Mostly Credited As: Shelley Winters
Sometimes Credited As: Shelley Winter
Birth Name: Shirley Schrift
Date Of Birth: August 18, 1920 (Age 85)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: St. Louis, Missouri
Date Of Death: January 14, 2006
Cause Of Death: Heart Failure (Beverly Hills, California)
Height: 5' 4" (1.62 m)
A woman with a zest for living and a loud, brassy attitude to match her appetites, Winters was born Shirley Schrift in East St. Louis, IL, and started her career as a chorus girl before moving on to stage parts in New York; she would later study at the legendary Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg. Signed to a contract with Columbia in the 40s, the actress received her new name and a number of unmemorable, and mostly uncredited, supporting parts before returning to Broadway. She was lured back to Hollywood, though, by Universal, which transformed her into a stunning blonde bombshell, and her first memorable role was opposite Oscar winner Ronald Colman in A Double Life. Her reputation as an actress was cemented with her amazing performance in 1951's A Place in the Sun alongside Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor; her heart-wrenching role, which forced her to tone down her glamorous image, earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination and put her on the Hollywood map. Other films in the 50s included the classic The Night of the Hunter, I Am a Camera, and Executive Suite. She capped the decade with The Diary of Anne Frank, and her turn as Mrs. Van Daan won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, which she later donated to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
As Winters' fame in movies grew, so did her reputation as a life-loving, outspoken, lustful, political, provocative woman. Her romances were as legendary as any male star of the era, and she counted William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Sean Connery, Sterling Hayden and Errol Flynn among her conquests. She was married three times, first to businessman Paul Meyer, then to actors Vittorio Gassman (with whom she had a daughter) and Anthony Franciosa; both marriages to the Italian actors were notoriously volatile. In 1962, Winters played the mother of the nymphet Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film, a turning point at which her performances would become broader and more outrageous. She won her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1965's A Patch of Blue, and her hateful role as the mother of a blind woman was in stark contrast to her previous Oscar-winning performance. (Aside from Winters, the only other actress to win two Best Supporting Actress Oscars is Dianne Wiest.) Winters also appeared in Alfie, Harper, and A House is Not a Home in the 60s, and the 70s brought on such movies as Bloody Mama, Who Slew Auntie Roo and Cleopatra Jones, though her sentimental and winning performance in The Poseidon Adventure, as an overweight woman whose swimming talents help lead her fellow passengers to safety, received yet another Oscar nomination. (Winters gained 30 pounds for the role, which she often commented she never lost again.) Talk show appearances, TV films and lesser-known movies dotted the rest of her career, though she made memorable appearances in S.O.B. and The Portrait of a Lady, and had a recurring role on the sitcom Roseanne as the star's overbearing grandmother. Winters also wrote two best-selling autobiographies, Shelley: Also Known as Shirley and Shelley II: The Middle of My Century.
Winters died of heart failure early Saturday morning on January 14th, 2006. Following hospitalization at the Rehabilitation Center in Beverly Hills after suffering a heart attack in October. She is survived by her daughter, Vittoria, two grandchildren, and her longtime companion, Jerry DeFord. She was 85.