Thelma Ritter was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 14, 1905. She made much of being salty and sassy — and a native of Brooklyn. She attended Manual Training High School. Ritter was stagestruck in childhood and at 11 was playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a semi-professional drama society.
Her first appearance on Broadway was in The Shelf (’26), after which she alternated between Broadway theaters and touring companies. She retired from theater temporarily to become a housewife and to have her children.
She then turned to radio, performing on such programs as “Theater Guild of the Air,” “Mr. District Attorney,” “Big Town” and “The Aldrich Family.” A Hollywood talent scout came to New York seeking authentic characters for the movie Miracle on 34th Street. She was approached about playing a harried housewife who berates Santa Claus for promising her son too much during the Christmas rush at Macy’s. Seeing the talent they were dealing with, the studio built up the part.
Among her many films are A Letter to Three Wives (’49), Titanic (’53), Rear Window (’54), The Misfits (’61) and Move Over, Darling (’63). Her role in the Broadway musical New Game in Town gained her a Tony Award. In her TV debut in 1955, she won an Emmy award as the Bronx housewife in “The Catered Affair.”
Ritter was nominated six times for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for roles in All About Eve (’50), The Mating Season (’51), With A Song In My Heart (’52), Pickup on South Street (’53), Pillow Talk (’59) and Bird Man of Alcatraz (’62).
When Ritter attended the Oscar ceremonies at which she was one of the nominees for the fifth time, the four-time loser had no illusions and invited guests to a “Come and Watch Me Lose” party.
Ritter had a stroke on Jan. 27, 1969, was admitted to Queens Hospital and died there on Feb. 5.