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.

Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role while working within the film industry. The award was traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Supporting Actor winner.

<i>Anthony Adverse</i> 1936 film directed by Mervyn LeRoy

Anthony Adverse is a 1936 American epic historical drama film directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland. Based on the first part of the novel Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen, with a screenplay by Sheridan Gibney, the film is about an orphan whose debt to the man who raised him threatens to separate him forever from the woman he loves. The film received four Academy Awards.

<i>The Cat and the Canary</i> (1939 film) 1939 film by Elliott Nugent

The Cat and the Canary is a 1939 American horror comedy film directed by Elliott Nugent starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. It is a remake of the 1927 silent film The Cat and the Canary, which was based on the 1922 play of the same name by John Willard.

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.

Herbert Biberman American screenwriter and film director

Herbert J. Biberman was an American screenwriter and film director. He was one of the Hollywood Ten and directed Salt of the Earth (1954), a film barely released in the United States, about a zinc miners' strike in Grant County, New Mexico. His membership in the Directors Guild of America was posthumously restored in 1997; he had been expelled in 1950.

Thrombosis vascular disease caused by the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system

Thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel, obstructing the flow of blood through the circulatory system. When a blood vessel is injured, the body uses platelets (thrombocytes) and fibrin to form a blood clot to prevent blood loss. Even when a blood vessel is not injured, blood clots may form in the body under certain conditions. A clot, or a piece of the clot, that breaks free and begins to travel around the body is known as an embolus.

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]

Litchfield, Minnesota City in Minnesota, United States

Litchfield is a city in and the county seat of Meeker County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 6,726 at the 2010 census.

Danes are a North Germanic ethnic group native to Denmark and a modern nation identified with the country of Denmark. This connection may be ancestral, legal, historical, or cultural.

University of Minnesota public research university in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is a public research university in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses are approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) apart, and the St. Paul campus is actually in neighboring Falcon Heights. It is the oldest and largest campus within the University of Minnesota system and has the sixth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 50,943 students in 2018-19. The university is the flagship institution of the University of Minnesota system, and is organized into 19 colleges and schools, with sister campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester.

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]

<i>Hamlet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.

<i>Julius Caesar</i> (play) play by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (First Folio title: The Tragedie of Iulius Cæsar) is a history play and tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

<i>The Merchant of Venice</i> play by Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio must default on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599.

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]

Paul Muni Austrian-born American stage and film actor

Paul Muni was an American stage and film actor who grew up in Chicago. Muni was a five-time Academy Award nominee, with one win. He started his acting career in the Yiddish theatre. During the 1930s, he was considered one of the most prestigious actors at the Warner Bros. studio, and was given the rare privilege of choosing which parts he wanted.

<i>The Life of Emile Zola</i> 1937 film by William Dieterle

The Life of Emile Zola is a 1937 American biographical film about 19th-century French author Émile Zola, starring Paul Muni and directed by William Dieterle, a German emigré. It is notable as the second biographical film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It premiered at the Los Angeles Carthay Circle Theatre to great success both critically and financially. Contemporary reviews ranked it as the best biographical film made up to that time. In 2000, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

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]


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of feature films and television programs. One of the world's oldest film studios, MGM's headquarters are located at 245 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, California.

<i>The Wizard of Oz</i> (1939 film) 1939 movie based on the book by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Widely considered to be one of the greatest films in cinema history, it is the best-known and most commercially successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Directed primarily by Victor Fleming, the film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale alongside Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr.

Wicked Witch of the West Fictional character and the most significant antagonist in L. Frank Baums childrens book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wicked Witch of the West is a fictional character created by American author L. Frank Baum as the antagonist in his classic children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). In Baum's subsequent Oz novels, it is the Nome King who is the principal villain; the Wicked Witch of the West is rarely even referred to again after her death in the first book.

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 IntruderLeslie [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]

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