Shirley Booth (August 30, 1898 – October 16, 1992) was an American actress.
Primarily a theatre actress, Booth's Broadway career began in 1925. Her most significant success was as Lola Delaney, in the dramaCome Back, Little Sheba, for which she received a Tony Award in 1950. She made her film debut, reprising her role in the 1952 film version, and won both the Academy Award for Best Actress and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance. Despite her successful entry into films, she preferred stage acting, and made only four more films.
From 1961 until 1966, she played the title role in the sitcomHazel, for which she won two Emmy Awards, and was acclaimed for her performance in the 1966 television production of
The Glass Menagerie. She retired in 1974.
Booth was born as Marjory Ford in New York City, the daughter of Albert James Ford and Virginia Martha Wright. By the time of the 1910 census in April 1910, aged 11, she was known as Thelma by her family. She had at least one sibling, a younger sister, Jean
Valentine Ford, who survived Booth. IMDB.com says her birth name is Thelma Marjorie Ford, so there is some confusion about her real name.
Booth first attracted major notice as the female lead in the comedy hit Three Men on a Horse which ran almost two years in 1935 to 1937. During the 1930s and 1940s, she achieved popularity in dramas, comedies and, later, musicals. She acted with Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1939) and with Ralph Bellamy in Tomorrow the World (1943) and was a prolific Broadway performer for over three decades.
Booth also starred on the popular radio series Duffy's Tavern, playing the lighthearted, wisecracking, man-crazy daughter of the unseen tavern owner on CBS radio from 1941 to 1942 and on NBC-Blue Radio from 1942 to 1943. Her husband, Ed Gardner, created and wrote the show as well as playing its lead character, Archie, the malapropping manager of the tavern; Booth left the show not long after the couple divorced.
Booth auditioned unsuccessfully for the title role of Our Miss Brooks in 1948; she'd been recommended by Harry Ackerman, who was to produce the show, but Ackerman told radio historian Gerald Nachman that he felt Booth was too conscious of a high school teacher's struggles to have full fun with the character's comic possibilities. Our Miss Brooks became a radio and television hit when the title role went to Eve Arden, making her a major star.
Booth received her first Tony, for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic), for her performance as Grace Woods in Goodbye, My Fancy (1948). Her second Tony was for Best Actress in a Play, which she received for her widely acclaimed performance as the tortured wife, Lola Delaney, in the poignant drama Come Back, Little Sheba (1950). Her leading man, Sidney Blackmer, received the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for his performance as her husband, Doc.
Her success in Come Back, Little Sheba was immediately followed by the musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), (based on the popular novel) in which she played the feisty but lovable Aunt Sissy, which proved to be another major hit. Her popularity was such that, at the time, the story was skewed from the original so that Aunt Sissy was the leading role (rather than Francie).
So prolific was Booth as an award winner at that time, that during her May 3, 1953 appearance on the TV game show What's My Line?, John Charles Daly said, "I might say, if I may, without causing you too much embarrassment, that it's a great honor for us to have the young lady who got the Oscar Award and the Antoinette Perry Award and just won the award in Cannes, in fact I think one of our New York columnists, Mrs. Lyon, said the only thing that you hadn't won so far was the Kentucky Derby." Booth jokingly replied, "Well, I almost won it yesterday, but I drew the wrong ticket in the lottery."
Booth was 54 when she made her first movie, although she had successfully deleted a decade off her age, with her publicity stating 1907 as the year of her birth. The correct year of birth was known by only her closest associates until her actual age was announced at the time of her death. Her second starring film, a romantic drama About Mrs. Leslie (1954) opposite Robert Ryan, was released in 1954 to good reviews. In 1953, Booth had made a cameo appearance as herself in the all-star comedy/drama movie Main Street to Broadway.
Director Frank Capra unsuccessfully attempted to bring Booth back to the screen with Pocketful of Miracles in 1961, but after viewing Capra's original version, Lady for a Day (1933), Booth informed him there was no way she could match May Robson's moving, Oscar-nominated performance in the original film. So Frank Capra instead cast Bette Davis -- and, indeed, Davis was unfavorably compared to May Robson by most reviewers when the film was released.
She told the Associated Press in 1963, at the height of the show's popularity, "I liked playing Hazel the first time I read one of the scripts,
and I could see all the possibilities of the character–the comedy would take care of itself. My job was to give her heart. Hazel never bores me. Besides, she's my insurance policy." She proved prescient with the last comment; the show was seen in syndicated reruns for many years after it ceased first-run production in 1966.