Sylvia Sidney (born Sophia Kosow; 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
Her career diminished somewhat during the 1940s. In 1949, exhibitors voted her "box-office poison". 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. On March 5, 1947, she married radio producer and announcer Carlton Alsop; they divorced on March 22, 1951.
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. Her remains were cremated.
|1927||Broadway Nights||Herself||Lost film|
|1929||Thru Different Eyes||Valerie Briand|
|1930||Five Minutes from the Station||Carrie Adams||Short 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||Unknown||Uncredited|
|Madame Butterfly||Cho-Cho San|
|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|
|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|
|1955||Violent Saturday||Elsie Braden|
|1956||Behind the High Wall||Hilda Carmichael|
|1971||Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate||Elizabeth Gibson||TV movie|
|1973||Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams||Mrs. Pritchett||Kansas 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
|1975||The Secret Night Caller||Kitty||TV movie|
|Winner Take All||Anne Barclay||TV movie|
|1976||God Told Me To||Elizabeth Mullin|
|Raid on Entebbe||Dora Bloch||TV movie|
|Death at Love House||Clara Josephs||TV movie|
|1976||I Never Promised You a Rose Garden||Miss Coral|
|Snowbeast||Mrs. Carrie Rill||TV movie|
|1978||Damien: Omen II||Aunt Marion|
|Siege||Lillian Gordon||TV movie|
|1980||The Gossip Columnist||Alma Lewellyn||TV movie|
|F.D.R.: The Last Year||Cousin Polly||TV movie|
|The Shadow Box||Felicity||TV movie|
|1981||A Small Killing||Sadie Ross||TV movie|
|The Brass Ring||Grandmother||TV movie|
|1985||Finnegan Begin Again||Margaret Finnegan||TV movie|
|An Early Frost||Beatrice McKenna||TV 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
|1987||Pals||Ferb Stobbs||TV movie|
|1987||The Witching of Ben Wagner||Grammy||TV movie|
|1988||Beetlejuice||Juno||Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1990||Andre's Mother||Mrs. Downs – Andre's Grandmother||TV movie|
|1996||Mars Attacks!||Grandma Florence Norris||Final film role|
|1952||Cameo Theatre||Unknown||Episode: "The Gathering Twilight"|
|1952||Schlitz Playhouse of Stars||Unknown||Episode: "Experiment"|
|1952||Tales of Tomorrow||Natalie||Episode: "Time to Go"|
|1952||Lux Video Theatre||Joyce||Episode: "Night Be Quiet"|
|1952||Lux Video Theatre||Laura Barrie||Episode: "Pattern for Glory"|
|1953–1955||The Ford Television Theatre||Unknown||2 episodes|
|1954||The Philco Television Playhouse||Unknown||Episode: "Catch My Boy on Sunday"|
|1955||Star Stage||"famous stage actress"||title unknown|
|1955–1956||Celebrity Playhouse||Meg Fraser||2 episodes|
|1955–1957||Climax!||Louella Wheedron||2 episodes|
|1957||Kraft Television Theatre||Unknown||Episode: "Circle of Fear"|
|1960||The DuPont Show with June Allyson||Beulah||Episode: "Escape"|
|1961||Naked City||Florence||Episode: "A Hole in the City"|
|1961||Route 66||Hannah Ellis||Episode: "Like a Motherless Child"|
|1962||The Defenders||Adela Collins||2 episodes|
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
|1963||The Eleventh Hour||Mrs. Arnold||Episode: "Five Moments Out of Time"|
|1964||Route 66||Lonnie Taylor||Episode: "Child of a Night"|
|1964||The Nurses||Mrs. Sands||Episode: "To All My Friends on Shore"|
|1969||My Three Sons||Miss Houk||Episode: "Teacher's Pet"|
|1975–1976||Ryan's Hope||Sister Mary Joel||3 episodes|
|1976||Starsky & Hutch||Olga Grossman||Episode: "Gillian"|
|1977||Westside Medical||Unknown||Episode: "Tears for Two Dollar Wine"|
|1977||Eight Is Enough||Unknown||2 episodes|
|1978||WKRP in Cincinnati||Mother Carlson||Episode: "Pilot – Part 1"|
|1978||Kaz||Molly||Episode: "A Fine Romance"|
|1979||California Fever||Mother||Episode: "Movin' Out"|
|1981||The Love Boat||Natalie||Episode: "I Love You Too, Smith"|
|1982||American Playhouse||Mrs. Flanner||Episode: "Come Along with Me"|
|1983||Magnum, P.I.||Elizabeth Barrett||Episode: "Birdman of Budapest"|
|1984||Domestic Life||Mrs. Moscewicz||Episode: "Small Cranes Court"|
|1984||Whiz Kids||Dolly||Episode: "The Lollipop Gang Strikes Back"|
|1984||Trapper John, M.D.||Mildred Prosser||Episode: "Aunt Mildred Is Watching"|
|1986||Morningstar/Eveningstar||Binnie Taylor||7 episodes|
|1988||Dear John||Mrs. Lumenski||Episode: "Dancing in the Dark"|
|1989||The Equalizer||Judge||Episode: "Trial by Ordeal"|
|1989||Thirtysomething||Rose Waldman||Episode: "Be a Good Girl"|
|1993||Diagnosis: Murder||Alice||Episode: "Miracle Cure"|
|1998||Fantasy Island||Clia||7 episodes, (final appearance)|
|1941||Philip Morris Playhouse||Angels with Dirty Faces|
|1941||Philip Morris Playhouse||Wuthering Heights|
- "Sylvia Sidney, 30's Film Heroine, Dies at 88". The New York Times. July 2, 1999.
- Bergan, Ronald (July 6, 1999). "Obituary: Sylvia Sidney". The Guardian. London.
- "Sylvia Sidney Sued By Father". The New York Times. November 19, 1933. p. 20.
- O'Brien, Scott (2016). Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear. BearManor Media. p. 16; ISBN 978-1593939434
- Vallance, Tom (July 21, 1999). "Obituary: Sylvia Sidney". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022.
- "Sylvia Sidney Interview". YouTube. October 30, 2015. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2019.
- "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.
- O'Brien, Scott (2016). Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear. BearManor Media. pp. 266–267; ISBN 978-1593939434
- "The Polly Bergen Show". Classic Television Archives. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- "Prunella Charming in Guild Youths' Hands". The New York Times. June 16, 1926. p. 23.
- Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
- Frankel, Haskel (March 18, 1979). "Theater". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
- "Actress Sylvia Sydney Talks with Designer Mel Odom 1999". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
- "Debut". Long Beach Independent. September 9, 1955. p. 30. Retrieved March 27, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. September 19, 1941. p. 17. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Raymond Massey and Sylvia Sidney in 'Wuthering Heights'". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 11, 1941. p. 26. Retrieved July 21, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Cum a ajuns Sylvia Sydney, fiica unei croitorese din Bacău, să ia minţile bărbaţilor de la Hollywood. Românca era văzută ca simbol al frumuseţii perfecte, 21 May 2016, Ionela Stănilă, Adevărul