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Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard
in the trailer for Dramatic School (1938)
Born Edith Holm Sondergaard
(1899-02-15)February 15, 1899
Litchfield, Minnesota, U.S.
Died August 14, 1985(1985-08-14) (aged 86)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Resting place Cremated, Ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Occupation Actress
Years active 1936–1983
Spouse(s) Neill O'Malley (1922–1930) (divorced)
Herbert J. Biberman (1930–1971) (his death) 2 children

Gale 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.


  • Early life 1
  • Stage and film career 2
    • House Un-American Activities Committee 2.1
  • Personal life 3
  • Acting credits 4
    • Stage 4.1
    • Film and television 4.2
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life

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.[1]

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.[2]

in the trailer for The Letter (1940)

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.[1][3] Her career as an actress flourished during the 1930s, and included a role opposite Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (1937).[4]

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).[1] 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.[5]

In 1940, she played the role of the exotic and sinister wife in The Letter, supporting Bette Davis.[1] 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.[6]

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.[7] (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).[8][9]

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.[7]

Personal life

Her younger sister Hester Sondergaard was also an actress who starred in the following films: Jigsaw, The Naked City, and Seeds of Freedom.[10]

Sondergaard was first married in 1922 to actor Neill O'Malley; they divorced in 1930. On 15 May 1930, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she married her second husband, Herbert Biberman, a theater director then associated with the Theatre Guild Acting Company; he became a film director and died in 1971.[11] They had two children, Daniel Hans Biberman and Mrs. Joan Campos.[1]

Sondergaard made a few more film and television appearances, before retiring. She died from cerebrovascular thrombosis in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 86.[1]

Acting credits


Opening date Closing date Title Role Theatre Refs
Oct 08, 1928 Nov 1928 Faust The Witch Guild Theatre [12]
Nov 19, 1928 Jan 1929 Major Barbara Sarah Undershaft, Lady Britomart's daughter Guild Theatre [13]
Oct 7, 1929 Nov 1929 Karl and Anna Marie's sister Guild Theatre [14]
Dec 17, 1929 Feb 1930 Red Rust Nina Martin Beck Theatre [15]
May 11, 1931 May 23, 1931 Alison's House Elsa - Replacement Ritz Theatre [16]
Feb 21, 1933 March 1933 American Dream Lydia Kimball, The First Play, 1650 Guild Theatre [17]
May 17, 1934 Jul 1934 Invitation to a Murder Lorinda Channing Theatre Masque [18]
Nov 6, 1933 Nov 1933 Doctor Monica Anna Playhouse Theatre [19]
Dec 19, 1940 Dec 28, 1940 Cue for Passion Frances Chapman Royale Theatre [20]
Apr 02, 1980 April 26, 1980 Goodbye Fidel Prudencia Ambassador Theatre [21]

Film and television

Year Title Role Notes Refs
1936 Anthony Adverse Faith Paleologus Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress [4]
1937 Maid of Salem Martha Harding [4]
Seventh Heaven Nana, Diane's Sister [4]
The Life of Emile Zola Lucie Dreyfus [4]
1938 Lord Jeff Doris Clandon [4]
Dramatic School Madame Therese Charlot [4]
1939 Never Say Die Juno Marko [4]
Juarez Empress Eugenie [4]
Sons of Liberty Rachel Salomon [22]
The Cat and the Canary Miss Lu [4]
The Llano Kid Lora Travers [4]
1940 The Blue Bird Tylette (the cat) [4]
The Mark of Zorro Inez Quintero [4]
The Letter Mrs. Hammond [4]
1941 The Black Cat Abigail Doone [4]
Paris Calling Colette [4]
1942 My Favorite Blonde Madame Stephanie Runick [4]
Enemy Agents Meet Ellery Queen Mrs. Van Dorn [4]
1943 A Night to Remember Mrs. Devoe [4]
Appointment in Berlin Gretta Van Leyden [4]
Isle of Forgotten Sins Marge Willison [4]
The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler Anna Huber [4]
Crazy House uncredited cameo performance [4]
1944 The Spider Woman Adrea Spedding [4]
Follow the Boys herself [4]
Christmas Holiday Mrs. Monette [4]
The Invisible Man's Revenge Lady Irene Herrick [4]
Gypsy Wildcat Rhoda [4]
The Climax Luise [4]
Enter Arsène Lupin Bessie Seagrave [4]
1946 The Spider Woman Strikes Back Zenobia Dollard [4]
Night in Paradise Queen Attossa [4]
Anna and the King of Siam Lady Thiang nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress [4]
The Time of Their Lives Emily [4]
1947 Pirates of Monterey Señorita De Sola [4]
Road to Rio Catherine Vail [4]
1949 East Side, West Side Nora Kernan [4]
1969 Savage Intruder Leslie [23]
Slaves New Orleans lady [4]
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"
Tango TV
The Best of Everything Amanda Key TV
1971 Night Gallery Abigail Moore TV, episode "The Dark Boy" [24]
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers Mrs. Marley TV, episode "The Letter of the Law"
1973 The Cat Creature Hester Black TV [25]
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 [4]
Hollywood on Trial herself documentary [4]
1977 Visions Ora Drummond TV, episode "Pleasantville" [26]
1978 Centennial Aunt Augusta TV mini series
1981 The Fall Guy Mrs. Jackson TV, episode "The Human Torch"
1983 Echoes Mrs. Edmunds [4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Axel Nissen (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 196–202.  
  2. ^ "Gale Sondergaard". International Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved 2 August 2014. 
  3. ^ "The 9th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao "Gale Sodergaard". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  5. ^ Peter Lev (15 March 2013). Twentieth Century-Fox: The Zanuck-Skouras Years, 1935–1965. University of Texas Press. pp. 67–68.  
  6. ^ "1946 19th Oscar nominees". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  7. ^ a b David J. Hogan (1 June 2014). The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Life, According to Oz. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. pp. 113–115.  
  8. ^ Daniel Eagan (26 November 2009). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 483.  
  9. ^ Ellen R. Baker (12 March 2007). On Strike and on Film: Mexican American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America. UNC Press Books. p. 106.  
  10. ^ "Hester Sodergaard". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "A Theatre Guild Wedding: Gale Sondergaard, Actress, Bride of H. J. Biberman, Executive", The New York Times, May 16, 1930
  12. ^ "Faust". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  13. ^ "MajorBarbara". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "Karl and Anna". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "Red Rust". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "Alison's House". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "American Dream". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  18. ^ "Invitation to a Murder". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  19. ^ "Doctor Monica". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  20. ^ "Cue for Passion". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  21. ^ "Goodbye Fidel". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  22. ^ Deirdre Clancy Steer (2009). Colonial America. Infobase Publishing. p. 63.  
  23. ^ Jeff Lenburg; Joan Howard Maurer; Greg Lenburg (2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Chicago Review Press. p. 353.  
  24. ^ Scott Skelton; Jim Benson (1999). Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-hours Tour. Syracuse University Press. p. 203.  
  25. ^ Michael McKenna (22 August 2013). The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen. Scarecrow Press. pp. 117–118, 210.  
  26. ^ Jerry Roberts (5 June 2009). Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors. Scarecrow Press. pp. 345, 455.  

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