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Shelley Winters was an Academy Award-winning actress known for films like The Diary of Anne Frank, A Patch of Blue and Alfie, among scores of others.
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Winters played down her sensuality and dyed her hair a dull brown to play a factory girl named Alice in A Place in the Sun. Alice found herself in the middle of a love triangle when she is impregnated by George (played by Montgomery Clift), a young man who had already set his mind on the wealthy Angela (played by Elizabeth Taylor). After trying to force George into doing the honorable thing, Alice becomes a victim to his quest for riches. The film received numerous Academy Award nominations,
including one for Winters as Best Actress.
Despite her nomination, Winters found herself in a string of unchallenging roles and forgettable films. She played a love interest to Frank Sinatra in Meet Danny Wilson (1952) and a nightclub singer in Playgirl (1954). Occasionally Winters had the opportunity to shine, often playing a schemer. She got a chance to work with director Charles Laughton, with whom she had studied acting, on The Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum.
In 1955, Winters returned to Broadway to star in the original production of A Hatful of Rain with Ben Gazzara and Anthony Franciosa, who later became her third husband. She played the wife of a drug addict in the drama, which proved to be a hit. She then went on to appear in 1956's Girls of Summer with George Peppard.
Advancing as a character actress, Winters delivered an Academy Award-winning performance in the Holocaust drama The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), which starred Millie Perkins. She played Mrs. Van Daan, a member of a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis in an attic in Amsterdam with Anne and her family. The film received eight Academy Award nominations and brought home three awards, including Winters' win for Best Supporting Actress.
Winters moved toward playing maternal figures. "You gotta play mothers. If you don't, you won't get a long career in Hollywood," she once said. Winters played a blowsy, love-struck mother in Lolita (1962) starring Sue Lyon as her daughter and James Mason as a professor. The professor pretends to fall for Winters' character, and he marries her in order to get close to her daughter. This big screen adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel raised a few eyebrows when it was released. Appearing on television, Winters won her first and only Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress for an episode of Bob Hope Presents: The Chrysler Theatre in 1964. Winters next played a brutally cruel mother who abuses her blind daughter in A Patch of Blue (1965). She won her second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work on this film.
Good roles were hard to come by for Winters, and she often seemed better than the material she worked on. She became popular as a celebrity guest, making appearances on such talk shows as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and such television shows as Batman. She also taught classes at the Actors Studio for several years, teaching the likes of Robert De Niro.
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