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Obituary: Shelley Winters

Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters, a respected star and acting coach
Most people will remember Shelley Winters playing brash and blowsy characters, but earlier in her career she was cast in more glamorous roles.

She was born Shirley Schrift in East St Louis, Illinois, one of America's most impoverished cities.

But she was brought up in New York, where her family had moved so that her father, a tailor's cutter, could be nearer to the city's garment industry.

As a teenager, she paid for acting lessons by working as a model and chorus girl before making her Broadway debut in the comedy, The Night Before Christmas, in 1941.

Film breakthrough

Two years later, having adopted her mother's maiden name, she was in Hollywood. But she played minor roles in several films before attracting attention in the 1947 production, A Double Life, in which she played a "good-time" waitress strangled by a deranged Ronald Colman.

Winters was destined to be a murder victim in many future roles. In 1951, one of them, the factory girl drowned by her seducer, Montgomery Clift, in A Place in the Sun, established her reputation and earned her an Academy Award nomination.

Winters in A Place in the Sun
Winters in glamour mode in A Place in the Sun

But although she was now given more prominent roles, they were not always satisfying ones, and in 1955 Winters went back to the Broadway stage for several years.

She returned to Hollywood three years later and, determined to realise her full potential, worked at the studio during the day and studied with one of cinema's outstanding actors, Charles Laughton, at night and at weekends.

A plumper Winters, targeting less glamorous roles, was swiftly rewarded by an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Diary of Anne Frank. She donated her Oscar to the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam.

Drowning roles

But in 1965, a second Oscar for Best Supporting Actress came her way for the film, A Patch of Blue.

A year later, Winters made her mark as one of Michael Caine's numerous liaisons in Alfie.

Winters earned another Oscar nomination in 1972 for the disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure. Having drowned in at least two previous films, she played a former underwater swimming champion who had once held her breath for nearly three minutes.

Clutching her Oscar for supporting actress for The Diary of Anne Frank
Clutching her Oscar for supporting actress for The Diary of Anne Frank
In the 1970s, she made several appearances on Broadway, while the 1980s saw the publication of two best-selling volumes of her autobiography.

As expected, they made lively reading. As early as 1950, when she co-starred with James Stewart in Winchester '73, Shelley Winters' abrasive attitude was evident. When filming was completed, the normally mild-mannered Stewart said Winters should have been spanked.

Her television appearances spanned several decades, but her outspoken language and opinions made her a censor's nightmare on chat shows. On The Tonight Show in America, she responded to a sexist remark by the equally outrageous Oliver Reed by pouring a drink over his head.

Divorced four times, Shelley Winters might have ruffled a few feathers in her industry, but won plaudits as an actress and, as a long-standing member of the Actors' Studio, was one of her industry's most-respected coaches.

Oscar winner Shelley Winters dies
14 Jan 06 |  Americas

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