She was the dragonlady. Or, perhaps a cat woman?
Your may not at first be sure since today’s subject, born Edith Holm Sonderghaard in rural Minnesota in the winter of 1899, possessed such an strikingly unusual look that she wound up a favorite of directors casting exotic roles no matter the species.
Gale was truly an accidental Hollywood character actress.
Her first love was the stage, and she followed her then husband (director-producer Herbert Biberman) to Hollywood in the early Thirties principally because she was married to him. Director Mervyn Leroy was the first to realize her big screen potential, casting Sondergaard in her maiden feature, the 1936 costume drama Anthony Adverse, costarring Fredric March and Olivia DeHavilland.
Thus began a career that covered 56 credits over a 46-year span — with one significant interruption. Sondergaard’s name has turned up among classic movie trivia fans for roles that she turned down or didn’t get. But those she did show her as a supporting actress of real power.
So, let’s see how much you know about Gale Sondergaard. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Sondergaard and sister character actress Maria Ouspenskaya came from very different back rounds, but have something in common. What is it? — a) Both were acting teachers; b) Both generated Oscar action in their very first big screen roles; c) Both were blacklisted; or d) Both were considered too exotic for leading lady roles.
2) Question: Which one of the following titles did Sondergaard NOT appear in? a) The Cat and the Canary; b) The Black Cat; c) Cat People; or d) The Spider Woman Strikes Back.
3) Question: Sondergaard famously was offered and then turned down the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Why? a) She couldn’t stand Judy Garland; b) She hated the script; b) Because the Wicket Witch character was changed from beautiful to ugly; or d) She disliked musicals.
4) Question: Sondergaard was the first actress to win a best supporting actress Academy Award. a) True; or b) False?
5) Question: Sondergard’s career was interrupted after 1949, for more than two decades. Why? a) She loathed Hollywood, and wanted to take a lengthy break; b) She wanted to raise a family; c) She was blacklisted; or d) She studied to enroll in a Roman Catholic convent.