Actress Shelley Winters Dies

Shelley Winters
Shelley Winters arrives for the movie premiere of "Sabrina," at the Paramount theater in Hollywood, Calif. on September 27, 1954. (AP)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 14, 2006; 2:48 PM

Shelley Winters, 85, a brassy actress and raconteur who appeared in more than 120 films and twice won the Academy Award for supporting performances, died Jan. 14 at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills, Calif. She had been hospitalized in October after suffering a heart attack.

At first a peroxide-dyed "Blonde Bombshell," Ms. Winters was typecast for years as a gangster's moll and dance-hall dame before transitioning to fuller characterizations. Even in her two best films of the early period, "A Double Life" (1947) and "A Place in the Sun" (1951), she once joked of her tendency to perish as a sinner or martyr.

She wrote in a memoir: "I had been strangled by Ronald Colman, drowned by Montgomery Clift, stabbed and drowned by Robert Mitchum, shot by Jack Palance and by Rod Steiger in two different films and, oh yes, overdosed with heroin by Ricardo Montalban."

By the late 1950s, a plumper Ms. Winters carved a successful career in character parts -- the brash and frowzy secondary roles that she said would sustain her career as she aged.

She brought a sympathetic quality to Charlotte Haze, the mother of a teenage vamp in "Lolita" (1962), based on the Vladimir Nabokov novel.

She once called the role "one of the best performances I ever gave in any medium. She is dumb and cunning, silly, sad, sexy, and bizarre, and totally American and human."

The director, Stanley Kubrick, "had the insight to find the areas of me that were pseudointellectual and pretentious. We all have those things in us."

Ms. Winters also was effective as a drunken former child-star in the detective story "Harper" (1965) with Paul Newman; and a wealthy lust-pot with a hunger for lothario Michael Caine in "Alfie" (1966).

Ms. Winters won her Academy Awards for "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959), as the sloppy and nervous Mrs. Van Daan; and "A Patch of Blue" (1965), in which she was one of the true screen vultures, mercilessly abusing her blind daughter (Elizabeth Hartman).

Her last Oscar nomination was for "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), the much-lampooned all-star drama about an overturned luxury liner. Despite her girth, she played a former swimming champion who tries to bring others to safety.

Acknowledging the rich potential for parody, she appeared on "The Flip Wilson Show" in a skit set in a fast-flooding laundromat. She led the cast in a daring escape through a washing machine hatch.

In her later years, Ms. Winters appeared on talk-show programs to detail her indulgences with the leading men of Hollywood's golden age.

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