Thelma Ritter was one of the most acclaimed and versatile character actresses in Hollywood history. She was nominated for six Academy Awards for her performances in films such as All About Eve, The Mating Season, Pickup on South Street, Pillow Talk, and Birdman of Alcatraz. She also won a Tony Award for her role in the musical New Girl in Town. She was known for her strong New York accent, her witty and sarcastic delivery, and her ability to portray working-class women with humor and dignity.
But how did Thelma Ritter die? What was the cause of her death? And what legacy did she leave behind? In this article, we will explore these questions and pay tribute to the remarkable career and life of Thelma Ritter.
The Early Life and Career of Thelma Ritter
Thelma Ritter was born on February 14, 1902, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the first child of Charles and Lucy Ritter, a bookkeeper and a housewife. She showed an interest in acting from an early age, appearing in school plays and joining a semi-professional dramatic society. She graduated from Manual Training High School and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she studied with Charles Jehlinger.
Ritter made her Broadway debut in 1926 in a play called The Shelf. She continued to work on stage throughout the 1920s and 1930s, appearing in plays such as In Times Square, UTBU, and New Girl in Town. She also worked in radio, performing in soap operas, dramas, and comedies.
Ritter married Joseph Moran, an actor who later became an agent and an advertising executive, in 1927. They had two children, Monica and Joe. Ritter took a hiatus from acting to raise her family, but returned to the stage in the late 1940s.
The Breakthrough and Success of Thelma Ritter
Ritter’s film career began with a small but memorable role in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), where she played a frustrated mother who can’t find the toy that Santa Claus promised her son. She was uncredited for this part, but caught the attention of producer Darryl F. Zanuck, who insisted on expanding her role.
Ritter’s next film was A Letter to Three Wives (1949), where she again played a minor but memorable role as a cynical maid who narrates the story. She was also uncredited for this part, but impressed writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who cast her as Birdie Coonan, the loyal assistant of Bette Davis’ character, in All About Eve (1950). This role earned Ritter her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Ritter’s career took off after All About Eve. She appeared in more than 40 films between 1950 and 1968, working with some of the most prominent directors and stars of the era. She received five more Oscar nominations for her roles in The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). She also won a Golden Globe Award for The Mating Season and a Tony Award for New Girl in Town.
Some of Ritter’s most notable films include Rear Window (1954), where she played James Stewart’s nurse; The Misfits (1961), where she played Marilyn Monroe’s friend; How the West Was Won (1962), where she played Agatha Clegg; and A New Kind of Love (1963), where she played Paul Newman’s secretary.
Ritter also worked on television, appearing in shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, Wagon Train, The Jerry Lewis Show, and The Incident.
The Death and Legacy of Thelma Ritter
Ritter died of a heart attack on February 5, 1969, in New York City. She was 66 years old. She had just finished filming What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968), her last movie. She was survived by her husband and children.
Ritter is widely regarded as one of the greatest character actresses of all time. She holds the record for the most Oscar nominations without a win for an actress in a supporting role. She is also one of only two actresses to share a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical (the other being Gwen Verdon).
Ritter’s films have been preserved by the Library of Congress as part of the National Film Registry. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been honored by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
Ritter’s influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary actresses who have followed in her footsteps, such as Kathy Bates, Melissa McCarthy, Allison Janney, and Octavia Spencer.
Ritter’s fans and admirers continue to celebrate her life and legacy, remembering her as a talented, funny, and unforgettable performer.