Monday, August 24, 2015
This Week in Television History: August 2015 PART IV
Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
August 30, 1898
Shirley Booth was born. 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, the daughter of Albert James Ford and Virginia Martha Wright, Her childhood was spent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where she attended P.S. 152. By the time of the 1910 census in April 1910, aged 11, she was known as Thelma by her family. She had only one sibling, a younger sister, Jean Valentine Ford, who died January 23, 2010.
She began her career onstage as a teenager, acting in stock company productions, and was briefly known as Thelma Booth Ford. She was a prominent actress in Pittsburgh theatre for a time, performing with the Sharp Company. 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), originated the role of Ruth Sherwood in the 1940 Broadway production of My Sister Eileen and performed with Ralph Bellamy in Tomorrow the World (1943). She 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 years old when she made her first movie, although she had successfully shaved almost a decade off her real 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 the domineering yet endearing housemaid, Hazel Burke. The show reunited her with Harry Ackerman who produced the show, and she won two Emmys for her role in the series, in 1962 and 1963, 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.
Booth owned Hazel and personally hired Lynn Borden, a former Miss Arizona, to play the role of Barbara Baxter in the final season, when the series aired on CBS. Borden replaced Whitney Blake, and Ray Fulmer, as Steve Baxter, followed Don DeFore as George Baxter. Hazel ended not because of low ratings in its fifth season but because of Booth's health problems.
In 1963, Booth told the Associated Press, at the height of Hazel'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.
Her last Broadway appearances were in a revival of Noël Coward's play Hay Fever and the musical Look to the Lilies, both in 1970. In 1971, she returned to Chicago to star opposite Gig Young in "Harvey" at the Blackstone Theater. 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", after which she retired.