Sondergaard, Hester

Biography

By Carol A. Stabile

Hester Holm Sondergaard was born in Litchfield, Minnesota on July 5, 1903. Her father, Hans Tjellesen Smidt Sondergaard, immigrated from Rodding, Denmark in 1890. He met and married Anna Kirsten Holm in the US. Hans worked at the Litchfield Creamery as a master butter maker. The couple had three daughters: Hester, Gale, and Ragni Holm.

The family moved to Minneapolis in 1912, when Hans accepted a position as a federal butter inspector. Hester and Gale attended Central High School 1

In high school, Sondergaard played violin in the school’s orchestra, was a member of the Girl’s Athletic Association and the Girl’s French Club, and served as associate editor for her school newspaper. After graduating in 1920, Sondergaard attended the University of Minnesota, where she played women’s hockey, was a member of the Masquers Dramatic Club, and continued to play the violin. 2

Hester Sondergaard

After graduating in 1925, Sondergaard joined her sister Gale in New York City to pursue a career in acting. She quickly began getting roles in Broadway productions, including The Black Pit (written by Albert Maltz), Mother, Bitter Stream (1936), and My Heart’s in the Highlands (1939). In 1941, she sang a solo in Marc Blitzstein’s two-act socialist opera, No For An Answer. She also had a role in Albert Maltz’s The Journey of Simon McKeever in 1949.3

  • 1. Robyn Richardson, “Hester, the Other Sondergaard Daughter,” The Litchfield Independent Review, March 19, 2019, https://www.crowrivermedia.com/hutchinsonleader/news/local/hester-the-other-sondergaard-daughter/article_0cb686e3-a37c-5ab8-8b6f-a201f596e42c.html.
  • 2. Robyn Richardson, “Hester, the Other Sondergaard Daughter,” The Litchfield Independent Review, March 19, 2019, https://www.crowrivermedia.com/hutchinsonleader/news/local/hester-the-other-sondergaard-daughter/article_0cb686e3-a37c-5ab8-8b6f-a201f596e42c.html.
  • 3. Louis Calta, “The Belasco Theatre is Sought by NBC,” New York Times, June 21, 1949, p. 31.

Sondergaard also worked in radio, playing in dramas on Fletcher Markle’s Studio One, Ford Theatre Radio Drama, CBS Columbia Presents Corwin, NBC Mystery Theatre, and NBC’s Arch Obeler’s Radio Hall of Fame.

In 1943, Sondergaard was cast in her first film role, in Seeds of Freedom. In 1948, she appeared in The Naked City; in 1949, she co-starred with Henry Fonda and Burgess Meredith in Jigsaw, and she had a role in The Big Break in 1953, her last role in film.

Naked City Poster

Sondergaard met Congressman Hugh De Lacy in 1949. The couple married in 1952. DeLacy was a member of the Seattle District Communist Party USA from 1937 to 1939. The couple moved to California in 1959 and were divorced in 1960.

Her acting career ended by the Red Scare, Sondergaard returned to school and became a licensed speech pathologist. She had a private practice in Los Angeles into the 1970s. 1

Sondergaard died on February 26, 1994, in Torrance, California. Her ashes were scattered in the same location as her sister Gale, near Santa Monica, California.

  • 1. Robyn Richardson, “Hester, the Other Sondergaard Daughter,” The Litchfield Independent Review, March 19, 2019, https://www.crowrivermedia.com/hutchinsonleader/news/local/hester-the-other-sondergaard-daughter/article_0cb686e3-a37c-5ab8-8b6f-a201f596e42c.html.