Gale Sondergaard

Gale Sondergaard (born Edith Holm Sondergaard; February 15, 1899 August 14, 1985) was an American actress.

Gale Sondergaard
in the trailer for Dramatic School (1938)
Edith Holm Sondergaard

(1899-02-15)February 15, 1899
DiedAugust 14, 1985(1985-08-14) (aged 86)
Resting placeCremains scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Years active19361983
Neill O'Malley
(m. 1922; div. 1930)

Herbert J. Biberman
(m. 1930; died 1971)

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 regularly played supporting roles in films during the late 1930s and 1940s, including The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Mark of Zorro (1940) and The Letter (1940). For her role in Anna and the King of Siam (1946), she was nominated for her second Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. After the late 1940s, her screen work came to an abrupt end for the next 20 years.

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. 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

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

Until the late-1940s

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]

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 her performance.[1][3] Her career as an actress flourished during the 1930s, including a role with 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 originally was cast as the witch 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 The Blue Bird (1940).[5]

Around the same time, she played the role of the exotic, sinister wife in The Letter (also 1940), a film starring Bette Davis.[1] She featured in a supporting role in The Spider Woman (aka Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman, 1943),[6] part of the Universal cycle, followed by the non-canonical The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), also for Universal.

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 (1946).[7]

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.[8] (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).[9][10]

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.[8]

Later career

In 1969, she appeared in an off-Broadway one-woman show entitled Woman. Sondergaard resumed her career in film and television around the same time.[6] Her revived career extended into the early 1980s.

Personal life

Her younger sister Hester Sondergaard was also an actress who featured in Seeds of Freedom (1943) The Naked City (1948) and Jigsaw (1949) and The Big Break (1953).[11]

Sondergaard 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.[12] They had two children, Daniel Hans Biberman and Mrs. Joan Campos.[1]

Following several strokes, she died from cerebral vascular thrombosis in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, in 1985, aged 86. She had been admitted to the hospital in 1982.[1][6]

Acting credits


Opening date Closing date Title Role Theatre Refs
Oct 08, 1928 Nov 1928 Faust The Witch Guild Theatre [13]
Nov 19, 1928 Jan 1929 Major Barbara Sarah Undershaft, Lady Britomart's daughter Guild Theatre [14]
Oct 7, 1929 Nov 1929 Karl and Anna Marie's sister Guild Theatre [15]
Dec 17, 1929 Feb 1930 Red Rust Nina Martin Beck Theatre [16]
May 11, 1931 May 23, 1931 Alison's House Elsa - Replacement Ritz Theatre [17]
Feb 21, 1933 March 1933 American Dream Lydia Kimball, The First Play, 1650 Guild Theatre [18]
May 17, 1934 Jul 1934 Invitation to a Murder Lorinda Channing Theatre Masque [19]
Nov 6, 1933 Nov 1933 Doctor Monica Anna Playhouse Theatre [20]
Dec 19, 1940 Dec 28, 1940 Cue for Passion Frances Chapman Royale Theatre [21]
Apr 02, 1980 April 26, 1980 Goodbye Fidel Prudencia Ambassador Theatre [22]

Film and television

Year Title Role Notes Refs
1936 Anthony Adverse Faith Paleologus First winner of 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 A historical drama starring Paul Muni and Bette Davis [4]
Sons of Liberty Rachel Salomon Short [23]
The Cat and the Canary Miss Lu [4]
The Llano Kid Lora Travers [4]
1940 The Blue Bird Tylette (the cat) A Shirley Temple fantasy [4]
The Mark of Zorro Inez Quintero [4]
The Letter Mrs. Hammond A Bette Davis drama [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 Herself Uncredited [4]
1944 The Spider Woman Adrea Spedding aka, Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman [4]
Follow the Boys Herself Uncredited [4]
The Invisible Man's Revenge Lady Irene Herrick [4]
Christmas Holiday Mrs. Monette [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 A Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour comedy in the Road to ... series [4]
1949 East Side, West Side Nora Kernan [4]
1969 Slaves New Orleans lady [4]
It Takes a Thief Madame Olga Millard Episode: "The Scorpio Drop"
1970 Get Smart Hester Van Hooten Episode: "Rebecca of Funny-Folk Farm"
Tango TV movie
The Best of Everything Amanda Key 2 episodes
Savage Intruder Leslie [24]
1971 Night Gallery Abigail Moore Episode: "The Dark Boy" [25]
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers Mrs. Marley TV, episode "The Letter of the Law"
1973 The Cat Creature Hester Black TV movie [26]
1974 Medical Center Myra Episode: "Adults Only"
Nakia Bert Episode: "The Quarry"
Police Story Marge White Episode: "A World Full of Hurt"
1976 Ryan's Hope Marguerite Beaulac 6 episodes
The Return of a Man Called Horse Elk Woman [4]
Pleasantville Ora
Hollywood on Trial Herself Documentary [4]
1977 Visions Ora Drummond Episode: "Pleasantville" [27]
1978 Centennial Aunt Augusta TV mini series
1981 The Fall Guy Mrs. Jackson Episode: "The Human Torch"
1983 Echoes Mrs. Edmunds (final film role) [4]


  1. Axel Nissen (2007). Actresses of a Certain Character: Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 196–202. ISBN 978-0-7864-2746-8.
  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. "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. ISBN 978-0-292-74447-9.
  6. Folkart, Burt A. (August 15, 1985). "Gale Sondergaard Dies; Movies' 'Spider Woman'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  7. "1946 19th Oscar nominees". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  8. 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. ISBN 978-1-4803-9719-4.
  9. 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. ISBN 978-1-4411-1647-5.
  10. 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. ISBN 978-1-4696-0654-5.
  11. "Hester Sodergaard". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved August 3, 2014.
  12. "A Theatre Guild Wedding: Gale Sondergaard, Actress, Bride of H.J. Biberman, Executive", The New York Times, May 16, 1930.
  13. "Faust". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  14. "MajorBarbara". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  15. "Karl and Anna". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  16. "Red Rust". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  17. "Alison's House". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  18. "American Dream". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  19. "Invitation to a Murder". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  20. "Doctor Monica". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  21. "Cue for Passion". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  22. "Goodbye Fidel". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  23. Deirdre Clancy Steer (2009). Colonial America. Infobase Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-4381-2728-6.
  24. Jeff Lenburg; Joan Howard Maurer; Greg Lenburg (2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Chicago Review Press. p. 353. ISBN 978-1-61374-085-9.
  25. Scott Skelton; Jim Benson (1999). Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-hours Tour. Syracuse University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-8156-2782-1.
  26. Michael McKenna (22 August 2013). The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen. Scarecrow Press. pp. 117–118, 210. ISBN 978-0-8108-9157-9.
  27. Jerry Roberts (5 June 2009). Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors. Scarecrow Press. pp. 345, 455. ISBN 978-0-8108-6378-1.
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