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Shirley Booth

Shirley Booth
File:Shirley Booth 1950.JPG
Booth in 1950
Born Marjory Ford[1]
(1898-08-30)August 30, 1898
Brooklyn, New York
Died October 16, 1992(1992-10-16) (aged 94)
North Chatham, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting place
Mount Hebron Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.
Education P.S. 152
Occupation Actress
Years active 1925–1974
Spouse(s) Ed Gardner (m. 1929; div. 1942)
William H. Baker, Jr. (m. 1943; died 1951)

Shirley Booth (August 30, 1898 – October 16, 1992) was an American stage, film, radio and television actress.

Primarily a theater actress, Booth's Broadway career began in 1925. Her most significant success was as Lola Delaney, in the drama Come Back, Little Sheba, for which she received a Tony Award in 1950. She made her film debut, reprising her role in the 1952 film version, and won both the Academy Award for Best Actress and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her performance. Despite her successful entry into films, she preferred acting on the stage, and made only four more films.

From 1961 until 1966, she played the title role in the sitcom Hazel, for which she won two Emmy Awards. She was later acclaimed for her performance in the 1966 television production of The Glass Menagerie. She retired in 1974. In that same year, Shirley Booth would gain a whole new legion of fans when Rankin Bass Productions invited her to play the role of Mrs.Claus in the animated television special The Year Without A Santa Claus.

Early life

Booth was born Marjory Ford in New York City[1] to Albert James and Virginia M. (née Wright) Ford, but by the time of the 1905 New York state census, she was known as Thelma Booth Ford. She had one sibling, a younger sister, Jean Valentine Ford (died January 23, 2010). She began her career onstage as a teenager in summer stock after leaving home at 13 due to her father's refusal to countenance her wish to be actress. Her childhood was spent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where she attended Public School 152.[2][3][4]


Stage, radio and films

Booth began her career onstage as a teenager, acting in stock company productions. She was a prominent actress in Pittsburgh theatre for a time, performing with the Sharp Company.[5] Her debut on Broadway was in the play, Hell's Bells, opposite Humphrey Bogart on January 26, 1925.

Booth first attracted major notice as the female lead in the comedy hit Three Men on a Horse which ran almost two years in 1935 to 1937. During the 1930s and 1940s, she achieved popularity in dramas, comedies and, later, musicals. She acted with Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story (1939), originated the role of Ruth Sherwood in the 1940 Broadway production of My Sister Eileen and performed with Ralph Bellamy in Tomorrow the World (1943). She was a prolific Broadway performer for over three decades.

Booth also starred on the popular radio series Duffy's Tavern, playing the lighthearted, wisecracking, man-crazy daughter of the unseen tavern owner on CBS radio from 1941 to 1942 and on NBC-Blue Radio from 1942 to 1943. Her husband, Ed Gardner, created and wrote the show as well as playing its lead character, Archie, the malapropping manager of the tavern; Booth left the show not long after the couple divorced. She auditioned unsuccessfully for the title role of Our Miss Brooks in 1948; she had been recommended by Harry Ackerman, who was to produce the show, but Ackerman told radio historian Gerald Nachman that he felt Booth was too conscious of a high school teacher's struggles to have full fun with the character's comic possibilities. Our Miss Brooks became a radio and television hit when the title role went to Eve Arden, making her a major star.

Booth received her first Tony, for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic), for her performance as Grace Woods in Goodbye, My Fancy (1948). Her second Tony was for Best Actress in a Play, which she received for her widely acclaimed performance as the tortured wife, Lola Delaney, in the poignant drama Come Back, Little Sheba (1950). Her leading man, Sidney Blackmer, received the Tony for Best Actor in a Play for his performance as her husband, Doc.

Her success in Come Back, Little Sheba was immediately followed by the musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951), (based on the popular novel) in which she played the feisty but lovable Aunt Sissy, which proved to be another major hit. Her popularity was such that, at the time, the story was skewed from the original so that Aunt Sissy was the leading role (rather than Francie).

She then went to Hollywood and recreated her stage role in the motion picture version of Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), with Burt Lancaster playing Doc. After that movie, her first of only five films in her career, was completed, she returned to New York and played Leona Samish in The Time of the Cuckoo (1952) on Broadway.

In 1953, Booth received the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Come Back, Little Sheba, becoming the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role. The film also earned Booth Best Actress awards from The Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe Awards, The New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and National Board of Review. She also received her third Tony, which was her second in the Best Actress in a Play category, for her performance in the Broadway production of Arthur Laurents' play The Time of the Cuckoo.

Booth was 54 years old when she made her first movie, although she had successfully shaved almost a decade off her real age, with her publicity stating 1907 as the year of her birth. The correct year of birth was known by only her closest associates until her actual age was announced at the time of her death. Her second starring film, a romantic drama About Mrs. Leslie (1954) opposite Robert Ryan, was released in 1954 to good reviews. In 1953, Booth had made a cameo appearance as herself in the all-star comedy/drama movie Main Street to Broadway. She spent the next few years commuting between New York and California. On Broadway, she scored personal successes in the musical By the Beautiful Sea (1954) and the comedy Desk Set (1955). Although Booth had become well known to moviegoers during this period, the movie roles for both The Time of the Cuckoo (re-titled as Summertime for the film in 1955), and Desk Set (1957), both went to Katharine Hepburn.

In 1957, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work on the stage in Chicago. She returned to the Broadway stage in 1959, starring as the long-suffering title character in Marc Blitzstein's musical Juno, an adaptation of Sean O'Casey's 1924 classic play, Juno and the Paycock. Director Frank Capra unsuccessfully attempted to bring Booth back to the screen with Pocketful of Miracles in 1961, but after viewing Capra's original version, Lady for a Day (1933), Booth informed him there was no way she could match May Robson's moving, Oscar-nominated performance in the original film. Frank Capra instead cast Bette Davis—and, indeed, Davis was unfavorably compared to May Robson by most reviewers when the film was released.

Booth returned to motion pictures to star in two more films for Paramount Pictures, playing Dolly Gallagher Levi in the 1958 film adaptation of Thornton Wilder's romance/comedy The Matchmaker (the source text for the musical Hello, Dolly!), and to play Alma Duval in the drama Hot Spell (1958). She was named runner-up to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live! as the year's Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle for her two 1958 films.


File:Shirley Booth Hazel 1962.JPG
Shirley Booth as Hazel, 1962.

In 1961, Booth began starring in the television situation comedy Hazel, based on Ted Key's popular comic strip from the Saturday Evening Post about the domineering yet endearing housemaid, Hazel Burke. The show reunited her with Harry Ackerman who produced the show, and she won two Emmys for her role in the series, in 1962 and 1963, making her one of the few performers to win all three major entertainment awards (Oscar, Tony, Emmy), and new stardom with a younger audience. Booth received another Emmy nomination for her third season as "Hazel" in 1964, and in 1966 was also Emmy-nominated for her performance as Amanda in a television adaptation of The Glass Menagerie.

Booth owned Hazel and personally hired Lynn Borden, a former Miss Arizona, to play the role of Barbara Baxter in the final season, when the series aired on CBS. Borden replaced Whitney Blake, and Ray Fulmer, as Steve Baxter, followed Don DeFore as George Baxter. Hazel ended not because of low ratings in its fifth season but because of Booth's health problems.[6]

In 1963, Booth told the Associated Press, at the height of Hazel's popularity, "I liked playing Hazel the first time I read one of the scripts, and I could see all the possibilities of the character—the comedy would take care of itself. My job was to give her heart. Hazel never bores me. Besides, she's my insurance policy."[2] She proved prescient with the last comment; the show was seen in syndicated reruns for many years after it ceased first-run production in 1966.

Later years and retirement

Booth's final Broadway appearances were in a revival of Noël Coward's play Hay Fever and the musical Look to the Lilies, both in 1970. In 1971, she returned to Chicago to star opposite Gig Young in Harvey at the Blackstone Theater. After appearing as Grace Simpson in the short-lived 1973 TV series A Touch of Grace, which was directed by Carl Reiner.

She played Mrs. Claus for The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), an animated television special, after which she retired. To this day when hearing Shirley's voice on TV's Hazel or any of the movies she had done, the character of Mrs. Claus instantly comes to mind. Shirley herself would say in later years her whole career was summed up by one animated special and she wished she had done voice overs sooner. Burl Ives found this same situation when he played Sam The Snowman in Rankin Bass's production of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Fans in later years would come up to Shirley and tell her how much they loved "Year Without A Santa Claus" and she would use phrases from the animated special to make them laugh.

Personal life

On November 23, 1929, Booth married Ed Gardner, who later gained fame as the creator and star of Duffy's Tavern on radio. They divorced in 1942.[4] She married United States Army corporal William H. Baker, Jr. the following year. That marriage lasted until Baker's death from heart disease in 1951. She never remarried and had no children from either marriage.[2]

Later years

After retiring from acting in 1974, Booth moved to North Chatham, Massachusetts where she lived with her pet poodle. In her final years, she battled health problems including blindness and a broken hip which she sustained in 1991. Booth died on October 16, 1992 at age 94 at her home.[2][7] She is interred in Mount Hebron Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.

For her contribution to the film industry, Shirley Booth has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6840 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.[8] She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1979.[9]


Theatre (Broadway)

Dates of production Title Role Genre Notes
26 January 1925 – May 1925 Hell's Bells Nan Winchester Comedy
2 November 1925 – June 1926 Laff That Off Peggy Bryant Comedy
7 October 1926 – October 1926 Buy, Buy Baby Betty Hamilton Comedy
Oct 6, 1927 – Oct 1927 High Gear Mary Marshall Comedy
Sep 24, 1928 – Dec 1928 The War Song Emily Rosen Drama
Apr 21, 1931 – Apr 1931 School for Virtue Marg Comedy
Oct 2, 1931 – Oct 1931 The Camels are Coming Bobby Marchante Comedy
Nov 30, 1931 – Jan 1932 Coastwise Annie Duval Original drama
May 8, 1933 – Jun 1933 The Mask and the Face Elisa Zanotti Comedy revival
Feb 7, 1934 – Feb 1934 After Such Pleasures Comedy
Jan 30, 1935 – Jan 9, 1937 Three Men on a Horse Mabel Comedy
Apr 9, 1937 – Jul 1937 Excursion Mrs. Loschavio Comedy
Nov 15, 1937 – Nov 1937 Too Many Heroes Carrie Nolan Drama
Mar 28, 1939 – Mar 30, 1940 The Philadelphia Story Elizabeth Imbrie Comedy
Dec 26, 1940 – Jan 16, 1943 My Sister Eileen Ruth Sherwood Comedy
Apr 14, 1943 – Jun 17, 1944 Tomorrow the World Leona Richards Drama
May 31, 1945 – Jul 14, 1945 Hollywood Pinafore Louhedda Hopsons Comedy
Dec 11, 1946 – Dec 14, 1946 Land's End Susan Pengilly Drama
Jan 16, 1948 – Jan 17, 1948 The Men We Marry Drama
Nov 17, 1948 – Dec 24, 1949 Goodbye, My Fancy Grace Woods Drama Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play[10]
Nov 7, 1949 – Nov 19, 1949 Love Me Long Abby Quinn Comedy
Feb 15, 1950 – Jul 29, 1950 Come Back, Little Sheba Lola Drama Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play[10]
Apr 19, 1951 – Dec 8, 1951 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Cissy Musical
Oct 15, 1952 – May 30, 1953 The Time of the Cuckoo Leona Samish Drama Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play[10]
Apr 8, 1954 – Nov 27, 1954 By the Beautiful Sea Lottie Gibson Musical
Oct 24, 1955 – Jul 5, 1956 Desk Set Bunny Watson Comedy
Dec 26, 1957 – Feb 8, 1958 Miss Isobel Mrs. Ackroyd Drama
Mar 9, 1959 – Mar 21, 1959 Juno Juno Boyle Musical
Apr 13, 1960 – May 7, 1960 A Second String Fanny Drama
Mar 29, 1970 – Apr 18, 1970 Look to the Lilies Musical
Nov 9, 1970 – Nov 28, 1970 Hay Fever Judith Bliss Comedy revival


Year Title Role Notes
1952 Come Back, Little Sheba Lola Academy Award for Best Actress
Best Actress Award (Cannes Film Festival)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1953 Main Street to Broadway Herself
1954 About Mrs. Leslie Mrs. Vivien Leslie Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1958 Hot Spell Alma Duval
The Matchmaker Dolly 'Gallagher' Levi


Year Title Role Notes
1954 Welcome Home Jenny on The United States Steel Hour
1957 The Hostess With the Mostess Perle Mesta on Playhouse 90
1961 The Haven on The United States Steel Hour
1961–1966 Hazel Hazel Burke Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1962, 1963)
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series(1964)
1966 The Glass Menagerie Amanda Wingfield on CBS Playhouse
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1967 Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Heloise Michaud CBS Playhouse
1968 The Smugglers Mrs. Hudson
1973 A Touch of Grace Grace Simpson Television series
1974 The Year Without a Santa Claus Mrs. Claus Voice-over role


  • Tucker, David C. (2008). Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-3600-2. 
  • Manago, Jim; Manago, Donna (2008). Love is the Reason for It All: The Shirley Booth Story. Albany, GA: BearManorMedia. ISBN 978-1-59393-146-9. 
  • Manago, Jim (2010). For Bill His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story. U.S.: Jim & Donna Manago Books. ISBN 978-0-615-42181-0. 


  1. ^ a b A copy of her birth certificate reflecting the true birth name and date is located in Booth's clippings file on the third floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
  2. ^ a b c d "Actress Shirley Booth, Star of TV's Hazel, Dies". October 21, 1992. 
  3. ^ Coughlan, Robert (December 1, 1952). "New Queen of the Drama". Life (Time, Inc.) 33 (22): 129. ISSN 0024-3019. 
  4. ^ a b Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. p. 213. ISBN 0-199-84045-8. 
  5. ^ Conner, Lynne (2007). Pittsburgh In Stages: Two Hundred Years of Theater. University of Pittsburgh Press. pp. 105. ISBN 978-0-8229-4330-3. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  6. ^ "Ken Hall, "Lynn Borden Collects Frog and Elephant Figures"". Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  7. ^ Flint, Peter B. (October 21, 1992). "Shirley Booth, Star of TV, Radio, Stage and Screen, Is Dead at 94". 
  8. ^ Folkart, Burt A. "Hollywood Star Walk: Shirley Booth". 
  9. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Enshrines 51 Artists". New York Times. Retrieved March 14, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c Past Tony Award Winners.

External links

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