For the What a Character! Blogathon: Thelma Ritter

Posted on December 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

I am honored to participate in this year’s “What a Character!” blogathon, featuring essays about great character actors by movie bloggers across the internet. And I am thrilled to have an opportunity to write about one of my very favorite character actors, the magnificent Thelma Ritter. Whether in comedy or drama, her honest earthiness gave her characters a blunt authenticity that was enormously appealing.

She was nominated six times for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, still a record, three Golden Globes and an Emmy. And she won a Tony for “New Girl in Town.”

She was born in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day in 1902, and never tried to lose her New York accent, which gave a lot of flavor to the characters she played. She did some acting and was an agent while her children were growing up, but did not get her first movie role until 1945’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” where she had a brief, unbilled scene as a tired mother who could not find a special toy for her son.

Her characters were usually blunt and smarter than the more educated and upper class characters around her. She brought warmth, humanity, street smarts, and crackerjack timing to all of her roles, opposite the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Ritter nursed James Stewart in “Rear Window.”

She was a tipsy maid in “Pillow Talk,” starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  And she was Bette Davis’ assistant in “All About Eve,” memorably responding to Eve’s sad story with, “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”

One of the most complex characters she played was a sometime police informant with her own code of honor in “Pickup on South Street.”

She also appeared in the very silly romantic comedy “A New Kind of Love,” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe.

One of my favorite Ritter performances is in “The Mating Season,” where she a hamburger joint owner whose new daughter-in-law mistakes her for a maid.

And another is opposite Kirk Douglas and Mitzi Gaynor in “For Love of Money.”  It’s a rare role for her because she plays a woman who is wealthy and powerful.  Douglas plays a lawyer she hires to get her estranged daughters to marry the men she has picked for them.

Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminating the story’s themes.

Announcement: Sixth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

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7 Replies to “For the What a Character! Blogathon: Thelma Ritter”

  1. Lots of Ritter memories in that article of yours. Thanks. I imagine it must have been a thrill for the screenwriters to learn Thelma Ritter would be reading their words. And if you were a leading player who worried about getting the focus of a scene taken away from you – well, just heave a sigh and do your job without worrying about it. Thelma will make you look good.

  2. The clips you posted really show Thelma’s range of abilities. She’s a scene-stealer in every film, if you ask me, but like Caftan Woman said previously, she has a way of making the lead actors look good.

    I love how she lectures James Stewart’s character in “Rear Window”. You never get the sense that she’s intimidated by the Big Celebrity in the scene with her.

  3. I absolutely ADORE Thelma Ritter. She was so real, grounded, and unshakable in so many of her roles. She could expel the most delicious sass and you still wanted her to be your best friend as she delivers the raw, wise-cracking truth. I think my fave roles for her are from PILLOW TALK and REAR WINDOW. But I’ve never seen a bad Ritter performance.

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