Two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters was the absolute best — no side-stepping, said what she felt, straight-from-the-gut candor at all times. And I’m not just saying this because I ran into her a few times and liked her from the get-go. Always an artist first and a diplomat second. Smarts, steel, liberal-progressive views, etc.
Winters knew Marilyn Monroe pretty well, roomed with her for about a year between 1947 and ’48. For decades after Monroe’s passing Winters was repeatedly asked about her, and offered pretty much the same recollections.
Monroe began to enjoy life a bit in the late ’40s, Winters said, and had a genuinely thrilling and abundant life in the ’50s, but not so much in the early ’60s. Monroe wasn’t well educated but was highly intelligent and constantly reading. Totally into older-guy father figures. No family, no support group, suspicious of most would-be friends or acquaintances. Key quote: “If she’d been a little dumber, she would’ve been happier.”
Monroe began to slip into an increasingly troubled place when she hit her mid 30s, which, back in the day, was when actresses needed to begin thinking about transitioning into character roles and/or playing mothers, or so Winters believed. But in the early ’60s the big studios didn’t want Monroe as a character actress — they wanted her to go on being a 25-year-old blonde sexpot forever. (When Winters signed to play a 40ish old-school motherly type in The Diary of Anne Frank, for which she later won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, director George Stevens told her that “because of this role you’ll be able to work for the rest of your life.”)
Winters believed that Monroe’s August 1962 death from a sleeping-pill overdose was most likely an accident, and that she’d just forgotten how many she’d taken earlier. “I’ve done that,” Winters said.
Brief Shelly Winters obit (posted on 1.14.06): Poor Shelley Winters, who died yesterday at the age of 86 years and 4 months, was always feisty and frank. I first met her on the New York set of Frank Pierson‘s King of The Gypsies. I sat right next to her at a 1983 Cannon Films press luncheon for Over the Brooklyn Bridge (held prior to shooting). As producer Menahem Golan got up and began making a speech, Winters squinted her eyes, shook her head and said to pretty much everyone at our table, “Don’t like him… nope, don’t like him.”
I met her again in 1997 at the Silver Spoon, a now-vanished restaurant in West Hollywood, while doing an interview with Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster. Winters told me I reminded her of an old boyfriend from New York.
From Winters’ IMDB bio: “Winters and Oliver Reed were guests on the 9.26.75 episode of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Winters was quickly appalled by Reed’s attitude towards women. They had a heated conversation and, after Winters told Reed what she thought of his opinions, she left the set. The show continued with Reed going on about women while Carson looked at him in a daze. Shortly afterward, Winters appeared from stage left, unannounced to all and carrying a beverage glass. She surprised Reed by dumping it over his head. Reed went on to finish his statement as if nothing had happened and later claimed the beverage was whiskey. The show took a commercial break, and when it resumed both actors were gone.”