Sylvia Sidney was born in New York City, in the Bronx borough, on August 8, 1910 with the birth name of Sophia Kosow. Her father was Russian born and her mother was born in Romania. They divorced not long after her birth. Her mother subsequently remarried and Sylvia was adopted by her stepfather, Sigmund Sidney.
Sylvia was a shy child and her parents tried to encourage her to be more outgoing and gregarious. As an early teen, Sylvia had decided that she wanted a stage career. While most parents would have looked down on such an announcement, Sylvia was encouraged to pursue the dream she had made. She was enrolled in the Theater Guild’s School for Acting. Sylvia later admitted that when she decided to become a stage actress at 15, it wasn’t being starstruck that occurred to her, but the expression of beauty that encompassed acting. All she wanted was to be identified with good productions. One school production was held at a Broadway theater and in the audience there was a critic from the New York Times who had nothing but rave reviews for the young Miss Sidney. On the strength of her performance in New York, Sylvia appeared in a play at the famed Poli Theater in Washington, D.C. More stage productions followed, each better than the last and it wasn’t long before the film moguls were at the doorstep.
Sylvia was appearing in the stage production of “Crime” when she made her first appearance on the silver screen in 1927. The film in question was “Broadway Nights” which was dealt with stage personalities of which Sylvia was one. After the film she returned to the stage where she appeared in creations which were, for the most part, forgettable.
With the plays drying up, Sylvia moved to Colorado to tour with a stock company. She later returned to Broadway for a series of other plays. By 1929, Sylvia was on the big screen with “The Different Eyes” as Valerie Briand. There was another film, “Five Minutes From The Station” the following year. Sylvia was slowly leaving the stage for the production studios of Paramount. 1931 saw her appear in five films, of which, “City Streets” made her a star. She was very aware that she was replacing the great Clara Bow, who by now was suffering from severe depression. The contrast between the two actresses was very great indeed and the movie was a hit. The sad-eyed Sylvia made a tremendous impact and her screen career was off a running. Her next film was “Ladies of The Big House” later in ’31. Sylvia played Kathleen Storm, part of a couple framed for a murder they didn’t commit. The film made huge profits at the box-office. Co-starring with Fredric March, she then made “Merrilly We Go To Hell” in 1932. The results of the film was, again, an unqualified success. Later she made “Madame Butterfly” as geisha girl, Cho-Cho San. Here she played in one of the worst productions to date. Most critics agreed that Miss Sidney’s performance saved the film from total disaster. In 1933, Sylvia starred in “Jeannie Gerhardt” in the role of the same name. Yet another doom and gloom picture, she played a girl beset with poverty and the death of her young husband before their child could be born. This turned out to be one fine performance and one fine motion picture. Sylvia received the star spotlight in 1934’s “Good Dame”. Despite her grand performance, the film failed miserably at the box-office, due in part to the miscast of co-star Fredric March. Sylvia scored big with the film critics with “Mary Burns, Fugitive” (1935). Here she played a law abiding restaurant owner who falls for a big time gangster. Her performance was overshadowed by the appearance of Alan Baxter who gave an outstanding portrayal as the gangster. That film was quickly followed by “Accent On Youth” where she played Linda Brown, a young lady who was fascinated by older men. In 1938, Sylvia played in “You and Me” opposite George Raft. The film critics gave it mixed reviews and because of that it didn’t do well at the box-office. Afterwards, the roles began to dissipate. Sylvia filmed “One Third of a Nation” and then wasn’t seen again until “The Wagons Roll at Night”(1941).
There was a four year hiatus before “Blood On The Sun”. In 1946, Sylvia starred in “The Searching Wind” where she played Cassie Bowman. The movie was based on a Broadway play but it just didn’t transfer well onto the big screen. The film was widely considered to be too serious and flopped with the movie fans. After 1947’s “Love From A Stranger” she didn’t appear again until “Les Miserables” in 1952. Only three more films followed that decade. There were no films throughout the 1960s. After appearing in a made for television movie, Sylvia returned to the big screen in “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams”. With a few movie appearances, here and there, she appeared in several made for TV flicks. In 1988, she appeared as Juno in the mega hit “Beetlejuice”. Her last film for the silver screen was “Mars Attacks”! in 1996. In 1998 she was Clia in the TV series “Fantasy Island”. Sylvia died on July 1, 1999, of throat cancer. To the end, she proved to be a very adept actress.