Today is the 120th birthday of Thelma Ritter. She wasn’t in a movie until she was 45 years old (and then it was Miracle on 34th Street), and is proof that there are second acts in American lives and that it is never too late to start anything. She is one of the actors that will make me want to watch the movie if she is in it, no matter how small. She perfected the working class voice of reason character that kept all the other characters from getting too out of touch. And if they did, she had no problem telling them so. Watch her in “Rear Window” and “The Misfits” and you will want to add every movie she is in to your Netflix queue. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Thelma Ritter
BIRTHDATE: February 14, 1902
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
DATE OF DEATH: February 5, 1969
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York
Husband: Joseph Moran (m. 1927, two children)
BEST KNOWN FOR: American actress. She typically played working class characters and was noted for her distinctive voice, with a strong Brooklyn accent.
Ritter was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902, the first child of Charles and Lucy Ritter, both natives of the United States. Her father at that time was a bookkeeper, and he became a shore company’s office manager.
At age 11, Ritter portrayed Puck in a semi-professional dramatic society’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a teenager, she appeared in high-school plays and stock companies. She later received formal training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (ADA). That training came after her initial effort to attend the academy was rebuffed. After graduating from Manual Training High School, she achieved her goal of studying at ADA.
Although she subsequently struggled to establish a stage career, Ritter decided to take a hiatus from acting to raise her two children—Monica and Joe—by her husband Joseph Moran (whom she married in 1927). Moran was also an actor, but changed professions in the mid-1930s, opting to become an agent and then an advertising executive.
Ritter’s first professional experience came with stock theater companies in New York and New England. Her Broadway credits include UTBU (1965), New Girl in Town (1956), In Times Square (1931), and The Shelf (1926).
Ritter’s first movie role was in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). She made a memorable impression in a brief uncredited part, as a frustrated mother unable to find the toy that Kris Kringle has promised her son. Her third role, in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives (1949), left a mark, although Ritter was again uncredited. Mankiewicz kept Ritter in mind, and cast her as Birdie in All About Eve (1950), which earned her an Oscar nomination. A second nomination followed for her work in Mitchell Leisen’s’ ensemble screwball comedy The Mating Season (1951) starring Gene Tierney and John Lund. She enjoyed steady film work for the next dozen years.
She appeared in many of the episodic drama TV series of the 1950s, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, and The United States Steel Hour. Other film roles were as James Stewart’s nurse in Rear Window (1954) and as Doris Day’s maid in Pillow Talk (1959). Although best known for comedy roles, she played the occasional dramatic role, most notably in With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Titanic (1953), The Misfits (1961), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), for which she received her final Oscar nomination. Her last work was an appearance on The Jerry Lewis Show on January 23, 1968.
Ritter died of a heart attack in New York City on February 5, 1969.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (17-May-1968)
The Incident (5-Nov-1967)
Boeing Boeing (22-Dec-1965) · Bertha
Move Over, Darling (19-Dec-1963) · Grace Arden
A New Kind of Love (30-Oct-1963)
For Love or Money (7-Aug-1963)
How the West Was Won (1-Nov-1962) · Agatha Clegg
Birdman of Alcatraz (3-Jul-1962) · Elizabeth Stroud
The Second Time Around (22-Dec-1961) · Aggie
The Misfits (1-Feb-1961) · Isabelle Steers
Pillow Talk (6-Oct-1959) · Alma
A Hole in the Head (15-Jul-1959) · Sophie Manetta
The Proud and Profane (13-Jun-1956) · Kate Connors
Lucy Gallant (20-Oct-1955)
Daddy Long Legs (5-May-1955) · Alicia Pritchard
Rear Window (1-Aug-1954) · Stella
Pickup on South Street (17-Jun-1953) · Moe Williams
The Farmer Takes a Wife (12-Jun-1953) · Lucy Cashdollar
Titanic (16-Apr-1953) · Maude Young
With a Song in My Heart (4-Apr-1952) · Clancy
The Model and the Marriage Broker (Nov-1951)
As Young as You Feel (2-Aug-1951)
The Mating Season (12-Jan-1951) · Ellen McNulty
All About Eve (13-Oct-1950) · Birdie
I’ll Get By (2-Oct-1950) · Miss Murphy
Perfect Strangers (11-Mar-1950) · Lena Fassler
Father Was a Fullback (30-Sep-1949)
City Across the River (7-Apr-1949)
Thank you for this post. I love her in Rear Window. She steals the show, and that’s saying a lot given the two leads.
She was Absolutely Wonderful! A Truly Great actress!