Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Someday I will have to explain who Thelma Ritter is to my children. That is, I will have to if my children ask me who Thelma Ritter is. That seems unlikely, now. I am trying to imagine the situation in which my children come upon Thelma Ritter and ask me who she is. Of course, my kids love to look things up, so it is possible that they might find out who Thelma Ritter is and I would never know; if I brought up Thelma Ritter, they might say something like, Yeah Dad, we know who Thelma Ritter is. Pass the potatoes au gratin.

Of course it would be rude to press the matter any further after that. But still, how do I know what my children know about Thelma Ritter?

And why does this matter? Because Thelma Ritter is kind, gentle, a little worn, a little shop worn, always poor or almost, a little sad but hopeful, not terribly attractive but loving, with gentle eyes, fragile carriage. Thelma Ritter is special. Thelma Ritter is unique. Of course she is an actress, so it is entirely possible that none of this is true.

Perhaps in real life she is rude to the porter on the train. Perhaps she curses at her maid. Perhaps she says Up Yours to the motorists. Perhaps she pumps iron. Perhaps she is a nymphomaniac. But even if it isn’t any of these, you should know the Thelma Ritter whom Thelma Ritter wants to be. That Thelma Ritter is the Thelma Ritter right there on the television. She is frying a hamburger for her son, just the way he likes it, she gives me a kiss, and pretends not to be sad.

There she is, whoever she is, Thelma Ritter. And the next thing you know, things have changed for the better: she is smiling and waving a handkerchief at the ocean liner. “It’s me! She says. “It’s me!” Someone on board waves back, too far away to know who it might be. But she knows who she sees: it’s Thelma Ritter. Good ol’ Thelma Ritter. It’s her. She isn’t rude in the least. And the ocean liner disappears into the horizon, and Thelma is still waving, and someone is waving back, like an old English painting in a black and white movie, one that you can't yet forget.

1 comment:

Old 333 said...

Excellent! Thank you for it. Followed a string here from 'rufous salon' and found this nice little Christmas-ball of a post at the end. This Thelma Ritter you write of so well; she is incarnate and the incarnation of many women I have known - it's a potent distillation of true things, that character. And you described it well. thanks for sharing your work - look forward to more.


Real Time Analytics