Oscar-Winner Shelley Winters Dies at 85 Actress Shelley Winters, who won Academy Awards for her roles in The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, has died at 85. She sustained a long career by repeatedly reinventing herself, from chorus girl to character actress.
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Oscar-Winner Shelley Winters Dies at 85

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Oscar-Winner Shelley Winters Dies at 85

Oscar-Winner Shelley Winters Dies at 85

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Outspoken Oscar-winning actress, Shelley Winters, who made more than 100 movies during a career that spanned some 60 years, died today of heart failure in Beverly Hills. NPR's Allison Keyes has this remembrance.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

She was born Shirley Schrift and started taking acting lessons in high school in Brooklyn, New York. She later toiled as a dress model by day and worked as a chorus girl at night. After a series of supporting roles on the stage, Winters landed her first movie role in 1943's "What a Woman!" She went on to win two Academy awards for best supporting actress.

While Winters became famous as a blonde bombshell in Hollywood, the politically conscious actress fought to play gritty, flawed women whose circumstances sometimes forced them to become cruel. Winters said she was proud of her role as a mother in the film, "Lolita."

(Soundbite from "Lolita")

Ms. SHELLEY WINTERS: Well, that miserable little brat. She is becoming impossible, simply impossible. The idea. She's always been a spiteful little pest. Since the age of...

KEYES: Winters told "Fresh Air" in a 1989 interview that she also pleased with her work in the 1965 film, "A Patch of Blue." Winters won her second Oscar for her portrayal of a woman trying to keep her blind white daughter away from a black man.

(Soundbite from vintage 1989 "Fresh Air" interview)

Ms. WINTERS: She's bigoted and a racist, and it was very difficult to do that. It's very hard to play characters that are mean and hateful.

KEYES: Winters' first Academy award came for her role in "The Diary of Anne Frank," in which she played one of eight Jewish refugees in World War II Holland who hid in an attic for more than a year, often forced to fight over food.

(Soundbite from "The Diary of Anne Frank")

Ms. WINTERS (Karalie(ph): Just what are you trying to say?

Unidentified Man: Forget it, Karalie, we're wasting time.

Ms. WINTERS: No. No. Don't I always give everybody exactly the same? Don't I?

Unidentified Man: Forget it, Karalie...

Ms. WINTERS: No, I want an answer. Don't I?

KEYES: Winters said she wanted to be a lawyer, but it was something women didn't do when she was growing up. Instead, she said she chose roles that educate the audience as well as giving them something to enjoy.

(Soundbite from vintage 1989 "Fresh Air" interview)

Ms. WINTERS: Gloria Steinem said that the films that I fought for and got, like "Double Life," "A Place In the Sun," "Night of the Hunter," women who were victims that--and in my way I was preparing the ground for the women's lib movement, because I was showing the public the victims that women were, and they had to fight against being pushed into these categories. And I hope I did that.

KEYES: The 1951 film, "A Place In the Sun," illustrates Winters' commitment to social and political issues. She had to persuade director George Stevens that she wasn't too sexy to play a pregnant factory girl killed so her lover could marry Elizabeth Taylor. Winters said when she played the following scene, she did it as a girl who knows she faces death if the boy doesn't marry her.

(Soundbite from "A Place In the Sun")

Ms. WINTERS: You're going to marry me tomorrow or I'll telephone the newspapers and tell them everything, and then I'll kill myself.

KEYES: The drama in Winters' life wasn't confined to stage and screen. Her stormy marriages and dalliances made headlines and spicy fodder for her autobiographies in which she wrote of romances with the likes of Marlon Brando and Clark Gable.

Her final Oscar nomination came for the 1972 movie, "The Poseidon Adventure," which endeared Winters to a whole new generation of fans. She kept studying and working, appearing on Broadway and the 1990s TV show, "Roseanne." Winters always tried to remind people of the problems and joy in American society.

She suffered a heart attack in October and had been hospitalized since then. Winters is survived by her daughter.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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