Shelley Winters passed away on January 14th at the age of 85. She started out in acting as one of many blonde bombshells in the early 50s, but she turned her back on all that image nonsense and focused on her acting. That decision insured that her career would last long after those of the other "silver screen sirens" faded away to become answers in Trivial Pursuit.
Although her main strength lay in the movies, including her two Oscar-winning roles in 'A Patch Of Blue' and 'The Diary Of Anne Frank', and especially her nominated role as Belle Rosen in 'The Poseidon Adventure', Ms. Winters also made her mark in Toobworld as well.
I particularly liked her as Nana Mary on 'Roseanne', because she looked like a woman who was a grandma - heavy-set, nothing out of the ordinary, and quite frankly, a bit dotty. (Too many sitcoms fell on that old cliche of the sophisticated, glamorous granny; I was sick of those.) It didn't matter to me that in the Real World, she was only seven years older than Estelle Parsons who played her daughter Bev; I accepted that Ms. Winters was probably playing the role as being ten years older (giving birth to Bev as a teenager). I thought the tele-genetics for the line of women in Roseanne's family was strong and believable.
Someday I hope to track down a copy of "Big Rose", the 90 minute pilot she made for CBS back in 1974. Ms. Winters played a private investigator named Rose Winters (nice visual image - a rose in snow) who teams up with a younger male partner played by Barry Primus. The timing may have not been right for the audience to accept a big brassy broad private eye; I guess they had to be mighty easy on the eyes - like 'Honey West'. But if Big Rose had been launched out of the 'Cannon'/'Barnaby Jones' school, it might have had a chance.
Sometimes when an actor passes away, I often think of what might have been; what role would I have liked to have seen them do at some point in their career. And the answer is easy on this one - I wish she had the opportunity to appear in an episode of 'Columbo'. Not as the killer; she never would have fit the profile of a typical antagonist for the rumpled detective. Nor would I have wanted her to portray the victim, because not only would it have curtailed her screen time, but it would have robbed us of the chance to see her interact with Peter Falk.
I think the two of them would have been fantastic together in a couple of scenes.
Two other Toobworld roles that stand out for me are for the wrong reasons - as Ma Parker on 'Batman', and as Shelley Summers on 'Here's Lucy'.
Ma Parker was just a spoof of the noir crime genre of old Warner Brothers movies, and the real-life, hard-boiled gun moll character she would later play on the big screen, Ma Barker. It's a shame a more dastardly, sinister and "realistic" (within a comic book sensibility) villain couldn't have been devised for her. Something on the order of a Cruella DeVil or a land-locked Ursula type (from 'The Little Mermaid') - not with so many tentacles; just the basic demeanor!
As for Shelley Summers, obviously that was just the most veiled version of portraying herself. And it seemed to take particular relish in making fun of the fact that she was in a transitional state between looks. Being heavy-set myself, it bothered me to see the types of things they made her do; all for the sake of getting the laugh at her expense.
Seeing it again when I was older, I could see that she was wearing some kind of fat suit, so that her "transformation" back to her sexpot days would be the more remarkable. But nevertheless, I think it sent out the wrong message to impressionable viewers as to what type of image was preferred by society.
As herself on Television, one only has to look at her list of credits on the IMDb.com to see how popular she was as a guest on the 'Tonight' show with Johnny Carson. In his blog, Brent McKee relates the story about the night she was on with Oliver Reed and I'm hopeful that one day that tape will surface in a collection put out by Carson's estate.
(Check Brent's link over there to the left of your screen for more info on that story.)
At any rate, Shelley Winters could do it all - comedy, drama, Westerns, cops shows, film noir, low-budget and camp, and even fantasy - after all, she did play a snow-woman and a dodo bird!
Not to be confused with a stuffy grande dame, Shelley Winters was a great dame. And she will be missed.
"The French Atlantic Affair" (1979) (mini) TV Series .... Helen Wabash
TV RECURRING ROLES
"Roseanne" playing "Nana Mary"
in episode: "Mothers and Other Strangers" (episode # 9.11) 3 December 1996
in episode: "Home Is Where the Afghan Is" (episode # 9.10) 26 November 1996
in episode: "The Wedding" (episode # 8.23) 7 May 1996
in episode: "Out of the Past" (episode # 8.15) 6 February 1996
in episode: "Thanksgiving 1994" (episode # 7.10) 23 November 1994
in episode: "Altar Egos" (episode # 6.25) 24 May 1994
in episode: "Thanksgiving 1993" (episode # 6.10) 23 November 1993
in episode: "It's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" (episode # 5.12) 15 December 1992
in episode: "Thanksgiving 1991" (episode # 4.10) 26 November 1991
in episode: "Scenes from a Barbecue" (episode # 3.24) 7 May 1991
in episode: "The Wedding" (episode # 3.14) 15 January 1991
Weep No More, My Lady (1992) (TV) .... Vivian Morgan
The Initiation of Sarah (1978) (TV) .... Mrs. Erica Hunter
The Sex Symbol (1974) (TV) .... Agatha Murphy
The Devil's Daughter (1973) (TV) .... Lilith Malone
A Death of Innocence (1971) (TV) .... Elizabeth Cameron
Wipe-out (1963) (TV)
Big Rose: Double Trouble (1974) (TV) .... Rose Winters
Adventures of Nick Carter (1972) (TV) .... Bess Tucker
Alice in Wonderland (1985) (TV) .... Dodo Bird
Elvis (1979/I) (TV) .... Gladys Presley
Emma and Grandpa on the Farm (1983) (TV) .... The Narrator
Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979) (TV) (voice) .... Crystal
Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976) (TV) (voice) .... Crystal
TV GUEST APPEARANCES
"Hawaiian Heat" playing "Florence Senkowski" in episode: "Andy's Mom" (episode # 1.9) 23 November 1984
"Hotel" playing "Adele Ellsworth" in episode: "Trials" (episode # 1.21) 2 May 1984
"The Love Boat" in episode: "Venetian Love Song/The Arrangement/Arrividerci, Gopher/The Gigolo: Part 1&2" (episode # 6.1 & 6.2) 2 October 1982
"Vega$" playing "J.D. Fenton" in episode: "Macho Murders" (episode # 2.8) 28 November 1979
"Kojak" playing "Evelyn McNeil" in episode: "The Captain's Brother's Wife" (episode # 5.16) 4 February 1978
"Chico and the Man" playing "Shirley Schrift" in episode: "Ed's Steps Out" (episode # 1.17) 7 February 1975
"McCloud" playing "Thelma" in episode: "The Barefoot Girls of Bleecker Street" (episode # 5.1) 22 September 1974
"Here's Lucy" playing "Shelley Summers" in episode: "Lucy and Shelly Winters" (episode # 1.4) 14 October 1968
"Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" playing "Clarry Golden" in episode: "Wipeout" (episode # 4.24) 26 April 1967
"Batman" playing "Ma Parker" in episode: "The Greatest Mother of them All" (episode # 2.9) 5 October 1966
"Thirty-Minute Theatre" in episode: "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" (episode # 1.9) 2 November 1965
"Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" playing "Edith" in episode: "Back to Back" (episode # 3.5) 27 October 1965
"Ben Casey" playing "Lydia Mitchum" in episode: "A Disease of the Heart Called Love" (episode # 4.10) 23 November 1964
"Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" playing "Jenny Dworak" in episode: "Two Is the Number" (episode # 1.15) 31 January 1964
"Alcoa Premiere" playing "Meg Fletcher" in episode: "The Way from Darkness" (episode # 2.11) 13 December 1962
"Kraft Television Theatre" in episode: "Polka" (episode # 11.12) 18 December 1957
"The DuPont Show of the Month" playing "Louisa Burt" in episode: "Beyond This Place" (episode # 1.3) 25 November 1957
"Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" playing "Mildred Corrigan" in episode: "Smarty" (episode # 7.5) 11 October 1957
"Wagon Train" playing "Ruth Owens" in episode: "The Ruth Owens Story" (episode # 1.4) 9 October 1957
"Climax!" playing "Carol" in episode: "Don't Touch Me" (episode # 3.23) 4 April 1957
"The United States Steel Hour" playing "Evvie" in episode: "Inspired Alibi" (episode # 4.12) 13 February 1957
"The Alcoa Hour" playing "Pat" in episode: "A Double Life" (episode # 2.8) 6 January 1957
"Climax!" playing "Margaret Corey/Ethel/Lillian/Ann" in episode: "Dark Wall" (episode # 2.44) 30 August 1956
"Producers' Showcase" in episode: "The Women" (episode # 1.5) 7 February 1955
"Climax!" in episode: "Sorry, Wrong Number" (episode # 1.4) 4 November 1954
"The Ford Television Theatre" playing "Sally Marland" in episode: "Mantrap" (episode # 2.18) 28 January 1954