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 played supporting roles in various films during the late 1930s and early 1940s, including The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Mark of Zorro (1940) and The Letter (1940). She was nominated for a second Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Anna and the King of Siam (1946) but by the end of the decade her film appearances were fewer.
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, which effectively ended her film career. 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.
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.
Stage and film career
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.
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 this performance. Her career as an actress flourished during the 1930s, and included a role opposite Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (1937).
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). Sondergaard was originally cast as the witch in "Oz" 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 1940s The Blue Bird.
In 1940, she played the role of the exotic and sinister wife in The Letter, supporting Bette Davis. 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 in 1946.
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. (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).
Highly controversial when it was made, and not a commercial success, its artistic and cultural merit was recognized in 1992 when the National Film Preservation Board selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. 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.
Her younger sister Hester Sondergaard was also an actress who starred in the following films: Jigsaw, The Naked City, and Seeds of Freedom.
Sondergaard was 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. They had two children, Daniel Hans Biberman and Mrs. Joan Campos.
Sondergaard resumed her career in film and television in 1969 and continued until 1983. She died from cerebrovascular thrombosis in Woodland Hills, California in 1985, aged 86.
|Opening date||Closing date||Title||Role||Theatre||Refs|
|Oct 08, 1928||Nov 1928||Faust||The Witch||Guild Theatre|
|Nov 19, 1928||Jan 1929||Major Barbara||Sarah Undershaft, Lady Britomart's daughter||Guild Theatre|
|Oct 7, 1929||Nov 1929||Karl and Anna||Marie's sister||Guild Theatre|
|Dec 17, 1929||Feb 1930||Red Rust||Nina||Martin Beck Theatre|
|May 11, 1931||May 23, 1931||Alison's House||Elsa - Replacement||Ritz Theatre|
|Feb 21, 1933||March 1933||American Dream||Lydia Kimball, The First Play, 1650||Guild Theatre|
|May 17, 1934||Jul 1934||Invitation to a Murder||Lorinda Channing||Theatre Masque|
|Nov 6, 1933||Nov 1933||Doctor Monica||Anna||Playhouse Theatre|
|Dec 19, 1940||Dec 28, 1940||Cue for Passion||Frances Chapman||Royale Theatre|
|Apr 02, 1980||April 26, 1980||Goodbye Fidel||Prudencia||Ambassador Theatre|
Film and television
|1936||Anthony Adverse||Faith Paleologus||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1937||Maid of Salem||Martha Harding|
|Seventh Heaven||Nana, Diane's Sister|
|The Life of Emile Zola||Lucie Dreyfus|
|1938||Lord Jeff||Doris Clandon|
|Dramatic School||Madame Therese Charlot|
|1939||Never Say Die||Juno Marko|
|Sons of Liberty||Rachel Salomon|
|The Cat and the Canary||Miss Lu|
|The Llano Kid||Lora Travers|
|1940||The Blue Bird||Tylette (the cat)|
|The Mark of Zorro||Inez Quintero|
|The Letter||Mrs. Hammond|
|1941||The Black Cat||Abigail Doone|
|1942||My Favorite Blonde||Madame Stephanie Runick|
|Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen||Mrs. Van Dorn|
|1943||A Night to Remember||Mrs. Devoe|
|Appointment in Berlin||Gretta Van Leyden|
|Isle of Forgotten Sins||Marge Willison|
|The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler||Anna Huber|
|Crazy House||uncredited cameo performance|
|1944||The Spider Woman||Adrea Spedding|
|Follow the Boys||herself|
|Christmas Holiday||Mrs. Monette|
|The Invisible Man's Revenge||Lady Irene Herrick|
|Enter Arsène Lupin||Bessie Seagrave|
|1946||The Spider Woman Strikes Back||Zenobia Dollard|
|Night in Paradise||Queen Attossa|
|Anna and the King of Siam||Lady Thiang||nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|The Time of Their Lives||Emily|
|1947||Pirates of Monterey||Señorita De Sola|
|Road to Rio||Catherine Vail|
|1949||East Side, West Side||Nora Kernan|
|1969||Slaves||New Orleans lady|
|It Takes a Thief||Madame Olga Millard||TV, episode "The Scorpio Drop"|
|1970||Get Smart||Hester Van Hooten||TV, episode "Rebecca of Funny-Folk Farm"|
|The Best of Everything||Amanda Key||TV|
|1971||Night Gallery||Abigail Moore||TV, episode "The Dark Boy"|
|The Bold Ones: The Lawyers||Mrs. Marley||TV, episode "The Letter of the Law"|
|1973||The Cat Creature||Hester Black||TV|
|1974||Medical Center||Myra||TV, episode "Adults Only"|
|Nakia||Bert||TV, episode "The Quarry"|
|Police Story||Marge White||TV, episode "A World Full of Hurt"|
|1976||Ryan's Hope||Marguerite Beaulac||TV, 6 episodes|
|The Return of a Man Called Horse||Elk Woman|
|Hollywood on Trial||herself||documentary|
|1977||Visions||Ora Drummond||TV, episode "Pleasantville"|
|1978||Centennial||Aunt Augusta||TV mini series|
|1981||The Fall Guy||Mrs. Jackson||TV, episode "The Human Torch"|