February 14, 1905
Brooklyn, New York, United States
February 5, 1969
New York City, New York, United States
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Character actress who after many unrewarded years on the stage enjoyed almost immediate, and enduring, success following her film debut in the late 1940s. Usually in the role of the sardonic chorus figure, strewing films with witty asides and cynical observations, Ritter enlivened a host of excellent productions and earned her place as one of the best character players the screen has ever known. Ritter earned six Academy Award nominations as best supporting actress: "All About Even" (1950), "The Mating Season" (1951), "With a Song in My Heart" (1952), "Pickup on South Street" (1953), "Pillow Talk" (1959), and "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962). Ritter's first screen role was in "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) playing the mother sent from Macy's to Gimbel's by Kris Kringle. In "All About Eve" (1950), she was Birdie, the ex-vaudevillian ("I closed the first half for 11 years and you know it!"), who now is Margo Channing's maid and companion and who utters the immortal line, "What a story. Everything but the bloodhounds yapping at her rear end." That hard edge came to use in "Titanic" (1953), when she was the Unsinkable Molly Brown, playing cards as the ship begins to sink. In "Rear Window" (1954), she was Jimmy Stewart's housekeeper, in "Pillow Talk" (1959), her witticisms stole scenes from Doris Day, and in "A Hole in the Head" (1959), she was Frank Sinatra's understanding sister-in-law. In "How the West Was Won" (1962), Ritter was a spinster traveling to the west with Debbie Reynolds, and in "A New Kind of Love" (1963), a fashion designer alongside Joanne Woodward -- a job one might never imagine Ritter doing in real life. In film after film, her presence was the highlight of the picture, and although she was more than 40 before she stepped before a camera, Ritter eventually worked with virtually every major director of her period (Hitchcock, Mankiewicz, etc.) and every major star (Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, etc.) stealing scenes from most of them. Ritter began working in TV regularly about the mid-50s. One of her earliest roles was in the 1955 "Goodyear TV Playhouse: A Catered Affair," written by Paddy Chayefsky. In a role that was eventually played by Bette Davis on the big screen, Ritter was a mother who can't keep her daughter's wedding small. She appeared on other anthology programs and made occasional appearances on Jack Paar's late-night talk show.