“I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn’t last long.” –Shelley Winters
A beloved actress of the stage and screen, Shelley Winters enjoyed a long career with performances that were recognized with Academy Awards and many award nominations. In addition to her work in films and excelling in dramatic roles, Winters authored autobiographies and also pursued work in television.
Born Shirley Schrift in St. Louis, Missouri, to a clothing designer father and opera singer mother on August 18, 1920, Winters already had ties to the performing arts. Though her early years unfolded in St. Louis, the family soon moved to Brooklyn, New York. Later, the family would move to Queens. Over the years, she was employed as a model and harbored an interest in acting. By the time she turned 16, she would move to Los Angeles for a time, though she would soon return to New York to receive professional training in acting at the New School.
As Winters honed her craft on the stage, she eventually made her Broadway appearance in The Night Before Christmas. She would also perform as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! soon after.
Upon gaining stage experience, Winters returned to Los Angeles and secured a contract with Columbia. Initially, she took on uncredited roles or bit parts in B-films. She was eventually loaned out to other studios for small roles, such as in MGM’s Two Smart People (1946) as well as several films for United Artists.
Winters finally experienced her big break when appearing in A Double Life (1947) alongside Ronald Colman. In response to the success of the performance and the film, Universal signed her to a contract and cast her in stronger roles. She was again loaned out to other studios such as 20th Century Fox for Cry of the City (1948) and to Paramount for The Great Gatsby (1949). Universal cast her in the hit Winchester 73 (1950), in addition to South Sea Sinner (1950) and Frenchie (1950).
By the early 1950s, Winters sought roles that would offer her more challenges as an actress. Tired of fulfilling the blonde bombshell persona for the studio, she was eager to take on a completely different role in A Place in the Sun (1951). Throughout production, she continued to take acting classes and received her first Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film.
While also appearing in films, Winters performed on stage. Among her stage roles during this period was a run of A Streetcar Named Desire in Los Angeles. She would take time off for the birth of her first child before returning to acting in various television roles. She would return to Universal to continue her film career while also pursuing television appearances.
Some of Winters’s most meaningful performances would come from the early to mid-1960s. In 1960, she received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). She continued to fulfill many key roles on stage and on screen, delivering many moving and memorable performances. Just five years later, she would win Best Supporting Actress again for A Patch of Blue (1965).
Winters continued to perform steadily and always sought to perfect her craft as a performer. For decades she would continue alternating among film, television, and stage roles, continuing to delight audiences until her passing at 8 on January 14, 2006.
Today, there are many tributes to Winters in her hometown and beyond. In St. Louis, Missouri, Winters is honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
In New York, her residences at 1745 Canton Ave. and 171-03 Jamaica Ave. no longer stand.
However, in California, her home at 457 N Oakhurst Dr. in Beverly Hills remains as does 8575 Holloway Dr. in Hollywood.
Winters is also remembered in Amsterdam, gifting her Oscar statuette to the Anne Frank House in honor of Frank’s legacy, where it remains on display.
Today, Winters continues to be celebrated through her various film and television credits.