ODE TO THELMA RITTER
There's no one like you in the movies
anymore, Thelma, no lovable, middle-aged
character actress, gravelly voiced and
hard-boiled, with a sharp-tongued flair
for the cynical as well as the comical. You
could work miracles with a little screen time,
turning out indelible performances in a matter
of minutes: Bette Davis's acerbic sidekick
in All About Eve, Jimmy Stewart's down-to-
earth nurse in Rear Window, Doris Day's
perpetually hung-over maid in Pillow Talk.
You played women with names like Clancy,
Aggie, Bertha, Birdie, Lottie, Leena, Della,
Stella, Sophie, Sadie, Maude, Mae, and Moe.
But what of you, Thelma? Online I find only
this mini-biography. Born in Brooklyn on
Valentine's Day in 1905. Trained at American
Academy of Dramatic Arts. Stage career
mostly unsuccessful. Married Joseph Moran
in 1927; briefly gave up acting to raise two
children. Started working again in radio in
1940. Bit part in Miracle on 34th Street launched
noteworthy screen career. Appeared in thirty
films between 1947 and 1968. Died of a heart
attack in 1969 in New York. Thelma, six times
you were nominated for Best Supporting
Actress, and six times you lost. You, who
could save any movie with your wisecracks!
A Google search uncovers this little-known fact:
"Shirley Booth was not the first choice to play
Hazel. Thelma Ritter was. Miss Ritter wanted
the role badly, but due to illness had to bow out."
Booth would win two Emmys in the early '60s
for playing television's sassiest maid — your
rightful part. O elusive trophies! O tired heart!
You, who survived the Titanic in one picture,
would say sadly, world-wearily, in the next:
"I have to go on making a living so I can die."
from The Late Show
Turtle Point Press 2007