Shelley Winters

Originally typecast as a 'dumb blonde', Shelley Winters fought hard to be taken seriously. An Oscar for best actress and a career in politics suggest that there was more to her than met the eye.


Daughter of a former opera singer, actress Shelley Winters gave her first stage performance at the age of four. Moving to Long Island, she began to study acting, first at the New School for Social Research, and then at the Actors Studio.

Petite, blonde and voluptuous, she easily found work as a chorus girl and a model, and gained her big break in 'The Night Before Christmas', S.J. Perelmans’ Broadway hit, in 1940. She then began landing bit parts in Columbia films, before starring in 'Knickerbocker Holiday' in 1944.

After extensive acting training and nightclub work, Winters appeared in 'A Double Life', in 1947, starting the pattern for her tragic female roles. It was during this period, with her films for Universal, such as 'Winchester', in 1950, that she also gained a reputation for offstage awkwardness. Winters gained an Oscar nomination in 1951, for her role in 'A Place In The Sun'.

Returning to Broadway for a stint in 'A Hatful of Rain', Winters’ major success came playing Mrs. Van Daan, in the 'Diary of Anne Frank', in 1959, for which she won a best supporting actress Oscar. She donated her Anne Frank Oscar to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

Tackling controversial material such as 'A House is Not A Home' in the 1960s, her reputation grew. Nonetheless, she still managed to appear in turkeys such as 'Wild in the Streets'. 

As a chat-show star, she famously threw a drink over a lewd and sexist Oliver Reed, on the 'Tonight Show'.

Winters appeared in the disaster hit, 'The Poseidon Adventure', amid many substandard celluloid outings, but also pursued diverse theatre work.

Having starred in 130 films in total, she continued to work on both the small and large screen into the 1990s, appearing as a regular on 'Roseanne'.

Shelley Winters died of heart failure, aged 85, at a Beverly Hills nursing in 2006. She had been in ill health since suffering a heart attack in October, 2005.