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Known more for her work on the stage than on the big screen, Elaine Stritch was born February 2, 1925 to Mildred and George Stritch in Detroit, Michigan. Born into a wealthy family, Stritch had the opportunity to pursue her dream of acting and train at the Dramatic Workship of The New School in New York City. Several other students of the prestigious Dramatic Workshop were Bea Arthur, Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Rod Steiger, and Tennessee Williams.

Stritch made her stage debut in 1944, and in three short years was able to make her Broadway debut in the play Loco. 1947 would also mark her appearance in two other plays, Made in Heaven and the revue Angel in the Wings. As the years went on, her roles began to get bigger and better. While she was an understudy to Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, she appeared in the revival of Pal Joey (1952). She would then star in the national tour of Call Me Madam, and was given a supporting role in the original production of William Inge’s Bus Stop.

It was in 1961, when Stritch starred in Noël Coward’s Sail Away, that she was “promoted over the title and given virtually all the best songs when it was reckoned that the leading lady … although excellent, was rather too operatic for a musical comedy.”(1) Throughout her time on the stage, Stritch became known as the singer with the brassy, powerful singing voice — and it wasn’t long before she became the toast of both Broadway and London’s West End.

When talking about Elaine Stritch, it’s essential to talk about her role in the British comedy series Two’s Company alongside Donald Sinden. Stritch played the role of Dorothy McNab, an American writer who lives in London and is famous for her sensationalist thriller novels. Sinder played the role of Robert, Dorothy’s English butler who disapproved of just about everything Dorothy did. The series thrived on the culture clash between these two characters. The show lasted from 1975 to 1979, and in total was nominated for four Britich Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA): 1977 for Best Comedy, 1979 for Best Comedy, Best Graphics (for the opening credits sequence) and Best Light Entertainment Performance for the two stars, Stritch and Sinden.

Stritch never appeared in many films, but when she did make an appearance, she always seemed to be a small, but integral part, of a very strong cast. Early on in her career, she appeared in the 1956 film Three Violent People, which starred Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter. She then co-starred with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in the David O. Selznick remake of A Farewell to Arms. A year later, she appeared in The Perfect Furlough co-starring with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. But her best performance, in my opinion, was in the film Providence, directed by French filmmaker Alain Resnais.

(1) Source: http://books.google.com/books?id=iQyQNfaIKXwC&pg=PA126&dq=Coward+%22Sail+Away%22&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Coward%20%22Sail%20Away%22&f=false

Josh Kaye for Classic Movie Hub

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12. In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Other Nominated Films:
Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Prior to compiling this countdown list, I’d never seen a Sidney Poitier movie. I knew who he was, and I knew about the profound effect he had on movie history — but I never had the opportunity to see one of his films.  You could say that Poitier was the first major black movie star — he was the first black actor to be nominated for a competitive Academy Award (The Defiant Ones); he was the first black actor to win the Best Actor award (Lilies of the Field); he played roles that defied previous racial stereotypes; and by 1967 he was a MAJOR box office draw.  With that being said, I’m glad In the Heat of the Night was my first Poitier film. And I’m glad that my first two memories of Poitier will be his delivery of the iconic line, “They call me MISTER Tibbs!”, and his performance, as Mr. Tibbs, reacting to being slapped by a white man — by slapping the white man right back. Wow. While Poitier gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen, in my opinion he’s actually topped by his co-star, Rod Steiger (and that’s saying a lot). Steiger is just so convincing and so stinging in his portrayal of the arrogant and prejudiced Police Chief Bill Gillespie. In a way, In the Heat of the Night could be considered a character study of two men, of different races, who are on the same mission with the same goal. And although Tibbs and Gillespie start out on the wrong foot and use different methods to solve crime, they eventually put their differences aside and work together. Steiger would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, while Virgin Tibbs would go on to be ranked as one of the top 50 heroes by the American Film Institute.

Nominated for 7 Oscars, Winner of 5

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Rod Steiger (WON)
Best Film Editing – Hal Ashby (WON)
Best Picture – Walter Mirisch (WON)
Best Sound – Samuel Goldwyn SSD (WON)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Stirling Silliphant (WON)
Best Director – Norman Jewison
Best Effects, Sounds Effects – James Richards

Virgil Tibbs: They call me MISTER Tibbs!

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