Every so often there comes along a gem of an actor who steals scenes just by showing up. And that person was Thelma Ritter. She was a no-nonsense, tough talking and yet very hilarious character actress.
Her first role was an aggravated mother in the original version of "Miracle On 34th Street." She went on to work with Gwen Verdon, Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Reynolds and so many others.
Are there any performers today like Thelma that just light up the screen when they show up? I put Thelma in the category of yester-year actors like Vivian Vance, Nancy Walker and others who may have been "supporting" but made their indelible mark.
|by Anonymous||reply 112||05/24/2020|
A friend of mine tried to write a book about Thelma Ritter. He has written several books about films. Apparently, she was the most boring person possible. Just showed up, did her job, went home.
|by Anonymous||reply 1||03/16/2016|
I agree completely with the OP. She's a gem.
That role in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET was uncredited, BTW.
My partner and I were at a dinner party recently and he was going on and on about how wonderful the new men's department is at Macy's New York store, so I channeled my inner Thelma Ritter and quipped in my best Brooklynese "He ain't done much shoppin' there before, but from now on he's a regula' Macy custama'".
People looked at me like I was nuts.
So I went back to my martini.
|by Anonymous||reply 2||03/16/2016|
[quote]He ain't done much shoppin' there before, but from now on he's a regula' Macy custama'".
Thelma must have been well liked by writers because she got all the best lines.
[quote]What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end.
|by Anonymous||reply 3||03/16/2016|
"Do you want an argument or an answer?"
"Like an agent with only one client."
she moved the story along with wit; great writing, great delivery.
|by Anonymous||reply 4||03/16/2016|
[quote]she moved the story along with wit; great writing, great delivery.
That's also true of her role as Stella in "Rear Window." The movie might have been too heavy and depressing to endure without Ritter's presence. I love how Stella claimed to have predicted the 1929 stock-market crash:
"When General Motors has to go to the bathroom 10 times a day, the whole country's gettin' ready to let go."
God, she was brilliant!
|by Anonymous||reply 5||03/16/2016|
She is amazing in PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET. Her worrying about being buried at Potter's field is so heartbreaking.
|by Anonymous||reply 6||03/16/2016|
They don't make character actresses like her anymore. In fact, they don't make character actresses these days. Well, at least those that are memorable.
|by Anonymous||reply 7||03/16/2016|
Next to Kirk Douglas she has the best part in " A Letter to Three Wives "- 1949
|by Anonymous||reply 8||03/16/2016|
Great actress. One of the best, actually. Wasn't she also amazing in 'The Misfits'?
|by Anonymous||reply 9||03/16/2016|
[quote]Apparently, she was the most boring person possible. Just showed up, did her job, went home.
The only quote from Thelma Ritter I can vaguely recall was her bitching in an interview about the inconvenience of living part time in Queens, NY while working in Hollywood. "I reach for the mustard in Beverly Hills and suddenly remember it's on the shelf in Jackson Heights," or wherever it was she lived in California and Queens.
|by Anonymous||reply 10||03/16/2016|
She died on February 5, 1969 (aged 66). She always seemed so much older, even early in her career, that I was shocked she was relatively young when she passed.
|by Anonymous||reply 11||03/16/2016|
[quote] She is amazing in PICK UP ON SOUTH STREET
Yes, Yes, Yes!!!
One of her 6 Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
But why ever would she be uncredited in "A Letter to Three Wives"?
|by Anonymous||reply 12||03/16/2016|
r11 Wow, she was only 51 when she played Jimmy Stewart's nurse in "Rear Window." I thought she was in her 60s then.
|by Anonymous||reply 13||03/16/2016|
Getting drunk with Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk. Hilarious.
|by Anonymous||reply 14||03/16/2016|
Thelma Ritter was brilliant and did devour every scene she was in, as for "Lighting up the screen" No, that was left to Monroe and Harlow, There is a difference .
|by Anonymous||reply 15||03/16/2016|
She was great in Key Largo as well....
|by Anonymous||reply 16||03/16/2016|
According to actress, singer, and comedienne Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter was one of the greatest scene-stealers that she ever worked with. Ritter’s son, Tony Moran also shared that “evidently, everybody identified with my mother. She would tell it like it was. She was like that in real life.”
|by Anonymous||reply 17||03/16/2016|
r18 Only the greatest character actress of the 20th century.
|by Anonymous||reply 19||03/16/2016|
Her supporting role in Rear Window is really more than just that. She's the third most prominent character, competing hard for number two. Well, maybe the fourth if that brilliant set comes first.
Has she ever had a larger role? Not a rhetorical question.
|by Anonymous||reply 20||03/16/2016|
I couldn't fit into the dress in two and a half hours.
|by Anonymous||reply 22||03/16/2016|
She's also spectacular as Susan Hayward's nurse Clancy in With a Song in My Heart, the bio of singer Jane Froman and as Edward G. Robinson's wife and Frank Sinatra's sister-in-law in A Hole in the Head. Both sentimental movies that I love but Thelma peppers them with her sarcastic wit.
Really......did she ever give a bad performance?
I bet if she'd lived into the 1970s she would have wound up making millions as the grandma on some popular long-running sit-com.
|by Anonymous||reply 23||03/16/2016|
r22 Birdie: I couldn't get into the girdle in two and a half hours.
|by Anonymous||reply 24||03/16/2016|
r20 Nobody ever invented a polite word for a killing yet.
|by Anonymous||reply 25||03/16/2016|
[quote] She was great in Key Largo as well....
She was not in Key Largo.
|by Anonymous||reply 26||03/16/2016|
Thelma's husband,Joe Moran,was a vice-president of a top advertising firm.They were very well off and owned several homes. You woudn't guess that from her film roles. Great actress.
|by Anonymous||reply 27||03/16/2016|
That's 'Tony Award Winner Thelma Ritter' if you please
|by Anonymous||reply 28||03/16/2016|
For some unknown reason she was billed 4th in "The Mating Season" with Gene Tierney , John Lund and Miriam Hopkins. She is most assuredly the star of the film, but that billing game is fucked up. The whole film is on Youtube and is worth every minute of your time.
|by Anonymous||reply 29||03/16/2016|
My mistake she was not in Key Largo , I was thinking of Claire Trevor, another great character actress, perhaps a new thread on this dame?
|by Anonymous||reply 30||03/16/2016|
r30 Yes, loved her in "Two Weeks in Another Town."
|by Anonymous||reply 31||03/16/2016|
Thelma, Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close are tied for being the biggest Oscar losers - six times.
|by Anonymous||reply 34||03/16/2016|
r32 Telma who? No, seriously who the hell is she?
|by Anonymous||reply 35||03/16/2016|
Thelma Ritter's Oscar chances were marred by the Cary Grant effect, whereby no one credited her with talent because she always appeared to be "playing herself" effortlessly on screen.
|by Anonymous||reply 36||03/16/2016|
Wow R34 you are right , Close never won an Oscar, just like Garbo , or Cagney, proves the academy are idiots, and Oscars mean nothing, I did hold one once from a producer who tried to blow me , it was heavy as always described, about 8 lbs.
|by Anonymous||reply 37||03/16/2016|
Weren't most or all of her nominations for comedies?
As Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard and Roz Russell can tell you, dying is easy....comedy is hard.
Cagney was the rare winner for a musical and not one based on a Broadway role he already played, r37.
|by Anonymous||reply 38||03/16/2016|
Did Thelma Ritter appear much on Broadway besides New Girl in Town? She must have been really loved by the theater community because she tied with her costar Gwen Verdon for the Best Actress Tony even though her character Marthy is strictly supporting Anna Christie.
|by Anonymous||reply 39||03/16/2016|
Thelma did four Broadway shows.
|by Anonymous||reply 40||03/16/2016|
I would put Mary Wickes in the same category
|by Anonymous||reply 41||03/16/2016|
The closest current actress would be Maggie Smith or Judi Dench
|by Anonymous||reply 42||03/16/2016|
What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end.
|by Anonymous||reply 43||03/16/2016|
And as for bein' fifth-rate - I closed the foist half for eleven years an' you know it!
|by Anonymous||reply 44||03/16/2016|
I wanna be Thelma Ritter.
|by Anonymous||reply 45||03/16/2016|
[quote] The closest current actress would be Maggie Smith or Judi Dench
No. Not close at all.
Neither of them is earthy enough.
Neither of them could play the part in "Letter to 3 Wives", or "All About Eve", or any of the others.
|by Anonymous||reply 46||03/16/2016|
Memorable in Titanic (1953) with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner. Once again a scene stealer and my favorite Titanic movie.
|by Anonymous||reply 47||03/16/2016|
Who comes closest today (and is American) is JEAN SMART.
She played a Ritter-ish role in the second season of FARGO and was brilliant.
Another great Ritter performance - "The Model and the Marriage Broker" - Jeanne Crain plays the model, Thelma plays the Broker - one of her clients is a very young, gawky Nancy Kulp (Miss Hathaway!)
|by Anonymous||reply 48||03/16/2016|
Melissa Leo is the current Thelma.
|by Anonymous||reply 49||03/17/2016|
[quote]Another great Ritter performance - "The Model and the Marriage Broker" - Jeanne Crain plays the model, Thelma plays the Broker - one of her clients is a very young, gawky Nancy Kulp (Miss Hathaway!)
Here is a sample:
|by Anonymous||reply 50||03/17/2016|
Wow, so happy to see a Thelma Ritter thread!
She was always a joy to see in a film.
I knew her son professionally, and he was (is?) a nice guy. I never asked him about his mother, I try not to be a fanboi in work settings.
|by Anonymous||reply 51||03/17/2016|
Thanks for that marvelous clip. r50!
Is that blonde Dennie Moore, who played Olga the Manicurist in The Women? Her voice gives Thelma a run for her money in scene-stealing.
|by Anonymous||reply 52||03/17/2016|
STELLA: When I married Myles, we were both a couple of maladjusted misfits. We are still maladjusted misfits. And we have loved every minute of it.
I'd always imagined I'd have a relationship with a life partner just like Stella's (Thelma Ritter) in "Rear Window."
|by Anonymous||reply 53||03/17/2016|
SADIE: The cap's out. Makes me look like a lamb chop with pants on.
She has lots of great lines in "A Letter to Three Wives".
|by Anonymous||reply 54||03/17/2016|
Because it's Friday and I love Thelma.
|by Anonymous||reply 55||02/02/2018|
Brad: “I know a nice little bar, right down the street.”
Alma: [grabs his arm and pulls him along] “I know a better one.”
|by Anonymous||reply 56||02/02/2018|
In terms of stealing the scene nowadays (like another poster, I also think "lighting up the screen" is the wrong expression) just by showing up, I'd add Allison Janney to the list of Dames so far suggested.
But as opposed to both Dames Judi and Maggie, Allison has never ever had a dud performance (think Judi in Nine), and, as opposed to the goddess Ms. Ritter who mostly played herself, Janney has a very diversified range of roles, from educated White House counselors to batteries wives to lesbian urbanites to trailer trash, she's done em all!
|by Anonymous||reply 57||02/02/2018|
R39 Yeah, she really is the star of "The Mating Season", holding off formidable competition from fellow scene-stealer Miriam Hopkins as well as putative leads Gene Tierney and John Lund.
She's heartbreaking in a more dramatic role in "Pickup on South Street" and also terrific as usual as Burt Lancaster's mom in "Birdman of Alcratraz". Her role in "New Girl in Town" was beefed up and longer than Marie Dressler's in the Garbo film of "Anna Christie"; Riiter is a hoot on the album, especially in a group ladies' number called "Flings" in which she gets all the laugh lines. "Flings/Flings is wonderful things.... You don't want a man who's all inspired --- please believe me, he'll get tired"... Ritter is wonderful in all those other films you've mentioned up thread as well.
She's one of those folks like Eve Arden that when you see her in a film, you know that regardless of how the rest of the film is, you just know you're going to enjoy her part in it.
|by Anonymous||reply 59||02/02/2018|
Yes, she it just fantastic and I think the problem is that they don't know how to write for her sort of character actress anymore. They'd re-imagine her along the line of Christine Baranski or someone like that. Screenwriters are all generally from affluent backgrounds these days and don't have much occasion to mix with the wisecracking products of the hoi polli of yesteryear like Thelma.
|by Anonymous||reply 60||02/02/2018|
Funny, OP, that your original comment sounds like you only recently found out who Thelma Ritter was and assume we don't know her either.
Thelma Ritter played herself in every role, and very well, of course. The type she played has died off - a certain kind of working class ethnic New Yorker from Brooklyn or Queens - doesn't exist anymore. I believe she lived in Queens her entire life and never "went Hollywood."
|by Anonymous||reply 61||02/02/2018|
[R57] I think the difference between Thelma and Judi and Maggie is that Judi and Maggie were leading ladies who transitioned into character parts, quite ably, whereas Thelma was strictly a character actress who sometimes had a very prominent second or third lead.
|by Anonymous||reply 62||02/02/2018|
r61 Intelligence. Nothing has cause the human race so much trouble as intelligence. ~Thelma~
|by Anonymous||reply 63||02/02/2018|
Nothing wrong with playing yourself when you do it brilliantly
|by Anonymous||reply 64||02/02/2018|
[R64] I agree. She and her kind are players and not screenwriters. The screenwriter dreams up the character, the actor fulfills that vision. Just because they don't necessarily use accents, disguises and contortions doesn't make it any less of an art. All acting is artifice.
|by Anonymous||reply 65||02/02/2018|
What's abundantly clear from this loving thread is that we no longer really have character actresses who can become the character without the use of grotesque wigs and even prosthetic makeup. Not to mention over-acting.
Thelma was just plain real and there's nothing genuinely funnier or sadder when viewed through honest simple reality.
Btw, I love when these old threads come back and I'm about to W&W some brilliant post only to realize it was mine :)
|by Anonymous||reply 66||02/02/2018|
Of the character actresses today, Kathy Bates is the best and certainly most memorable. Thelma Ritter was magnificent. In “Pillow Talk”, Doris Day asked Thelma Ritter “Have you no shame?” Thelma said “No ma’am” in such an understated, deadpan way. She was hilarious!
|by Anonymous||reply 67||02/02/2018|
I can't helping fantasizing about having drinks with Thelma and asking her about the incredible array of legends she worked with. Has anyone else worked with more stars? Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, William Holden, Jane Wyman, Charlton Heston, Fred Astaire, Richard Widmark, Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward, and on and on and on....
Bette Davis pointed out that because she was an over-the-title star she never got to work with most of the top leading men of the era because she carried the movie. Not so with Thelma. Ironic.
|by Anonymous||reply 68||02/02/2018|
Eve Arden was marvelous, but I couldn’t get through her autobiography. Sadly, it was dull. Of course, I read parts of it many years ago. I was naive. I thought it would contain the snappy, witty dialogue and the droll humor which made her famous.
My favorite line of her’s is in Mildred Pierce; she played Ida. When Mildred said Mrs. Biederfhoff got married, Ida said: “Isn’t that a novelty, remind me to bake a cake.”
|by Anonymous||reply 69||02/02/2018|
Bette Davis' famous role of a Bronx working class Irish mother of the bride in A Catered Affair was originated by Thelma as a Bronx working class Jewish mother of the bride in the teleplay.
|by Anonymous||reply 70||02/02/2018|
I prefer Thelma "Pat" Nixon.
|by Anonymous||reply 71||02/02/2018|
[quote] Funny, OP, that your original comment sounds like you only recently found out who Thelma Ritter was and assume we don't know her either.
The shame! Expel him from our midst!
|by Anonymous||reply 72||02/02/2018|
r70 I've always felt Bette was wrong for that part. Now I know why. It belonged to Thelma!
|by Anonymous||reply 73||02/02/2018|
I loved her on 'eve', ' rear Window' the misfits'. wasn't she in another Monroe film? Frances mcdormand could play her parts, but we live in a crazy world, were mcdormand, what's that english cunt name?, emma Thompson, and the like play leading parts so...
|by Anonymous||reply 74||02/02/2018|
Thelma could have played the roles Nancy Walker played, but there's rarely ever a role like that any more, not even one in a paper towel commercial.
|by Anonymous||reply 75||02/02/2018|
R20, she had a very large part in the under-known "The Model and the Marriage Broker." She owned the film, but Jeanne Crain and Scott Brady were billed over her. She's funny and heartbreaking in it. George Cukor directed. A real New Yawk movie.
Years ago I had a friend who had been in the chorus of "New Girl in Town," who said TR was lovely.
|by Anonymous||reply 76||02/03/2018|
C'mon, gays! Lucy Ball has 2 active long threads running currently and all I have is this wimpy dying one. Post something here about how much you love me!
|by Anonymous||reply 77||02/03/2018|
Crazy about her in TITANIC as the Molly Brown-type character...also in ALL ABOUT EVE and REAR WINDOW.
|by Anonymous||reply 78||02/03/2018|
One of her last movies - attached - was a very weird violent one called The Incident (1967).
Supposedly filmed on a subway in the Bronx in the middle of the night because they couldn't get permits. Besides Thelma, the actors include Martin Sheen, Tony Musante, Ruby Dee, Beau Bridges, Donna Mills, Brock Peters, Jack Gilford, Ed McMahon, Jan Sterling and Gary Merrill,.
|by Anonymous||reply 79||02/03/2018|
Thelma Ritter, Glenn Close & Deborah Kerr have the dubious distinction of being the biggest Oscar losers in history. Six nominations and zero wins.
|by Anonymous||reply 80||02/03/2018|
Isn't Annette Bening part of that club by now?
|by Anonymous||reply 81||02/03/2018|
So Thelma was in AAE, early film of Marilyn, and The Misfits, her last. They were also both in "As Young as You Feel," with Monty Wooley.
|by Anonymous||reply 82||02/03/2018|
Thelma and MM were both under contract to 20th Penitentiary Fox in the late 1940s/early 1950s and made whatever films that Zanuck bastard told them to do.Naturally, some of them were the same films.
|by Anonymous||reply 83||02/04/2018|
Absolutely love Thelmal Just watching Rear Window now and love her character and wit. Any other fans?
|by Anonymous||reply 84||05/08/2020|
To answer OP’s question, Bette Midler comes to mind. She isn’t as brilliant as Ritter, and both have the same amount of range (not much and there’s nothing wrong with that), but Midler was able to do something Ritter wasn’t - transcend her scene stealing talents into leading roles (which at times required toning the schtick down).
|by Anonymous||reply 85||05/08/2020|
I guess John Ritter got his comedy chops from his mon, Thelma, and his looks from his dad, Tex.
|by Anonymous||reply 86||05/08/2020|
Thelma Ritter sat on the shitter, swigging her whisky all day. Along came a spider, and slid up inside her, what would old Jimmy Stewart say, say?!
|by Anonymous||reply 87||05/08/2020|
Margo Martindale is a fantastic character actress. Wonderful in everything that she does.
|by Anonymous||reply 88||05/08/2020|
“I told ya this cap was a stupid idea! Soup’s on!”
|by Anonymous||reply 89||05/08/2020|
Margo Martindale and Doris Roberts are probably the more contemporary examples, but they both have lacked Ritter's range. Seeming to play herself she could go from irreverent humor to pathos w/o veering into the silly or mawkish.
|by Anonymous||reply 90||05/08/2020|
Which role should she have won for over the actual winner?
|by Anonymous||reply 91||05/08/2020|
Dream Casting Requiring A Time Machine: Thelma Ritter playing Carla's mom on 'Cheers'.
|by Anonymous||reply 92||05/08/2020|
R91 - Pickup on South Street, 1953, instead of Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity. Big time.
|by Anonymous||reply 93||05/08/2020|
No one could match Ritter's prickly likability, directness and capacity to elicit sympathy without seeming to beg for it. She had a kind of gravitas that is extremely rare, while always seeming like the woman in an apartment across the street who washed her underwear in the sink.
I love her in The MISFITS. The only good part of the whole movie.
|by Anonymous||reply 94||05/08/2020|
"One for every decade, Helen?"
Only one person could survive a quip like that to Lawson. One!
|by Anonymous||reply 95||05/08/2020|
She was the no-nonsense aunt in Brooklyn you wish you had.
|by Anonymous||reply 96||05/08/2020|
Hayward was essentially her glamorous sister (also from Brooklyn).
|by Anonymous||reply 97||05/08/2020|
She should have won for both Pickup and Pillow Talk.
|by Anonymous||reply 98||05/09/2020|
Thelma as mistress of ceremonies in New York
|by Anonymous||reply 99||05/23/2020|
Thelma Ritter in "Christopher Bean" 1955 TV
|by Anonymous||reply 100||05/23/2020|
Thelma Ritter was recognizable and memorable. She was great in Pillow Talk.
Another great character actress with a long career, especially active in the 1930s, was Jessie Ralph. She played Greta Garbo's maid Nanine in Camille as well as society women in other films of the era.
|by Anonymous||reply 101||05/23/2020|
This sounds fun.
The Mating Season 1951 Thelma Ritter & Gene Tierney
Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) gives up her hamburger stand in New Jersey when the bank calls in her loan, and goes to visit her son Val (John Lund) in Ohio. Val has recently married a socialite, Maggie (Gene Tierney). To help Maggie put on a dinner party, Val has an employment service send a cook; Ellen arrives first, and Maggie mistakes her for the cook. Ellen, to avoid embarrassing Maggie, does not correct her....
|by Anonymous||reply 102||05/23/2020|
There was a great bit of dialogue for Birdie in the screenplay of All About Eve that unfortunately got cut.
During the dressing room scene at the beginning -- in the middle of Eve's monologue about seeing Margo's last play in San Francisco, and how when the show went east, she went east, Birdie interrupts her with a great non sequitur: "I'll never forget that blizzard the night we played Cheyenne. A cold night. First time I ever saw a brassiere break like a piece of matzo."
Anne Baxter probably didn't want Thelma to pull the rug out from under her dramatic buildup.
|by Anonymous||reply 103||05/23/2020|
[quote] OP: Are there any performers today like Thelma that just light up the screen when they show up?
I live Kathy Bates. Would you call her a leading lady or character actress? She’s carried. Oviedo on her own, but she’s not a beauty like you’d expect in a leading lady.
|by Anonymous||reply 104||05/23/2020|
All this quoting of "Thelma Ritter" lines but nary a mention of who wrote them...
|by Anonymous||reply 105||05/23/2020|
She was terrific, deserved 2 Oscars
|by Anonymous||reply 106||05/23/2020|
[quote]All this quoting of "Thelma Ritter" lines but nary a mention of who wrote them...
Well to be honest, Joe Mankiewicz wrote a lot of of them - A Letter to Three Wives, All About Eve - but John Michael Hayes deserves the credit for Rear Window's screenplay.
|by Anonymous||reply 107||05/23/2020|
R105 Great point. Wonderful character driven writing for Thelma.
|by Anonymous||reply 108||05/23/2020|
I must admit stumbling on threads like this and learning a thing or two from folks here is why I return to Datalounge. Enjoy the weekend-
|by Anonymous||reply 109||05/23/2020|
What nobody seems to remember is that Thelma could go from lower class to upper middle class with just a slight change of accent. Check her out as an executive secretary and Seven Sister's School Graduate in DADDY LONG LEGS or as Doris Day's mother in Law in MOVE OVER DARLING (which was the reworking of Marilyn's last film SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE - which of course was the hit song from DADDY LONG LEGS...)
|by Anonymous||reply 110||05/23/2020|
R110 great facts, thanks!
|by Anonymous||reply 111||05/23/2020|
I just treated myself to a lil Thelma Film Fest because of this thread. "The Mating Season" was so good! I loved the apartment the newlyweds took, so roomy, so many conversation areas! The party scene was great!
I saw "Pillow Talk" when I was a kid, forgot Thelma was in it. It was frothy and silly. Rock is just sucha hunk. I was trying to figure out what color Doris' hair was. It's a strange ashy platinum, all pinned up, makes her look so old even though her face is daisy fresh. Her clothes were expensive looking but so stiff, those weird cowl shaped necklines...too bad!
|by Anonymous||reply 112||05/24/2020|