American actress Shelley Winters was the daughter of a tailor's cutter; her mother was a former opera singer. Winters evinced her mom's influence at age four, when she made an impromptu singing appearance at a St. Louis amateur night. When her father moved to Long Island to be closer to the New York garment district, Winters took acting lessons at the New School for Social Research and the Actors Studio. Short stints as a model and a chorus girl led to her Broadway debut in the S.J. Perelman comedy The Night Before Christmas in 1940. Winters signed a Columbia Pictures contract in 1943, mostly playing bits, except when loaned to United Artists for an important role in Knickerbocker Holiday (1944). Realizing she was getting nowhere, she took additional acting instructions and performed in nightclubs.
The breakthrough came with her role as a "good time girl" murdered by insane stage star Ronald Colman in A Double Life (1947). Her roles became increasingly more prominent during her years at Universal-International, as did her offstage abrasive attitude; the normally mild-mannered James Stewart, Winters' co-star in Winchester '73 (1950), said after filming that the actress should have been spanked. Winters' performance as the pathetic factory girl impregnated and then killed by Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951) won her an Oscar nomination; unfortunately, for every Place in the Sun, her career was blighted by disasters like Behave Yourself (1951).