Last week we told you about TV writers paying homage to producer/actor Sheldon Leonard by using his names for characters in The Big Bang Theory. This week we want to tell you about Kirstie Alley’s new series on TV Land — Kirstie.
In it she portrays a legendary Broadway star (think Margo Channing). She has an entourage, including a wise cracking assistant, (think Margo’s lackey, Birdie Coogan).
Well the writer’s didn’t name that character in the new sitcom (played by Rhea Pearlman) Birdie — but “Thelma.” But guess who portrayed Birdie’s role in the classic film, 1950’s All About Eve?
Thelma Ritter, that’s who.
Ritter, a great character actress in both comedy and drama was nominated for the Best Supporting Oscar no less than 6 times. But she never won. She is tied with Deborah Kerr as the actress with most nominations and no wins.
But see all six of the films for which she was nominated and see if you don’t agree — SHE WAS ROBBED.
The films are: All About Eve, 1951’s The Mating Game, Sam Fuller’s Pick Up on South Street (1953), 1952’s With a Song in My Heart, 1959’s Pillow Talk and 1962’s Birdman of Alcatraz, the prison drama starring Burt Lancaster.
As we said, she was just as good in drama as she was in comedy. Thelma also made memorable appearances in Alfred Hitchcock’s tension-packed 1954 thriller Rear Window (she’s the woman who take care of scratching wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart’s back). And, she turns up in John Huston’s The Misfits (1960), perhaps best known today as Clark Gable’s last movie.
As is obvious by her accent and the types of roles she played, Thelma was a born (in Brooklyn in 1902) and bred New Yorker. After stage work and early radio appearances, she appeared in her first movie in 1947, appropriately titled Miracle on 34th Street (starring Edmund Gwenn as Santa). Her last picture (one of 43 screen credits) came 21 years later, Universal’s comedy What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? costarring Mary Tyler Moore.
Wrote British-born critic-author David Thomson: Thelma Ritter always seemed worn out. In a flower print dress and flat shoes, her hair screwed up in a home perm, and her face like a used newspaper, she might have had a full day washing and cooking before coming to the studio, and a few hours’ office cleaning ahead of her as soon as she finished.
It is a tribute to her sour inventiveness that such deep-grained tiredness never seemed boring.
Thelma’s sole marriage (to actor Joseph Moran) produced two children, one becoming an actress (Monica Moran) who performed onstage with her mother before Ritter died at 66 of a heart attack in her beloved New York City.