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Gale Sondergaard (February 15, 1899 – August 14, 1985) was an American actress.

Sondergaard began her acting career in theatre, 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, and her film career was destroyed as a result. She moved with Biberman to New York City and worked in theatre, and acted in film and television occasionally from late 1960s. She moved back to Los Angeles where she died from cerebrovascular thrombosis.

Early life

She was born Edith Holm Sondergaard in Litchfield, Minnesotamarker to Danish-American parents, Hans and Christin (Holm) Sondergaard. 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. Her younger sister Hester Sondergaard was also an actress.

Film career

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 MGM'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 Wicked 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 today. 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.

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.

In 1978 Sondegaard played the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in a production of Marcelle Maurette's play Anastasia at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Private life

Married to the film director Herbert Biberman from 1930, her career suffered irreparable damage during the Red Scare of the early 1950s, when her husband was accused of being a communist and named as one of the Hollywood Ten. 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. The 2000 film One of the Hollywood Ten chronicled Sondergaard's relationship with Biberman and her role in the making of Salt of the Earth.

Sondergaard and Biberman 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.

Herbert Biberman died in 1971. Sondergaard made a few more film and television appearances, before retiring. She died from cerebrovascular thrombosis in Woodland Hills, Californiamarker at age 86. She was cremated. Her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.


Year Film Role Notes
1936 Anthony Adverse Faith Paleologus first recipient of the 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
Juarez Empress Eugenie
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
Paris Calling Colette
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
Gypsy Wildcat Rhoda
The Climax Luise
Enter Arsene Lupin Bessie Seagrave
1946 The Spider Woman Strikes Back Zenobia Dollard
A Night in Paradise Attosa
Anna and the King of Siam Lady Thiang
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 Savage Intruder Leslie
Slaves New Orleans lady
It Takes a Thief Madame Olga Millard TV, episode "The Scorpio Drop"
1970 Get Smart Hester Van Hooten TV, episide "Rebecca of Funny-Folk Farm"
Tango TV
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 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
Pleasantville Ora
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"
1983 Echoes Mrs. Edmunds

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