Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #543: Albert Brooks

Born July 22, 1947 in Beverly Hills, California, Albert Lawrence Einstein, known professionally as Albert Brooks, was one of three sons of former actress Thelma Leeds and her husband, Harry Parke. Parke’s birthname was Einstein, Parke was his original stage name, but he was better known as Parkyarkarkus.

Brooks suffered an early trauma when his father collapsed and died after delivering his remarks at a Friars Club tribute to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1958 at the age of 54. Brooks was just 11 years old.

The brilliant student attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh but dropped out after a year to hone his comedic skills. He changed his name to Brooks at the age of 19 and began to appear regularly on variety and talk shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1975, he directed five short films for Saturday Night Live during its first season.

Brooks made his film debut in a supporting role in Taxi Driver in 1976. In 1979, he wrote, directed, and starred in Real Life. In 1980, he played a supporting role in Private Benjamin and in 1981 he again wrote, directed, and starred in Modern Romance. He then went back to playing supporting roles in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Terms of Endearment, and Unfaithfully Yours. In 1985, he wrote, directed, and starred in his third film, Lost in America for which he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay.

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Oscar Profile #542: Shirley Temple

Born April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, Shirley Temple was the third child and only daughter of homemaker Grace and bank employee George Temple. When she was three, her determined stage mother enrolled her in Meglin’s Dance School where she honed her singing, dancing, and acting skills. At the same time, Mrs. Temple began styling her hair in ringlets. While at dance school, she was discovered by Charles Lamont, casting director for Educational Pictures who signed a contract with her parents for film work at his studio.

Temple appeared in several shorts for the company, which loaned her out to Tower Productions for The Red-Headed Alibi, her first feature film in 1932. In 1933, she was loaned out to Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. for various projects. At the end of the year, she was given a contract by Fox which cast her in 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer! starring Warner Baxter and Madge Evans. Third-billed Temple and fourth-billed James Dunn, who played her father, stole the show with their dance number, “Baby Take a Bow”. The result was a second film with Dunn with the title of that song. After making several more films including Little Miss Marker opposite Adolphe Menjou, Temple and Dunn were reunited for Bright Eyes, the first film made expressly for the emerging star in which she sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”.

Following the death of 65-year-old actress Marie Dressler in 1934, six-year-old Temple took over Dressler’s reign as the number one box-office star, a position she held for four years. Her films during this period included Curly Top, The Little Colonel, Captain January, Dimples, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess. 1940’s Young People was her last for Fox. A brief contract with MGM resulted in just one film, the 1941 flop, Kathleen. 1942’s Miss Annie Rooney for United Artists, though better reviewed, didn’t do much better at the box-office and she retired for two years.

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Oscar Profile #541: Amanda Seyfried

Born December 3, 1985 in Allentown, Pennsylvania to occupational therapist Ann and pharmacist Jack, Amanda Seyfried began modeling at 11 and ventured into acting at 15 with roles in the TV soap operas, As the World Turns from 1999-2001 and All My Children in 2003. She made her film debut in Mean Girls in 2004, taking a secondary role after auditioning for the lead roles which went to Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams.

Following her film debut, Seyfried auditioned for the title role in the TV series, Veronica Mars, losing to Kristen Bell, but accepting the role of the character’s murdered friend instead. Her character, Lilly Kane, proved so popular she continued to play the role in flashbacks from 2004-2006. During this period, she turned up in guest starring roles on such series as Law and Order: SVU, House, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation while appearing in such films as Nine Lives, American Gun and Alpha Dog. Her breakthrough came with her starring role in the HBO series, Big Love, a role that she played through 2010.

Seyfried’s first starring role on the big screen was in 2008’s Mamma Mia! . She had two highly publicized follow-ups in 2010’s Dear John opposite Channing Tatum and Letters to Juliet opposite Christopher Egan and Gael Garcia Bernal, but neither romantic comedy lived up to expectations at the box-office.

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Oscar Profile #540: Fay Wray

Born September 15, 1907 in Alberta Canada to Mormon parents, Fay Wray was one of six children who moved to Salt Lake City, Utah with their parents in 1912, relocating to Los Angeles in 1919 where the aspiring actress attended famed Hollywood High.

Wray made her film debut at 16 in the 1923 short, Gasoline Love. She made her feature film debut in 1925’s The Coast Patrol. She was in two dozen more films and shorts within the next two years before landing her first starring role opposite Erich von Stroheim in his 1928 film, The Wedding March. That same year, she married screenwriter John Monk Saunders (Wings).

Wray starred in two of 1929’s biggest hits, The Four Feathers and Thunderbolt. Saunders won a 1930 Oscar for Best Original Story for The Dawn Patrol. Under contract to Paramount, most of Wray’s films were on loan-out to other studios. Her reputation as film scream queen was the result of four classic films that she made between 1932 and 1933, Dr. X, The Most Dangerous Game, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and King Kong. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1933.

For a long time, Wray was taken aback by the popularity of King Kong, wishing audiences would be more appreciative of the work she did on other films such as 1934’s Viva Villa! and The Affairs of Cellini.

Wray and Saunders’ daughter, Susan was born in 1936. They were divorced in 1939. Saunders died in 1940. Wray’s only significant film during this period was 1941’s Adam Had Four Sons in which she had a supporting role. In 1942, she married screenwriter Robert Riskin, by then a four-time Oscar nominee and winner for his screenplay for It Happened One Night. Riskin adopted Susan and together, he and Wray had two more children, Robert, born in 1943, and Victoria, born in 1945.

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Oscar Profile #539: Walter Plunkett

Born June 5, 1902 in Oakland, California to James and Frances Plunkett, Walter Plunkett studied law at the University of California but was more interested in acting. He moved to New York in 1923, where he worked as an actor as well as a costume and set designer for the stage. He moved to Hollywood where he made his film debut as a ballroom dancer opposite fellow costume designer Irene in Erich von Stroheim’s 1925 version of The Merry Widow. His first work as a costume designer for film was for 1926’s One Minute to Pray

Plunkett would eventually design costumes for 269 films, primarily for RKO and MGM, but for other studios as well. His films for RKO included The Animal Kingdom, King Kong, The Silver Cord,Morning Glory, Little Women, Flying Down to Rio, Of Human Bondage, The Gay Divorcée, The Informer, Mary of Scotland, Quality Street, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Plunkett’s first film for MGM was a big one, Gone with the Wind, where he designed perhaps his most famous costume of all, Scarlett’s green dress made from curtains. There were no Oscars for costume design in those days or Plunkett surely would have won. Subsequent award-worthy costume designs by Plunkett prior to Oscar recognizing the craft in 1948 included those for Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Ladies in Retirement, Forever and a Day and Green Dolphin Street.

Plunkett produced Oscar-worthy costumes for 1948’s The Three Musketeers and 1949’s Little Women and Madame Bovary but he wasn’t nominated until 1950’s The Magnificent Yankee and That Forsyte Woman earned him nominations in both the black-and-white and color categories. 1951’s Kind Lady earned him a nomination in the black-and-white category while An American in Paris won him an Oscar for best costume design-color, shared with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff.

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Oscar Profile #538: Meryl Streep

Born June 22, 1949 in Summit, New Jersey to Mary, a commercial artist, and William Streep, Jr., a pharmaceutical executive, Mary Louise (Meryl) Streep’s early performing ambitions tended toward opera. Raised in New Jersey, she received her BA cum laude from Vasser in 1971, and her MBA from Yale Drama School in 1975.

Streep’s first professional role was in the 1975 Broadway revival of Trelawney of the Wells. She appeared in several more Broadway productions including the 1977 revivals of The Cherry Orchard and Happy End. She made her film debut in a bit part in 1977’s Julia.

Then living with actor John Cazale, she was cast in The Deer Hunter in which Cazale also had a role in support of Robert De Niro. By the time the film was released at the end of 1978, Cazale had died and Streep had married sculptor Don Gummer. The film was a huge success, resulting in Oscar nominations for De Niro and Streep and wins for Best Picture, Director (Michael Cimino), Supporting Actor Christopher Walken, and two others.

In the meantime, Streep starred in the 1978 TV mini-series, Holocaust which was nominated for 15 Emmys and won 8 including one for Streep for Best Actress.

1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer was a successive Best Picture Oscar-winner for Streep, and the first for which she herself won. She received a second nomination two years later for The French Lieutenant’s Woman and a fourth for the following year’s Sophie’s Choice for which she won her own second Oscar.

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Oscar Profile #537: Jodie Foster

Born November 19, 1962 in Los Angeles, California to Evelyn and Lucius Foster III, Alicia Christian (Jodie) Foster was the couple’s fourth child. Foster’s parents divorced before she was born, and she never established a relationship with her father who also had three children from an earlier marriage.

Foster began her career in a TV commercial for Coppertone in 1965 just after turning 3, having been chosen at an audition for which her mother had expected her older brother Buddy to be chosen. She was then cast in other commercials leading to acting assignments on TV from 1968 on. In 1973, she made a major impression as Becky Thatcher in the big screen musical version of Tom Sawyer and in 1974, she had the Tatum O’Neal role in the short-lived TV spin-off of Paper Moon.

Late in 1974, Foster received excellent notices for her performance in support of Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. By 1976, she was a major star with standout roles in four films: Taxi Driver opposite Robert De Niro for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, The Little Girl Who Lives down the Lane opposite Martin Sheen, Bugsy Malone opposite Scott Baio, and Freaky Friday opposite Barbara Harris. 1977’s Candleshoe opposite Helen Hayes and David Niven was her last film until she turned 18 in 1980 when she starred in both Foxes and Carny.

Foster became a full-time student at Yale in 1980, while continuing to make films during her summer vacations. She did not have another hit until 1988’s The Accused, which brought her back to the limelight, earning her an Oscar for efforts.

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Oscar Profile #536: Sal Mineo

Born January 10, 1939 in Bronx, New York to Josephine and Salvatore Mineo, a casket maker from Sicily, Salvatore (Sal) Mineo, Jr. was one of four children. A troubled child, he was thrown out of parochial school, and by the age of eight, had joined a tough Bronx gang. His mother enrolled him in dancing school, and after being arrested at age ten, he was given the choice between juvenile confinement and acting school. He chose the latter, and in the blink of an eye was embarking on a stage career..

Mineo’s first stage appearance was in the original 1951 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo. Later that year, he replaced the original actor playing the son of the king in the original Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I for which he was personally mentored by Yul Brynner.

On TV from 1952, the young actor made his screen debut in 1955’s Six Bridges to Cross in which his character morphs into Tony Curtis as he becomes older. That same year he played a major role in The Private War of Major Benson with Charlton Heston and then played his signature role as James Dean’s friend in Rebel Without a Cause for which he received an Oscar nomination at the age of 16.

TV work for Mineo continued, as did film work. In short order, he was in 1956’s Crime in the Streets, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Giant and Rock, Pretty Baby; 1957’s Dino and The Young Don’t Cry; 1958’s Tonka; 1959’s A Private’s Affair and The Gene Krupa Story; and 1960’s Exodus for which he received a second Oscar nomination at the age of 21.

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Oscar Profile #535: Ryan O’Neal

Born April 20, 1941 in Los Angeles, California, (Charles Samuel Eldridge Patrick) Ryan O’Neal (III) was the son of writer Charles O’Neal (The 7th Victim) and his actress wife, Barbara O’Neal (Three Came Home).

Before becoming an actor, O’Neal was a Golden Gloves boxer between 1956 and 1959, winning eighteen bouts, thirteen of which were knockouts, and losing four. He became an actor in 1960 with minor roles in TV’s The Adventures of Dobie Gillis and The Untouchables. From 1961 through September 1964, he appeared in numerous other TV series including Bachelor Father, Laramie, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, The Virginian, Perry Mason and Wagon Train.

From September 1964 through March 1969, O’Neal had steady employment as Rodney Harrington in the highly successful TV series, Peyton Place, based on the best-selling novel and 1957 film of the same name. He was married to actress Joanna Moore, mother of his daughter, Tatum, and his son, Griffin, from 1963-1967. The day after his divorce was final, he married actress Leigh Taylor-Young with whom he had son Patrick.

O’Neal made his feature film debut in a starring role opposite Taylor-Young in 1969’s The Big Bounce. His second film was 1970’s The Games in which he was billed second behind Michael Crawford. His third film, that same year’s Love Story opposite Ali MacGraw, made him a major star, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

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Oscar Profile #534: Potential First-Time Nominees

When the Oscar nominations come out every year, there is a mix of repeat performers and first-time nominees. This year is particularly rich with first time contenders from Riz Ahmed to Helena Zengel.

In fact, there are sixteen strong potential first time nominees among the twenty acting slots. Among the contenders for Best Actor are the afore-mentioned Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal along with Kingsley Ben-Adir in One Night in Miami, the late Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods, Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian and Steven Yeun in Minari. Among the contenders for Best Actress are Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holliday, Clare Dunne in Herself and Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman.

Contending for Best Supporting Actor are Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7, the late Brian Dennehy in Driveways and Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night in Miami. Contending for Best Supporting Actress are Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Amanda Seyfried in Mank, Yuh-Jong Yuen in Minari and the previously mentioned Helena Zengel in News of the World.

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Oscar Profile #533: Michelle Pfeiffer Revisited

Born April 28, 1958 in Santa Ana, California to Donna and Richard Pfeiffer, a heating and air-conditioning contractor, Michelle Pfeiffer has an older brother, Rick, and two younger sisters, Deedee and Lori, both of whom have acted. She made her acting debut in 1978 as the bombshell in the TV series, Delta House. In minor roles on both the big and small screens, she had what was supposed to be her breakthrough role in 1982’s Grease 2. Unfortunately, the film was such a critical and commercial flop that it almost stalled her career. Salvation came when Brian de Palma cast her in 1983’s Scarface opposite Al Pacino.

Pfeiffer’s career took off with starring roles opposite Jeff Goldblum in Into the Night and Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick in Ladyhawke, both in 1985. In 1987 she joined Cher and Susan Sarandon as one of three female stars opposite Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick and in 1988 had three high profile roles in Married to the Mob, Tequila Sunrise and Dangerous Liaisons. She earned her first Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Married to the Mob and her first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Dangerous Liaisons. The following year she would win numerous awards including a Golden Globe for The Fabulous Baker Boys for which she received her second Oscar nomination, her first as Best Actress.

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Oscar Profile #532: Bruce Davison

Born June 28, 1946 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Clair and Marian Davison, Bruce Davison is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and New York University. He made his Broadway debut in Tiger at the Gates, his film debut in 1969’s Last Summer, and his TV debut in a 1970 episode of Medical Center.

Following the success of Last Summer, Davison was given the leads in 1970’s The Strawberry Statement and 1971’s Willard, alternating with further TV appearances. In 1972, he co-starred with Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid, the same year he married first wife, Jess Walton, a marriage that was annulled in 1976.

Davison remained busy with TV work, but his next big screen role was a supporting one as the grown Patrick Dennis in 1974’s Mame, followed by more TV work. His next lead role in a film was in 1976’s Short Eyes. He was part of the ensemble in the 1977 TV Christmas classic, The Gathering. He had lead roles in two fondly remembered 1978 TV films, Dead Man’s Curve and Summer of My German Soldier. In 1979, he was in The Gathering II. In 1980, he took over the role of John Merrick in Broadway’s The Elephant Man and in 1981 he was top billed in a still highly regarded TV mini-series of Mourning Becomes Electra. In 1983, he played Jessica Tandy’s son in a Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. In 1986, he married second wife Lisa Pelican with whom he had a son in 1996.

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Oscar Profile #531: Sophia Loren Revisited

Born September 20, 1934 in Rome, Italy, Sophia Scicolone and her younger sister, Maria, were raised by their maternal grandmother in the slums of Pozzuoli, their construction engineer father having refused to divorce his wife and marry the girls’ piano teacher mother.

Encouraged to enter a beauty contest at 14, the young would-be actress was discovered by producer Carlo Ponti who became her mentor and started putting her in films in small roles at the age of 16 where she was alternately billed as Sophia Lazzaro and Scicolone. In 1953, Ponti changed her name to Sophia Loren to broaden her appeal. Loren and Ponti were married by proxy in Mexico in 1957 with lawyers standing in for them as Ponti was not legally divorced from his first wife. The marriage was annulled in 1962 to avoid bigamy charges in Italy. They were remarried in France in 1966 after Ponti obtained a divorce there. They had two sons, Carlo Jr., born in 1968, and Edoardo, born in 1973.

International stardom came for Loren in 1957 with the release of three Hollywood films, Boy on a Dolphin opposite Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb, The Pride and the Passion opposite Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, and Legend of the Lost opposite John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi. In 1958, she starred opposite Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives in Desire Under the Elms, William Holden and Trevor Howard in The Key, Cary Grant in Houseboat and Anthony Quinn in The Black Orchid, the latter released in 1959.

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Oscar Profile #530: Kenneth Branagh

Born December 10, 1960 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the middle child of a Protestant working class family, Kenneth Branagh moved with his family to Berkshire, England when he was nine to escape “the troubles”. Educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), he was asked by the principal when he was 19 to perform a soliloquy for Queen Elizabeth II on one of her visits to the Academy.

Branagh’s early successes on the stage were in his native Northern Ireland, but by 1983 he was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) starring in Henry V which he later adapted for the screen. Dissatisfied with the RSC which he found too large and impersonal, he soon formed his own Renaissance Theatre Company, which would eventually include Prince Charles as one of his royal patrons. Simultaneously with his theatrical career, he made his film debut in an uncredited role in the 1981 Oscar winner, Chariots of Fire and subsequently appeared in various TV productions.

Acclaimed for his first credited screen role in 1987’s A Month in the Country opposite Colin Firth, Branagh’s second film was the same year’s High Season. His third was 1989’s Henry V for which he received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Director, the first and second of an eventual five nominations in five different categories, a record for an actor. That same year he married actress Emma Thompson with whom he co-starred in 1991’s Dead Again, 1992’s Peter’s Friends and 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing. He received a third Oscar nomination for the 1992 short subject, Swan Song, the same year Thompson won the Oscar for Best Actress.

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Oscar Profile #529: David Fincher

Born August 28, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, David (Andrew) Fincher was the son of Howard “Jack” Fincher, a reporter and bureau chief for Life Magazine, and his wife, Claire Mae, a mental health nurse.

The family moved to San Anselmo, California where filmmaker George Lucas was a neighbor. He began making films with an 8mm camera at the age of 8. In his teens, ne moved to Ashland, Oregon where he attended high school and worked as projectionist at a local movie theatre and as a production assistant at the local TV news station.

Fincher went to work for John Korty at Korty Films in Mill Valley in 1980 when he was 18. He then went to work for Industrial Light and Magic from 1981-1983. In 1987, he founded Propaganda with fellow directors Dominic Sena, Greg Gold and Nigel Dick where he directed TV commercials for Nike, Coca-Coola, Budweiser, Heineken, Pepsi, AT&T, and others. He also directed music videos for Madonna, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, George Michael, and others. He was married to Donya Fiorentino, who later married Gary Oldman. From 1990-1995. They had a daughter born in 1994.

Fincher’s first theatrical film was 1992’s Alien 3 starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effects. He followed that with 1995’s Se7en, a major box-office hit starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing.

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