Gale Sondergaard

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Gale Sondergaard
Gale Sondergaard in Dramatic School trailer.JPG
in the trailer for Dramatic School (1938)
Edith Holm Sondergaard

(1899-02-15)February 15, 1899
DiedAugust 14, 1985(1985-08-14) (aged 86)
Resting place Cremains scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Years active19361983
Neill O'Malley
(m. 1922;div. 1930)

Herbert J. Biberman
(m. 1930;died 1971)

Gale Sondergaard (born Edith Holm Sondergaard; February 15, 1899 August 14, 1985) was an American actress.


Sondergaard began her acting career in theater and progressed to films in 1936. She was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her film debut in Anthony Adverse (1936). She regularly played supporting roles in films during the late 1930s and 1940s, including The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Mark of Zorro (1940) and The Letter (1940). For her role in Anna and the King of Siam (1946), she was nominated for her second Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. After the late 1940s, her screen work came to an abrupt end for the next 20 years.

Married to the director Herbert Biberman, Sondergaard supported him when he was accused of communism and named as one of the Hollywood Ten in the early 1950s. She moved with Biberman to New York City and worked in theatre, and acted in film and television occasionally from the late 1960s. She moved back to Los Angeles where she died from cerebrovascular thrombosis.

Early life

She was born Edith Holm Sondergaard on February 15, 1899 in Litchfield, Minnesota to Danish-American parents, Hans and Christin (Holm) Sondergaard. Her father taught at University of Minnesota, where she was a drama student. [1]

Stage and film career

Until the late-1940s

She studied acting at the Minneapolis School of Dramatic Arts before joining the John Keller Shakespeare Company. She later toured North America in productions of Hamlet , Julius Caesar , The Merchant of Venice, and Macbeth . After becoming a member of the Theatre Guild, she began performing on the New York stage. [2]

in the trailer for The Letter (1940) Gale Sondergaard in The Letter trailer.jpg
in the trailer for The Letter (1940)

Sondergaard made her first film appearance in Anthony Adverse (1936) as Faith Paleologue and became the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. [1] [3] Her career as an actress flourished during the 1930s, including a role with Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (1937). [4]

During pre-production of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's classic The Wizard of Oz (1939), an early idea was to have the Wicked Witch of the West portrayed as a slinky, glamorous villainess in a black, sequined costume, inspired by the Evil Queen in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). [1] Sondergaard originally was cast as the witch and was photographed for two wardrobe tests, both of which survive. One was as a glamorous wicked witch and another as a conventionally ugly wicked witch. After the decision was made to have an ugly wicked witch, Sondergaard, reluctant to wear the disfiguring makeup and fearing it could damage her career, withdrew from the role, and it went to veteran character actress Margaret Hamilton. Sondergaard was, however, cast as the sultry and slinky Tylette (a magically humanized but devious cat) in The Blue Bird (1940). [5]

Around the same time, she played the role of the exotic, sinister wife in The Letter (also 1940), a film starring Bette Davis. [1] She featured in a supporting role in The Spider Woman (aka Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman, 1943), [6] part of the Universal cycle, followed by the non-canonical The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), also for Universal.

She received a second Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role as the king's principal wife in Anna and the King of Siam (1946). [7]

House Un-American Activities Committee

Sondergaard's career suffered irreparable damage during the United States Congressional HUAC Red Scare of the early 1950s when her husband was accused of being a communist and named as one of the Hollywood Ten. [8] (In the 2000 movie One of the Hollywood Ten, Sondergaard was portrayed by actress Greta Scacchi while Jeff Goldblum was cast as Biberman.) With her career stalled, she supported her husband during the production of Salt of the Earth (1954). [9] [10]

One of the Hollywood Ten (2000) chronicled Sondergaard's relationship with Biberman and her role in the making of Salt of the Earth. The Bibermans sold their home in Hollywood shortly after they completed Salt of the Earth, and moved to New York where Sondergaard was able to work in theatre. [8]

Later career

In 1969, she appeared in an off-Broadway one-woman show entitled Woman. Sondergaard resumed her career in film and television around the same time. [6] Her revived career extended into the early 1980s.

Personal life

Her younger sister Hester Sondergaard was also an actress who featured in Seeds of Freedom (1943) The Naked City (1948) and Jigsaw (1949) and The Big Break (1953). [11]

Sondergaard first married in 1922 to actor Neill O'Malley; they divorced in 1930. On May 15, 1930, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she married Herbert Biberman, a theater director then associated with the Theatre Guild Acting Company; he became a film director and died in 1971. [12] They had two children, Daniel Hans Biberman and Mrs. Joan Campos. [1]

Following several strokes, she died from cerebral vascular thrombosis in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, in 1985, aged 86. She had been admitted to the hospital in 1982. [1] [6]

Acting credits


Opening dateClosing dateTitleRoleTheatreRefs
Oct 08, 1928Nov 1928 Faust The WitchGuild Theatre [13]
Nov 19, 1928Jan 1929 Major Barbara Sarah Undershaft, Lady Britomart's daughterGuild Theatre [14]
Oct 7, 1929Nov 1929 Karl and Anna Marie's sisterGuild Theatre [15]
Dec 17, 1929Feb 1930 Red Rust Nina Martin Beck Theatre [16]
May 11, 1931May 23, 1931 Alison's House Elsa - Replacement Ritz Theatre [17]
Feb 21, 1933March 1933 American Dream Lydia Kimball, The First Play, 1650Guild Theatre [18]
May 17, 1934Jul 1934 Invitation to a Murder Lorinda ChanningTheatre Masque [19]
Nov 6, 1933Nov 1933 Doctor Monica Anna Playhouse Theatre [20]
Dec 19, 1940Dec 28, 1940 Cue for Passion Frances Chapman Royale Theatre [21]
Apr 02, 1980April 26, 1980 Goodbye Fidel Prudencia Ambassador Theatre [22]

Film and television

1936 Anthony Adverse Faith PaleologusFirst winner of Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress [4]
1937 Maid of Salem Martha Harding [4]
Seventh Heaven Nana, Diane's Sister [4]
The Life of Emile Zola Lucie Dreyfus [4]
1938 Lord Jeff Doris Clandon [4]
Dramatic School Madame Therese Charlot [4]
1939 Never Say Die Juno Marko [4]
Juarez Empress EugenieA historical drama starring Paul Muni and Bette Davis [4]
Sons of Liberty Rachel SalomonShort [23]
The Cat and the Canary Miss Lu [4]
The Llano Kid Lora Travers [4]
1940 The Blue Bird Tylette (the cat)A Shirley Temple fantasy [4]
The Mark of Zorro Inez Quintero [4]
The Letter Mrs. HammondA Bette Davis drama [4]
1941 The Black Cat Abigail Doone [4]
Paris Calling Colette [4]
1942 My Favorite Blonde Madame Stephanie Runick [4]
Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen Mrs. Van Dorn [4]
1943 A Night to Remember Mrs. Devoe [4]
Appointment in Berlin Gretta Van Leyden [4]
Isle of Forgotten Sins Marge Willison [4]
The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler Anna Huber [4]
Crazy House HerselfUncredited [4]
1944 The Spider Woman Adrea Speddingaka, Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman [4]
Follow the Boys HerselfUncredited [4]
The Invisible Man's Revenge Lady Irene Herrick [4]
Christmas Holiday Mrs. Monette [4]
Gypsy Wildcat Rhoda [4]
The Climax Luise [4]
Enter Arsène Lupin Bessie Seagrave [4]
1946 The Spider Woman Strikes Back Zenobia Dollard [4]
Night in Paradise Queen Attossa [4]
Anna and the King of Siam Lady Thiangnominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress [4]
The Time of Their Lives Emily [4]
1947 Pirates of Monterey Señorita De Sola [4]
Road to Rio Catherine VailA Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour comedy in the Road to ... series [4]
1949 East Side, West Side Nora Kernan [4]
1969 Slaves New Orleans lady [4]
It Takes a Thief Madame Olga MillardEpisode: "The Scorpio Drop"
1970 Get Smart Hester Van HootenEpisode: "Rebecca of Funny-Folk Farm"
TangoTV movie
The Best of Everything Amanda Key2 episodes
Savage Intruder Leslie [24]
1971 Night Gallery Abigail MooreEpisode: "The Dark Boy" [25]
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers Mrs. MarleyTV, episode "The Letter of the Law"
1973 The Cat Creature Hester BlackTV movie [26]
1974 Medical Center MyraEpisode: "Adults Only"
Nakia BertEpisode: "The Quarry"
Police Story Marge WhiteEpisode: "A World Full of Hurt"
1976 Ryan's Hope Marguerite Beaulac 6 episodes
The Return of a Man Called Horse Elk Woman [4]
Hollywood on Trial HerselfDocumentary [4]
1977 Visions Ora DrummondEpisode: "Pleasantville" [27]
1978 Centennial Aunt AugustaTV mini series
1981 The Fall Guy Mrs. JacksonEpisode: "The Human Torch"
1983EchoesMrs. Edmunds(final film role) [4]

See also

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Further reading