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Sylvia Sidney (August 8, 1910 – July 1, 1999) was an American actress.

Early life

Sidney, born Sophia Kosow in The Bronx, New Yorkmarker, was the daughter of Rebecca (née Saperstein), a Romanianmarker Jew, and Victor Kosow, a Russianmarker Jewish immigrant who worked as a clothing salesman. Her parents divorced by 1915 and she was adopted by her stepfather, Sigmund Sidney, a dentist. Sidney became an actress at the age of fifteen as a way of overcoming shyness, using her stepfather's surname as her professional surname. As a student of the Theater Guild's School for Acting, Sidney appeared in several of their productions during the 1920s and earned praise from theater critics. In 1926, she was seen by a Hollywoodmarker talent scout and made her first film appearance later that year.


During the Depression, Sidney appeared in a string of films, often playing the girlfriend or the sister of a gangster. She appeared opposite such heavyweight screen idols as Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, Fredric March, George Raft (a frequent screen partner), 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, Dead End (both 1937) and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine which was shot in early Technicolor.

After what seemed to be a promising second phase of her career playing opposite the likes of James Cagney in films like Blood on the Sun (1945) with a considerably more glamorous screen persona, her career diminished somewhat during the 1940s. In 1952, she played the role of Fantine in Les Misérables, and her performance was widely praised and allowed her opportunities to develop as a character actress. She received an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973). During the filming of Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, costar Joanne Woodward remarked how she and her husband, Paul Newman, had a difficult time remembering their anniversary date. Later, Sidney surprised Woodward with a gift of a handmade pillow with the inscription "Paul and Joanne" and their anniversary date.

As an elderly woman Sidney continued to play supporting screen roles, and was identifiable by her husky voice, the result of a lifetime cigarette smoking habit. 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) and Used People (which co-starred Jessica Tandy, Marcello Mastroianni, Marcia Gay Harden, Kathy Bates and Shirley MacLaine). Her final role was in another film by Burton, Mars Attacks!, in which she played a senile grandmother whose beloved Slim Whitman records stop an alien invasion from Mars when played over a loudspeaker.

On TV, she appeared as the imperious mother of Gordon Jump on the pilot episode of WKRP in Cincinnati; as the troubled grandmother of Melanie Mayron in the comedy-drama Thirtysomething and, finally, as the crotchety travel clerk on the short-lived late-1990s revival of Fantasy Island with Malcolm McDowell, Fyvush Finkel and Mädchen Amick. She also appeared in an episode of Dear John.

Sidney's Broadway theatremarker career spanned five decades, from her debut performance as a graduate of the Theatre Guild School in the June 1926 3-act fantasy Prunella to the Tennessee Williams play Vieux Carré in 1977. Additional credits include The Fourposter, Enter Laughing, and Barefoot in the Park.

Personal life

Sidney was married three times, she married publisher Bennett Cerf on 1 October 1935, but the couple were divorced shortly after on April 9, 1936. She then was married to actor and acting teacher Luther Adler from 1938 until 1947, by whom she had a son, Jacob, who predeceased her, and a daughter, Jody, who was born on October 22, 1939. On March 5, 1947 she married radio producer and announcer Carlton Alsop. They were divorced on March 22, 1951. Sidney died from throat cancer in New York Citymarker a month before her 89th birthday, after a career spanning more than 70 years. She was cremated.

Sidney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker for her contribution to Motion Pictures at 6245 Hollywood Boulevardmarker.




  1. Sylvia Sidney, 30's Film Heroine, Dies at 88 - New York Times
  2. Sylvia Sidney Biography (1910-)
  3. The Guardian (06/Jul/1999) - Obituary: Sylvia Sidney :: Alfred Hitchcock DVD Wiki. The area from which Victor Kosow came from is today in Belarus.
  4. Sylvia Sidney, 30's Film Heroine, Dies at 88 - New York Times. Her mother became a dressmaker and renamed herself Beatrice Sidney. "Sylvia Sidney Sued By Father," New York Times, November 19, 1933.
  5. "Prunella Charming In Guild Youths' Hands" (New York Times, June 16, 1926 Pg. 23

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