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 drama Come 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 sitcom Hazel, 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.
She began her career onstage as a teenager, acting in stock company productions, and was briefly known as Thelma Booth Ford. Her debut on Broadway was in the play, Hell's Bells, opposite Humphrey Bogart on January 26, 1925.
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).
She then went to Hollywood and recreated her stage role in the motion picture version of Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), with Burt Lancaster playing Doc. After that movie, her first of only five films in her career, was completed, she returned to New York and played Leona Samish in The Time of the Cuckoo (1952) on Broadway.
In 1953, Booth received the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Come Back, Little Sheba, becoming the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role. The film also earned Booth Best Actress awards from The Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe Awards, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and National Board of Review. She also received her third Tony, which was her second in the Best Actress in a Play category, for her performance in the Broadway production of Arthur Laurents' play The Time of the Cuckoo.
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.
She spent the next few years commuting between New York and Southern California. On the Broadway stage, she scored personal successes in the musical By the Beautiful Sea (1954) and the comedy Desk Set (1955). Although Booth had become well known to moviegoers during this period, the movie roles for both The Time of the Cuckoo (re-titled as Summertime for the film in 1955), and Desk Set (1957), both went to Katharine Hepburn.
She returned to motion pictures to star in two more films for Paramount Pictures, playing Dolly Gallagher Levi in the 1958 film adaptation of Thornton Wilder's romance/comedy The Matchmaker (the source text for the musical Hello, Dolly!), and to play Alma Duval in the drama Hot Spell (1958). She was named runner-up to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! as the year's Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle for her two 1958 films.
In 1957, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work on the stage in Chicago. She returned to the Broadway stage in 1959, starring as the long-suffering title character in Marc Blitzstein's musical Juno, an adaptation of Sean O'Casey's 1924 classic play, Juno and the Paycock.
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.
In 1961, Booth began starring in the television situation comedy Hazel, based on Ted Key's popular comic strip from the Saturday Evening Post about domineering yet endearing housemaid, Hazel Burke. The show reunited her with Harry Ackerman, who produced the show, and she won two Emmys, in 1962 and 1963, She won two Emmys for the series, making her one of the few performers to win all three major entertainment awards (Oscar, Tony, Emmy), and new stardom with a younger audience. Booth received another Emmy nomination for her third season as "Hazel" in 1964 and in 1966 was also Emmy nominated for her performance as Amanda in a television adaptation of The Glass Menagerie.
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.
Booth's last Broadway appearances were in a revival of Noël Coward's play Hay Fever and the musical Look to the Lilies, both in 1970. After appearing as Grace Simpson in the TV series A Touch of Grace (1973), which was directed by Carl Reiner, she did voice work for The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), an animated special, playing Mrs. Santa, then retired.
Booth's second marriage, to William Baker in 1943, lasted until his death in 1951; the actress never remarried and had no children from either marriage. She died after a brief illness at her home in North Chatham (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. She is interred in Mount Hebron Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.
|Dates of production||Title||Role||Genre||Notes|
|26 January 1925 - May 1925||Hell's Bells||Nan Winchester||Comedy|
|2 November 1925 - June 1926||Laff That Off||Peggy Bryant||Comedy|
|7 October 1926 - October 1926||Buy, Buy Baby||Betty Hamilton||Comedy|
|Oct 6, 1927 - Oct 1927||High Gear||Mary Marshall||Comedy|
|Sep 24, 1928 - Dec 1928||The War Song||Emily Rosen||Drama|
|Apr 21, 1931 - Apr 1931||School for Virtue||Marg||Comedy|
|Oct 2, 1931 - Oct 1931||The Camels are Coming||Bobby Marchante||Comedy|
|Nov 30, 1931 - Jan 1932||Coastwise||Annie Duval||Original drama|
|May 8, 1933 - Jun 1933||The Mask and the Face||Elisa Zanotti||Comedy revival|
|Feb 7, 1934 - Feb 1934||After Such Pleasures||Comedy|
|Jan 30, 1935 - Jan 9, 1937||Three Men on a Horse||Mabel||Comedy|
|Apr 9, 1937 - Jul 1937||Excursion||Mrs. Loschavio||Comedy|
|Nov 15, 1937 - Nov 1937||Too Many Heroes||Carrie Nolan||Drama|
|Mar 28, 1939 - Mar 30, 1940||The Philadelphia Story||Elizabeth Imbrie||Comedy|
|Dec 26, 1940 - Jan 16, 1943||My Sister Eileen||Ruth Sherwood||Comedy|
|Apr 14, 1943 - Jun 17, 1944||Tomorrow the World||Leona Richards||Drama|
|May 31, 1945 - Jul 14, 1945||Hollywood Pinafore||Louhedda Hopsons||Comedy|
|Dec 11, 1946 - Dec 14, 1946||Land's End||Susan Pengilly||Drama|
|Jan 16, 1948 - Jan 17, 1948||The Men We Marry||Drama|
|Nov 17, 1948 - Dec 24, 1949||Goodbye, My Fancy||Grace Woods||Drama||Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play|
|Nov 7, 1949 - Nov 19, 1949||Love Me Long||Abby Quinn||Comedy|
|Feb 15, 1950 - Jul 29, 1950||Come Back, Little Sheba||Lola||Drama||Tony Award|
|Apr 19, 1951 - Dec 8, 1951||A Tree Grows in Brooklyn||Cissy||Musical|
|Oct 15, 1952 - May 30, 1953||The Time of the Cuckoo||Leona Samish||Drama||Tony Award|
|Apr 8, 1954 - Nov 27, 1954||By the Beautiful Sea||Lottie Gibson||Musical|
|Oct 24, 1955 - Jul 5, 1956||Desk Set||Bunny Watson||Comedy|
|Dec 26, 1957 - Feb 8, 1958||Miss Isobel||Mrs. Ackroyd||Drama|
|Mar 9, 1959 - Mar 21, 1959||Juno||Juno Boyle||Musical|
|Apr 13, 1960 - May 7, 1960||A Second String||Fanny||Drama|
|Mar 29, 1970 - Apr 18, 1970||Look to the Lilies||Musical|
|Nov 9, 1970 - Nov 28, 1970||Hay Fever||Judith Bliss||Comedy revival|
|1952||Come Back, Little Sheba||Lola||Academy Award for Best Actress|
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
|1953||Main Street to Broadway||Herself|
|1954||About Mrs. Leslie||Mrs. Vivien Leslie|
|1958||Hot Spell||Alma Duval|
|The Matchmaker||Dolly 'Gallagher' Levi|
|1954||Welcome Home||Jenny||on The United States Steel Hour|
|1957||The Hostess With the Mostess||Perle Mesta||on Playhouse 90|
|1961||The Haven||on The United States Steel Hour|
|1961-1965||Hazel||Hazel Burke||Emmy Award 1962 & 1963, nominated 1965|
|1966||The Glass Menagerie||Amanda Wingfield||on CBS Playhouse|
Nominated Emmy Award
|1967||Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night||Heloise Michaud||CBS Playhouse|
|1968||The Smugglers||Mrs. Hudson|
|1973||A Touch of Grace||Grace Simpson||Television series|
|1974||The Year Without a Santa Claus||Mrs. Claus||voice actress|
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- Blog devoted to Shirley Booth at http://shirleybooth.info
- Shirley Booth at the Internet Broadway Database
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