One can easily forget that Miss Shelley Winters had once played, albeit briefly, the Hollywood youth game. She began her career with a vivacious and appealing vulgarity, playing fun loving secondary, yet memorable characters. A most notable mention is A Double Life (1947), directed by George Cukor, which can be credited to have helped launch Shelley’s career.
Despite being seemingly typecast early in her career, limited to playing secondary characters whose destinies were to be killed off in the second act, Shelley Winters soon understood the rules of the game in the biggest star factory in the world – Hollywood. Just like her old friend, Marilyn would say: “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” Winters was not ready to sell, or event rent out her soul.
Therefore, if swimming against the current would get her noticed, Shelley was determined to take “swimming lessons”. Which she did, at the famous Actors Studio, in New York, alongside Monroe, James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Performing was in her blood. Shelley Winters was keen on a long career that would allow her to keep performing. Thus, she would have to pursue the more challenging roles and mould new Hollywood stereotypes, carve her own niche rather than try to fit in with any of the old and outdated ones.
Starting with the quiet-as-a-mouse blend-in-with-the-scenery character of Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun, Winters grew from raw blonde sexpot to more well-rounded, flawed but deeply human characters. They still remained sometimes raw, sometimes bitter, but always relatable and always mesmerising to watch.
From then on, peer accolades started pouring in and the most coveted Oscar statuette was soon hers for the taking, for the great work in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). The quality of her roles didn't deteriorate over the following decade, or the one after that. Or quite possibly, all her roles gained the "Winters" quality once the cameras started rolling. She was wonderfully vivacious, albeit slightly neurotic as Charlotte Haze in Lolita; she was "in great condition", albeit slightly naughty in Alfie (1966).
With her second Oscar win in 1972, for The Poseidon Adventure, her legacy as a great character actress was well established by now. Shelley Winters proved to the world and the entire film industry that she was more than a ditzy blonde and more than just a matronly figure too, paving the way for future versatile actresses to follow suit, such as Miriam Margolyes, Samantha Morton, Toni Collette, Viola Davis and Sally Hawkins.