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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Shelley Winters: TCM's November Star of the Month

Classic film star Shelley Winters may not be a household name today, however there was a time during the later years of the studio system that her name appeared in the credits of some of the most famous films in Hollywood history. In addition to a generous amount of stage and TV work, Winters appeared in more than 100 feature films. She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress for A Place in the Sun in 1951 and won the golden statuette as Best Supporting Actress for The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959, and again for A Patch of Blue in 1965, and nominated one more time in the same category for The Poseidon Adventure in 1972. She became known as the consumate character actress and should be remembered for every great performance she delivered across her five decades on the silver screen. With this very intention, TCM now honors the versatile Ms. Winters as the "Star of the Month" this November, 2020.

Shelley Winters was a dedicated Method-trained actress who studied at the famed Actors' Studio in its heyday when Brando, Dean and Monroe sought insight into their art. She was initially cast again and again as a sex bomb in her early days playing a varity of uncredited bit parts, but as her craft developed so did her versitility. Once she turned her back on becoming a star, her career really took off playing the secondary female most commonly refered to as a supporting character in such prestigious films as the James Stewart Western, Winchester ‘73 (1950) . Because of this pivot Winters found the challenging roles she had been longing for, giving support to such Hollywood luminaries as Burt Lancaster, Ricardo Montalban, William Holden, Anthony Quinn, Rory Calhoun, Jack Palance, Harry Belafonte, Charles Laughton, Robert Mitchum, James Mason, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier.

These roles frequently cast Winters as victims who (SPOILER) did not survive to the end of the film. In some cases, her character was killed by a lover, as happens in three of her key films: A Double Life (1947), A Place in the Sun (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). Winters continued to excell in playing unappealing people such as the querulous neighbor Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank and the mother in Lolita. For her it was the challenge of the role and not the need to be seen as an appealing character that draw her to many roles of shrill, unpleasant women.

It was this passion for true portrayals of complicated female characters that inspired her to participate in the training of future actors. In her later years she contributed her time and knowledge to mentoring classes at the Actor’s Studio. She encouraged men and women (my sister among them) to focus on the work and not the accolades no matter the role. She placed an emphasis on the old addage that there are no small roles, only small actors. As the TCM website puts it, "Winters always brought a believable, human quality to her characters." And she did her best to instill that approach in generations of artists to come.

Catch the films of Shelley Winters of Monday in November on TCM.


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