If Thelma Ritter is the patron saint of this column—and really, how could she not be—there is also a series of what we might call sacred attributes that she clearly demonstrates. Yes, she’s a Scene Stealer. The best kind, one who isn’t being flashy but is instead just being her best self in the moment in a way that is better than everything around her, no matter how good that is. There is also Being Necessary. A part of the story that may be small, but something important is served by her presence. And let’s not forget You Don’t Have To Be Gorgeous. Thelma Ritter looked like a normal person. It’s not fair to say that Edith Evanson is who you got if you couldn’t get Thelma Ritter, but they did fill similar niches in Hollywood.
One of the reasons it’s not fair to say that is that you got Edith Evanson well before you got Thelma Ritter. Her first movie was the obscure The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk, in 1940. She was “Hannah (Uncredited),” for all you Man Who Wouldn’t Talk fans. But the next year? Citizen Kane. So okay, she was “Leland’s Nurse (Uncredited).” Still, she’s an important aspect of the movie; Joseph Cotten does call her unattractive, but she also gets to be powerful and domineering, so that’s fun. And that’s six years before Thelma Ritter first appeared onscreen in Miracle on 34th Street.
They both did solid classics, including both working for Hitchcock. Evanson didn’t have a role like Stella of Rear Window, but she was the cleaning lady who could have got Marnie stealing from the safe in Marnie, and she was Mrs. Wilson the housekeeper in Rope. Evanson worked with Fritz Lang in The Big Heat. She was in Woman of the Year, with Tracy and Hepburn. She was in Shane and Ace in the Hole and The Day the Earth Stood Still. She did Lux Video Theatre and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Emergency! She kept working.
One thing she did that Ritter didn’t was work for Disney. Improbably enough, she played Tchaikovsky’s mother on an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney. Because she definitely looks like a Russian matriarch and not someone who—and this is true—graduated from the high school where they filmed 10 Things I Hate About You. More notably, she was Toby Tyler’s Aunt Olive in Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With a Circus. So that’s worth checking out, because while it’s not as prominent a role as some Ritter had, it’s still decent and impressive.
The two only appeared in the same movie once. It was in 1950’s Perfect Strangers, starring Ginger Rogers and far-less-famous Dennis Morgan. I’ve never seen it, and I suspect basically no one else has, either. The cast is the sort of thing where you’re excited to see Alan Reed—whose profile picture is himself with a giant cut-out of Fred Flintstone—and, tucked deep into the uncredited, William Schallert. Ritter is third-billed. Evanson is fourteenth.