Shelley Winters was a larger-than-life actress and movie star who, during a career that spanned over 50 years and 130 films, played blonde bombshells, doting grandmothers and everything in between. Shelley Winters is our spotlight actress this month on “Cult Classics,” a weekly double-feature of B-movies, melodramas, and horror films curated from the MGM library every Friday night on MGM HD.
Born in St. Louis and raised in Brooklyn, Shelley Winters was a bawdy woman who lived life to the fullest. She was roommates with Marilyn Monroe and, according to her two autobiographies, romantically linked to Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando, and Erroll Flynn (to name just a few). Winters began her acting career as a sexy starlet in the 1940’s. However, it was in character parts where she made her mark as the first woman to win two Academy Awards® for Best Supporting Actress for roles in “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1959) and “A Patch of Blue” (1965).
As an actress, Miss. Winters easily moved from the high-class prestige pictures to B movies. This was because she took her craft seriously. Winters was signed as a contract player by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures and studied method acting at the famed Actor’s Studio in New York where she became a teacher. She also studied Shakespeare with one of her mentors, actor Charles Laughton, who directed her in “The Night of the Hunter” (1955) a movie which can be found in the MGM library. Shelley Winters brought all of her studies and life experience to the screen in performances remarkable for their truth and lack of vanity.
Two notable performances can be found this month in “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” (1971) and “What’s the Matter with Helen?” (1971). Both movies made in the same year and from the same director, Curtis Harrington, show very different sides of Shelley Winters. In “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?”, an Edwardian-era horror story, she plays a benefactor to orphan children with a haunted past. Her performance is, by turns, generous, warm, and unnerving. In “What’s the Matter with Helen?”, a mystery set in 1930’s Hollywood, Winters shares the screen with two other great divas: Debbie Reynolds and Agnes Moorehead. Winters’ character is, on the surface, much more plain. In both performances, different as they are, Winters shows her depth and intellect as an actress.
Look out for the work of a great actress at her creepy best this month.
Cult Classics every Friday night starting at midnight eastern, 9p Pacific, on MGM HD.