Jenny Dworak Episode: "Two is the Number"
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
1965 Thirty-Minute Theatre Mrs. Bixby Episode: "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat"
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Edith Episode: "Back to Back"
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama
1966 Batman Ma Parker Episode: "The Greatest Mother of Them All"
Episode: "Ma Parker"
1967 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Clarry Golden Episode: "Wipeout"
1968 Here's Lucy Shelley Summers Episode: "Lucy and Miss Shelley Winters"
1971 A Death of Innocence Elizabeth Cameron Television film
1972 Adventures of Nick Carter Bess Tucker
1973 The Devil's Daughter Lilith Malone
1974 Big Rose: Double Trouble Rose Winters
The Sex Symbol Agathy Murphy
McCloud Thelma Episode: "The Barefoot Girls of Bleecker Street"
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy or Drama Series
1975 Chico and the Man Shirley Schrift Episode: "Ed Steps Out"
1976 Frosty's Winter Wonderland Crystal (voice) Television film
1978 Kojak Evelyn McNeil Episode: "The Captain's Brother's Wife"
The Initiation of Sarah Mrs. Erica Hunter Television film
1979 Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July Crystal (voice) Television film
Elvis Gladys Presley
Vega$ J.D. Fenton Episode: "Macho Murders"
1982 The Love Boat Teresa Rosselli Episode: "Venetian Love Song/Down for the Count/Arrividerci, Gopher/The Arrangement"
1983 Parade of Stars Sophie Tucker Television film
1984 Hotel Adele Ellsworth Episode: "Trials"
Hawaiian Heat Florence Senkowski Episode: "Andy's Mom"
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Dodo Bird Television film
1987 The Sleeping Beauty Fairy
1991–1996 Roseanne Nana Mary 10 episodes


  • Of V We Sing (between 1939 and 1941) (Off-Broadway)
  • The Time of Your Life (between 1939 and 1941) (understudy for Judy Haydon) (Broadway)
  • Meet The People (1939?) (U.S. Touring Company)
  • The Night Before Christmas (1941) (Broadway)
  • Rosalinda (1942) (Broadway)
  • Conquered in April (between 1942 and 1946) (Broadway)
  • Oklahoma! (replacement for Celeste Holm 1947) (Broadway)
  • A Hatful of Rain (1955) (Broadway)
  • Girls of Summer (1956) (Broadway and Summer stock)
  • Invitation to March (1960) (Boston)
  • The Night of the Iguana (1962) (replacement for Bette Davis) (Broadway)
  • Under the Weather (1966) (Broadway)
  • LUV (1967) (Broadway)
  • One Night Stands of a Noisy Passenger (1970) (writer) (Off-Broadway)
  • Minnie's Boys (1970) (Broadway)
  • The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1973–74) (Broadway)
  • Cages(1974) (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Kennedy's Children (1976) (Chicago)
  • The Gingerbread Lady (1981) (Chicago)
  • Natural Affection (unknown)

Summer Stock plays

  • The Taming of the Shrew (1947)
  • Born Yesterday (1950)
  • Wedding Breakfast (1955)
  • A Piece of Blue Sky (1959)
  • Two for the Seasaw (1960)
  • The Country Girl (1961)
  • A View from the Bridge (1961)
  • Days of the Dancing (1964)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1965)
  • 84 Charing Cross Road (1983)

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1953 Lux Radio Theatre Phone Call from a Stranger


  • Winters, Shelley (1980). Shelley: Also known as Shirley. Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-03638-6.
  • Winters, Shelley (1989). Shelley II: The Middle of My Century. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-44210-4.
  • Shelley: The Middle of My Century (audiobook; audio cassette)
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