Sylvia Sidney

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Sylvia Sidney
Sylvia Sidney - still.jpg
Sidney in 1940
Sophia Kosow

(1910-08-08)August 8, 1910
New York City, U.S.
DiedJuly 1, 1999(1999-07-01) (aged 88)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1925–1998
(m. 1935;div. 1936)

(m. 1938;div. 1946)

Carlton Alsop
(m. 1947;div. 1951)
Sylvia Sidney signature.jpg

Sylvia Sidney (born Sophia Kosow; [1] August 8, 1910 – July 1, 1999) was an American stage, screen and film actress whose career spanned over 70 years. She rose to prominence in dozens of leading roles in the 1930s. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams in 1973. She later gained attention for her role as Juno, a case worker in the afterlife, in Tim Burton's 1988 film Beetlejuice , for which she won a Saturn Award as Best Supporting Actress.


Early life

Sidney was born Sophia Kosow in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Rebecca (née Saperstein), a Romanian Jew, and Victor Kosow, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who worked as a clothing salesman. [2] Her parents divorced by 1915, and she was adopted by her stepfather Sigmund Sidney, a dentist. Her mother became a dressmaker and renamed herself Beatrice Sidney. [3] Now using the surname Sidney, Sylvia became an actress at the age of 15 as a way of overcoming shyness. As a student of the Theater Guild's School for Acting, she was praised by theater critics for her performances. In 1926, she made her first film appearance as an extra in D.W. Griffith's The Sorrows of Satan . [4]


Sidney in 1932 Sylvia Sidney Argentinean Magazine AD (corp).jpg
Sidney in 1932

During the Depression, Sidney appeared in a string of films, often playing the girlfriend or sister of a gangster. She appeared with Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, Fredric March, George Raft and Cary Grant. Among her films from this period were: An American Tragedy , City Streets , and Street Scene (all 1931), Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage and Fritz Lang's Fury (both 1936), You Only Live Once and Dead End (both 1937), and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine , an early three-strip Technicolor film. During this period, she developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. [5] At the time of making Sabotage with Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney was one of the highest-paid actresses in the industry, earning $10,000 per week—earning a total of $80,000 for Sabotage. [6]

Sidney in The Wagons Roll at Night (1941) Sylvia Sidney in The Wagons Roll At Night trailer.JPG
Sidney in The Wagons Roll at Night (1941)

Her career diminished somewhat during the 1940s. In 1949, exhibitors voted her "box-office poison". [7] In 1952, she played the role of Fantine in Les Misérables , and although the film itself did not meet the studio's expectations, Sidney received critical praise for her performance. [8]

She appeared three times on Playhouse 90 . On May 16, 1957, she appeared as Lulu Morgan, mother of singer Helen Morgan in "The Helen Morgan Story". Four months later, Sidney rejoined her former co-star Bergen on the premiere of the short-lived The Polly Bergen Show. [9] She also worked in television during the 1960s on such programs as Route 66 , The Defenders , and My Three Sons .

In 1973, Sidney received an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams . As an elderly woman, Sidney continued to play supporting screen roles, and was identifiable by her husky voice, the result of cigarette smoking. She was the formidable Miss Coral in the film version of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and later was cast as Aidan Quinn's grandmother in the television production of An Early Frost for which she won a Golden Globe Award. She played Aunt Marion in Damien: Omen II and had key roles in Beetlejuice (directed by longtime Sidney fan Tim Burton), for which she won a Saturn Award, and Used People . Her final role was in Mars Attacks! , another film by Burton, in which she played an elderly woman whose beloved records by Slim Whitman help stop an alien invasion from Mars.

On television, she appeared in the pilot episode of WKRP in Cincinnati as the imperious owner of the radio station, and she appeared in a memorable episode of Thirtysomething as Melissa's tough grandmother, who wanted to leave her granddaughter the family dress business, though Melissa wanted a career as a photographer. Sidney also appeared at the beginning of each episode as the crotchety travel clerk on the short-lived late-1990s revival of Fantasy Island . She also was featured on Starsky & Hutch , The Love Boat , Magnum, P.I. , Diagnosis Murder, and Trapper John, M.D. .

Her Broadway career spanned five decades, from her debut performance as a graduate of the Theatre Guild School in June 1926 at age 15, in the three-act fantasy Prunella to the Tennessee Williams play Vieux Carré in 1977. [10] Other stage credits included The Fourposter , Enter Laughing , and Barefoot in the Park . In 1982, Sidney was awarded the George Eastman Award by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Personal life

Sidney was married three times. She first married publisher Bennett Cerf on October 1, 1935, but the couple divorced six months later on April 9, 1936. She later married actor and acting teacher Luther Adler in 1938, by whom she had her only child, a son Jacob ("Jody"; 1939–1987), who died of Lou Gehrig's disease while his mother was still alive. Adler and Sidney divorced in 1946. [1] On March 5, 1947, she married radio producer and announcer Carlton Alsop; they divorced on March 22, 1951.

A Democrat, Sidney supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign during the 1952 presidential election. [11]

She published two books on the art of needlepoint, and raised and showed pug dogs. [12]


Sidney died on July 1, 1999, from esophageal cancer at the Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She underwent chemotherapy, which proved unsuccessful, and died a month before her 89th birthday. [13] Her remains were cremated. [1]



1927 Broadway Nights HerselfLost film
1929 Thru Different Eyes Valerie Briand
1930Five Minutes from the StationCarrie AdamsShort film
1931 City Streets Nan Cooley
Confessions of a Co-Ed Patricia Harper
An American Tragedy Roberta "Bert" Alden
Street Scene Rose Maurrant
Ladies of the Big House Kathleen Storm McNeill
1932 The Miracle Man Helen Smith
Merrily We Go to Hell Joan Prentice
Make Me a Star UnknownUncredited
Madame Butterfly Cho-Cho San
1933 Pick-Up Mary Richards
Jennie Gerhardt Jennie Gerhardt
1934 Good Dame Lillie Taylor
Thirty-Day Princess Nancy Lane / Princess Catterina
Behold My Wife Tonita Storm Cloud
1935 Accent on Youth Linda Brown
Mary Burns, Fugitive Mary Burns
1936 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine June Tolliver
Fury Katherine Grant
Sabotage Mrs. Verloc
1937 You Only Live Once Joan Graham
Dead End Drina Gordon
1938 You and Me Helen Dennis
1939 ...One Third of a Nation... Mary Rogers
1941 The Wagons Roll at Night Flo Lorraine
1945 Blood on the Sun Iris Hilliard
1946 The Searching Wind Cassie Bowwman
Mr. Ace Margaret Wyndham Chase
1947 Love from a Stranger Cecily Harrington
1952 Les Misérables Fantine
1955 Violent Saturday Elsie Braden
1956 Behind the High Wall Hilda Carmichael
1971 Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate Elizabeth GibsonTV movie
1973 Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams Mrs. PritchettKansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1975The Secret Night CallerKittyTV movie
Winner Take AllAnne BarclayTV movie
1976 God Told Me To Elizabeth Mullin
Raid on Entebbe Dora BlochTV movie
Death at Love House Clara JosephsTV movie
1976 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Miss Coral
Snowbeast Mrs. Carrie RillTV movie
1978 Damien: Omen II Aunt Marion
SiegeLillian GordonTV movie
1980The Gossip ColumnistAlma LewellynTV movie
F.D.R.: The Last YearCousin PollyTV movie
The Shadow Box FelicityTV movie
1981A Small KillingSadie RossTV movie
1982 Hammett Donaldina Cameron
1983 Copkiller Margaret Smith
The Brass RingGrandmotherTV movie
1985 Finnegan Begin Again Margaret FinneganTV movie
An Early Frost Beatrice McKennaTV movie
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1987PalsFerb StobbsTV movie
1987The Witching of Ben WagnerGrammyTV movie
1988 Beetlejuice Juno Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1990 Andre's Mother Mrs. Downs – Andre's GrandmotherTV movie
1992 Used People Becky
1996 Mars Attacks! Grandma Florence NorrisFinal film role


1952 Cameo Theatre UnknownEpisode: "The Gathering Twilight"
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars UnknownEpisode: "Experiment"
1952 Tales of Tomorrow NatalieEpisode: "Time to Go"
1952 Lux Video Theatre JoyceEpisode: "Night Be Quiet"
1952 Lux Video Theatre Laura BarrieEpisode: "Pattern for Glory"
1953–1955 The Ford Television Theatre Unknown2 episodes
1954 The Philco Television Playhouse UnknownEpisode: "Catch My Boy on Sunday"
1955 Star Stage "famous stage actress"title unknown [14]
1955–1956 Celebrity Playhouse Meg Fraser2 episodes
1955–1957 Climax! Louella Wheedron2 episodes
1957 Kraft Television Theatre UnknownEpisode: "Circle of Fear"
1960 The DuPont Show with June Allyson BeulahEpisode: "Escape"
1961 Naked City FlorenceEpisode: "A Hole in the City"
1961 Route 66 Hannah EllisEpisode: "Like a Motherless Child"
1962 The Defenders Adela Collins2 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1963 The Eleventh Hour Mrs. ArnoldEpisode: "Five Moments Out of Time"
1964 Route 66 Lonnie TaylorEpisode: "Child of a Night"
1964 The Nurses Mrs. SandsEpisode: "To All My Friends on Shore"
1969 My Three Sons Miss HoukEpisode: "Teacher's Pet"
1975–1976 Ryan's Hope Sister Mary Joel3 episodes
1976 Starsky & Hutch Olga GrossmanEpisode: "Gillian"
1977 Westside Medical UnknownEpisode: "Tears for Two Dollar Wine"
1977 Eight Is Enough Unknown2 episodes
1978 WKRP in Cincinnati Mother CarlsonEpisode: "Pilot – Part 1"
1978 Kaz MollyEpisode: "A Fine Romance"
1979 Supertrain AgathaEpisode: "Superstar"
1979 California Fever MotherEpisode: "Movin' Out"
1981 The Love Boat NatalieEpisode: "I Love You Too, Smith"
1982 American Playhouse Mrs. FlannerEpisode: "Come Along with Me"
1983 Magnum, P.I. Elizabeth BarrettEpisode: "Birdman of Budapest"
1984 Domestic Life Mrs. MoscewiczEpisode: "Small Cranes Court"
1984 Whiz Kids DollyEpisode: "The Lollipop Gang Strikes Back"
1984 Trapper John, M.D. Mildred ProsserEpisode: "Aunt Mildred Is Watching"
1986Morningstar/EveningstarBinnie Taylor7 episodes
1988 Dear John Mrs. LumenskiEpisode: "Dancing in the Dark"
1989 The Equalizer JudgeEpisode: "Trial by Ordeal"
1989 Thirtysomething Rose WaldmanEpisode: "Be a Good Girl"
1993 Diagnosis: Murder AliceEpisode: "Miracle Cure"
1998 Fantasy Island Clia7 episodes, (final appearance)

Radio appearances

1941 Philip Morris Playhouse Angels with Dirty Faces [15]
1941 Philip Morris Playhouse Wuthering Heights [16]

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  2. Bergan, Ronald (July 6, 1999). "Obituary: Sylvia Sidney". The Guardian. London.
  3. "Sylvia Sidney Sued By Father". The New York Times. November 19, 1933. p. 20.
  4. O'Brien, Scott (2016). Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear. BearManor Media. p. 16; ISBN   978-1593939434
  5. Vallance, Tom (July 21, 1999). "Obituary: Sylvia Sidney" . The Independent. London. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022.
  6. "Sylvia Sidney Interview". YouTube. October 30, 2015. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
  7. "Mary Armitage's FILM CLOSE-UPS". The Mail . Adelaide: National Library of Australia. January 29, 1949. p. 3 Supplement: Sunday Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  8. O'Brien, Scott (2016). Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear. BearManor Media. pp. 266–267; ISBN   978-1593939434
  9. "The Polly Bergen Show". Classic Television Archives. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
  10. "Prunella Charming in Guild Youths' Hands". The New York Times. June 16, 1926. p. 23.
  11. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  12. Frankel, Haskel (March 18, 1979). "Theater". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  13. "Actress Sylvia Sydney Talks with Designer Mel Odom 1999". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  14. "Debut". Long Beach Independent . September 9, 1955. p. 30. Retrieved March 27, 2015 via
  15. "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 19, 1941. p. 17. Retrieved July 21, 2015 via
  16. "Raymond Massey and Sylvia Sidney in 'Wuthering Heights'". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 11, 1941. p. 26. Retrieved July 21, 2015 via Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg