Two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (1920-2006) 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.

I never realized she was a frank and gutsy personality until I saw her go up against the chauvinistic Oliver Reed on Johnny Carson‘s Tonight Show — a legendary encounter that ended with Winters pouring an alcoholic drink over Reed’s head.

My first conversation with Winters happened inside the Plaza Hotel during the filming of Frank Pierson‘s King of the Gypsies (’78), in which she was costarring with Sterling Hayden, Susan Sarandon and Eric Roberts. A brief exchange of pleasantries, nothing more.

My second Winters encounter happened in Los Angeles around five years later, in late 1983. I was seated right next to her at a Cannon Films press luncheon for Over the Brooklyn Bridge (held just prior to shooting). We were chatting amiably about everything…good vibes. When producer-director Menahem Golan got up before a mike and began making a speech, Winter began shaking her head and said to anyone within earshot at our table, “Don’t like him… nope, don’t like him.”

That was it — I was in love.

I met Winters again in 1997 at the Silver Spoon, a now-destroyed breakfast place in West Hollywood, while interviewing with Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster She walked up to our table, Forster introduced us, I recapped our slight history, etc. Winters told me I reminded her of an old boyfriend from New York.

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.