I really wish I didn’t first think of Crow T. Robot’s assertion that she probably smells like Juicy Fruit first. (There is no clip of this on YouTube except one that says it’s an instrumental loop, and I’m not linking to that.) For one, she is yet another person who turns out to be utterly fascinating and utterly forgotten, and that always kind of depresses me. But she has come up several times in the last few weeks, and I looked into her, and wow. She was actually the oldest member of the Screen Actors Guild in history when she died at 101—and they’re right; she was old when making The Magic Sword. Nearly eighty, in fact.
I find it interesting that she insisted she must’ve done The Producers for the money, because it’s so much better than many of the other things she did. In fact, though, she was one of the many stage actors who wasn’t initially willing to do movies, though apparently her enthusiasm for TV was much higher for whatever reason. All of her scenes in her first movie were cut, and she didn’t do a single movie during the ’40s—though she did do a TV version of Blithe Spirit in ’46. Then again, I find it hard to believe that anyone did Bert I. Gordon movies for money, inasmuch as I find it hard to believe that Bert I. Gordon movies paid very much.
But before being Hold Me Touch Me and Sybil and Aunt Hilda (five episodes of Batman), she was one of the Four Riders of the Algonquin along with best friend Tallulah Bankhead as well as Eva La Gallienne and Blyth Daly. (So far as I can tell, the main reason people have for assuming Winwood was bi was that Bankhead and Daly were and La Gallienne was a lesbian.) She does not seem to have been a full-on member of the Round Table, but she was definitely one of the outlying members. Which certainly speaks to her wit, as does her response to a question about turning a hundred—she said it was rude of the interviewer to bring it up.
She was also, of course, an accomplished stage actress. Her mother approved; her father did not. But she started on the stage in Johannesburg, of all places, then got to London and from there Broadway. In fact, in 1939, she starred in and directed The Importance of Being Earnest. Her more than forty-year stage career is another one of those that would be impressive even without her additional acting history. Yet no one seems to be aware of it anymore.
I will say, though, that the main reason I got around to her today was watching her in a fairly small role in Darby O’Gill and the Little People for yesterday’s article. As Sheelah Sugrue, she’s a scheming, conniving woman determined to get her drunken son Pony the best possible life. It’s a minor role that could be done without as much force as Winwood brings to it. She is obsequious when that’s best, haranguing when she’s talking to Pony. She was over seventy at the time, already getting typecast as a certain kind of Dotty Old Bat, but there were, after all, few people better at that particular role.