Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gale Sondergaard - Sinister, Scary and Simply The Best

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, if you were making a film and wanted a sinister, manipulative, thoroughly scary woman who could send a shiver up your spine with just a glance, you need have looked no further than the brilliant character actress Gale Sondergaard.

Born in 1899, University of Minnesota educated, she chilled and thrilled in films as diverse as The Cat and the Canary, Maid of Salem, The Cat Creature, The Mark of Zorro, Anna and The King of Siam and even played a villainous character in a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope caper, Road to Rio.Of all her roles though, she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Mrs Hammond, the sinister wife of a man murdered by Bette Davis's character in the 1940 classic The Letter.

As you might expect, while Sondergaard was adept in sinister, evil dark roles (whether in comedy or drama), in her real life, she was a woman of principle and loyalty. Sadly her career stalled in the 1950s during the McCarthy era. She publicly stood by her film director husband Herbert J. Biberman - one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted as a result of the 'Red Trials' - and she refused to testify, so suffered a similar fate. Her career never recovered, although she continued to make some film and TV appearances until she retired after her final film - a horror - called Echoes, in 1983. 

Gale Sondergaard died of cerebrovascular thrombosis in 1985 and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific. In my opinion, the world lost one of its greatest character actresses and certainly the best at the kind of roles for which she is best known.

Here's a short clip of her in action, feeding her 'beautiful creature' in The Spider Woman Strikes Back in 1946. Just click on the link below the poster:


You just know it's going to end in tears, don't you?

(Sigh) They don't make 'em like that anymore...


  1. I remember watching her in various classic Hollywood movies. I pulled up her bio on IMdB. Wow-first lady to win Best Supporting Actress (and she didn't want to be an actress!). Later, she was black-listed during the McCarthy hysteria in the 1950's.

    You said it best, Catherine: they don't make 'em like that anymore. And may I add they don't make movies or actors like that anymore, either!

    Thank you for taking the time to post this on your blog!

    Kim Curley