Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #499: Overlooked Supporting Actresses

In 1996, when Julie Andrews was the only actor nominated for the Broadway version of Victor/Victoria, she withdraw her nomination with the comment, “I have searched my conscience and my heart and find that I cannot accept this nomination, and prefer instead to stand with the egregiously overlooked.” Well, Julie, you and they are in good company. Awards bodies have been egregiously ignoring great work for decades.

Over the next four weeks, I will be using this space to highlight two dozen performances that I feel Oscar egregiously overlooked from 1927-1999, six in each acting category. We begin with Best Supporting Actress, an award I heard someone on a TV show in 1964 call “the old lady’s award” even though there were very few old ladies up to that time and beyond who won one. More often, the award went to someone starting out in the movies, whether they were a young ingenue or middle-aged stage veteran. The only winners over 50 up to that point were Jane Darwell at 61, Ethel Barrymore at 65, Josephine Hull at 73, and Margaret Rutherford at 71.

Academy Awards history is filled with actors who won Oscars for the wrong film. That is not the case with any of the women on this first list. The were all overlooked multiple times, one as many as six times. One of them did, however, eventually win a career achievement Oscar. I like to think it was representative of all of them.

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Oscar Profile #498: James Garner

Born April 7, 1928 in Norman, Oklahoma to a carpet layer and his wife, James Scott Bumgarner and his older brothers were sent to live with relatives after his mother’s death in 1933. They were reunited with their father after his second marriage the following year. He would remarry several more times, the last to a stepmother who beat the boys. After the breakup of that marriage, his father moved to Los Angeles, leaving the boys on their own. Young James dropped out of high school at 16 to join the Merchant Marines toward the end of World War II.

The future actor later moved to California, joining the California National Guard from he was deployed during the Korean War in which he earned two purple hearts. In 1954, producer Paul Gregory gave him a nonspeaking role in Broadway’s The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial so that he could study Henry Fonda’s performance up close. From there, he moved on to TV commercials and guest roles on TV series as James Garner.

Garner met future wife Lois Clarke at an Adlai Stevenson rally in 1956 and married her two weeks later. He had supporting roles in 1956’s Toward the Unknown and The Girl He Left Behind and 1957’s Sayonara, receiving a Golden Globe award for Most Promising Newcomer for the latter. That same year, he began a five-year run as the laidback hero of TV’s Maverick which made him a major star.

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Oscar Profile #497: Chris Cooper

Born July 9, 1951 in Kansas City, Missouri, Christopher Walton (Chris) Cooper was the son of a cattleman and internist who served as a doctor in the U.S. Air Force, and his wife, a homemaker. Raised in Texas, where his parents were from, Cooper was educated at the University of Missouri school of drama.

Cooper made his Broadway debut in 1980’s Of the Fields, Lately. He appeared off-Broadway in two 1983 plays, the year he married his wife, actress Marianne Leone. He made his film debut as the star of John Sayles’ 1987 film, Matewan. The acclaimed film earned an Oscar nomination for Haskell Wexler’s cinematography but its failure at the box-office stymied Cooper’s screen career. He kept busy with guest-starring roles on TV, most memorably in 1989’s Lonesome Dove. His next big screen role was in Sayles’ 1990 film, City of Hope, which he followed with roles in 1991’s Guilty by Suspicion, 1993’s This Boy’s Life, and a return to TV for 1993’s Return to Lonesome Dove.

Alternating between TV and film, the actor’s biggest role during this period was as the lead in Sayles’ 1996 film, Lone Star. for which he was nominated for several awards including Best Male Lead from the Film Independent Spirit Awards. That was followed by 1996’s A Time to Kill, 1998’s Great Expectations and The Horse Whisperer, and 1999’s October Sky in which he played Jake Gyllenhaal’s father and American Beauty for which he received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Wes Bentley’s father.

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Oscar Profile #496: Gale Sondergaard

Born February 15, 1899 in Litchfield, Minnesota, Edith Holm Sondergaard, known professionally as Gale Sondergaard, was the daughter of socially conscious Danish immigrants. Her parents were progressives. As a child she marched with her mother, who was a suffragette. Educated at the University of Minnesota, she then studied with the Minneapolis School of Dramatic Arts before joining the John Keller Shakespeare Company with which she toured North America before making her Broadway debut.

Married for the first time in 1922 to Neill O’Malley, Sondergaard made her Broadway debut in 1928 in Strange Interlude. She was steadily employed on Broadway, appearing in nine plays through July 1934, divorcing O’Malley in 1930 and marrying Herbert J. Biberman, then stage manager at the left-leaning Theater Guild.

Sondergaard came to Hollywood in 1935 with Biberman who made his film debut as dialog director on Columbia’s Eight Bells. She made her own film debut as the scheming villainess in 1936’s Anthony Adverse for which she would win the first Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

The actress was swiftly cast in 1937’s Maid of Salem, the remake of Seventh Heaven and the Oscar-winning The Life of Emile Zola. In 1938, she was in Lord Jeff, Dramatic School and Never Say Die.

Originally signed to play a glamorous wicked witch of the west in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, she dropped out when the character was changed from glamorous to ugly with the role going to Margaret Hamilton instead.

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Oscar Profile #495: Jason Robards

Born July 26, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of actor Jason Robards Sr. (1892-1963) and his first wife. The family moved to New York when he was a toddler, then to Los Angeles. His parents’ divorce, which occurred while he was in grade school, is said to have affected his personality and world view greatly. He enlisted the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school in 1940.

After leaving the Navy in 1946, Robards moved to New York City where he began working as an actor on radio, stage, and later TV where he was billed as Jason Robards Jr. He married first wife Eleanor Pitman in 1948 with whom he would have three children.

Robards’ big break came in the 1956 off-Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh for which he won an Obie. Later that year, he co-starred in the Broadway production of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in support of Fredric March and Florence Eldredge, for which he received the first of his eventual eight Tony nominations. He and Pitman would divorce in 1958 and he would marry second wife Rachel Taylor in 1959.

The actor’s first film was 1959’s The Journey in which he was third-billed behind Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. In 1960, he reprised his portrayal of Hickey in a TV film version of The Iceman Cometh. He and Taylor would divorce in 1961, the year he was introduced to Lauren Bacall by Katharine Hepburn. He and Bacall would marry later that year. Their son Sam would be born in December.

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Oscar Profile #494: Van Heflin

Born December 13, 1908 in Walters, Oklahoma, Everett Evan (Van) Heflin was the son of a dental surgeon and his wife. His younger sister was the actress Frances Heflin. He received a BA from the University of Oklahoma in 1932 after he had already appeared on Broadway.

Heflin made his Broadway debut in 1928 in Mr. Moneypenny, after which he appeared in several more productions before being noticed by Katharine Hepburn in The End of Summer in 1936, which led to a contract with RKO and a role in Hepburn’s A Woman Rebels later that year. He alternated the next two years between Broadway and Hollywood, appearing on screen in a supporting role in 1939’s Back Door to Heaven before returning to Broadway to play the role that would later be played by James Stewart in the film version of Hepburn’s The Philadelphia Story. Joseph Cotten had what would become Cary Grant’s screen role and Shirley Booth had the role that would become Ruth Hussey’s.

Moving to MGM, Heflin had supporting roles in 1941’s Santa Fe Trail starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, The Feminine Touch starring Rosalind Russell and Don Ameche and H.M. Pulham, Esq. starring Hedy Lamarr and Robert Young. He began 1942 in support of Robert Taylor and Lana Turner in Johnny Eager for which he would win his first and only Oscar.

The actor had leading roles in 1942’s Kid Glove Killer and Tennessee Johnson in which he played President Andrew Johnson. In 1943, he starred opposite Judy Garland in Presenting Lily Mars before entering military service during World War II.

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Oscar Profile #493: Lilli Palmer

Born May 24, 1914 in Posen, Prussia, now Poznan, Poland, Lilli Marie Peiser, known professionally as Lilli Palmer, was the middle daughter of a German Jewish surgeon and his Austrian stage actress wife.

When the future actress was four, her family moved to Berlin where she became a table tennis champion as a young girl. She studied drama in Berlin and was given a two-year contract to the Frankfurt Playhouse but that was cancelled when Hitler came to power in 1933. She and her sisters fled to Paris, but her father died in Berlin in 1934 at 57. Their mother would die in 1959 in England.

In Paris, Palmer appeared in an operetta at the Moulin Rouge before moving to London where she was given a contract by the Gaumont Film Company. Making her British film debut in 1935, she appeared in a number of films throughout the decade, the best known of which was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film, Secret Agent in support of Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, John Gielgud and Robert Young.

By the early 1940s, her roles had increased, most notably in 1942’s Thunder Rock in which she was fourth billed behind Michael Redgrave, Barbara Mullen and James Mason. In January 1943, she married actor Rex Harrison. Their son Carey was born the following year.

Palmer’s Hollywood career got off to a strong start with 1946’s Cloak and Dagger opposite Gary Cooper and 1947’s Body and Soul opposite John Garfield. In 1949, she starred opposite Cedric Hardwicke in a Broadway revival of Caesar and Cleopatra and returned the following year opposite Harrison in Bell, Book, and Candle. Much on TV in the early 1950s, she even had her own anthology series, The Lilli Palmer Show in 1953.

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Oscar Profile #492: Laura Dern

Born February 10, 1967 in Los Angeles, California to actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, future actress Laura Dern would become the first member of her family to win an Oscar. She was raised by her mother and grandmother after her parents divorced when she was just two years old.

Dern first appeared on screen in uncredited roles in 1973’s White Lightning and 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, both featuring her mother who earned an Oscar nomination for the latter. Her first credited role was in 1980’s Foxes in support of Jodie Foster. She shot to stardom in 1985’s Mask opposite Eric Stoltz and Smooth Talk opposite Treat Williams, securing a Los Angeles Film Critics Award for the former and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for the latter. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award the following year for Blue Velvet.

By 1990, Dern had become an established star. She earned kudos for her performance opposite Nicolas Cage in that year’s Wild at Heart for which her mother again received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, both were nominated for Oscars, Dern for Best Actress and Ladd for Best Supporting Actress for Rambling Rose. It was the first, and to date only, time mother and daughter were nominated for Oscars for the same film.

Dern received Emmy nominations for 1992’s Afterburn, 1993’s Fallen Angels and 1997’s Ellen. At the same time, she was earing kudos for her film work in such films as 1993’s Jurassic Park, 1995’s A Perfect World, 1996’s Citizen Ruth and 1999’s October Sky.

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Oscar Profile #491: Brian Aherne

Born May 2, 1902, in Worcestershire, England to a Birmingham architect and his wife, (William) Brian (de Lacy) Aherne was the young brother of fellow actor, Pat Aherne.

The future actor was educated in Birmingham and had some additional training in London which led to a few stage roles as a child., making his local debut at 8 and his London debut at 11. He worked extensively on the London stage after finishing his education.

Aherne made his film debut in 1924’s The Eleventh Commandment and for the next eight years alternated between British films and the British stage. In 1931, he made his Broadway debut as Robert Browning to Katharine Cornell’s Elizabeth Barrett in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. He made an auspicious Hollywood debut opposite Marlene Dietrich in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1933 film, The Song of Songs.

The actor continued to alternate between film and the stage, albeit he now did it in the U.S. On screen, he starred opposite Helen Hayes in 1934’s What Every Woman Knows, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Sylvia Scarlet, Merle Oberon in 1936’s Beloved Enemy, Olivia de Havilland in 1937’s The Great Garrick, Constance Bennett in 1938’s Merrily We Live and Paul Muni and Bette Davis in 1939’s Juarez for which he received his only Oscar nomination. That same year he married former co-star de Havilland’s younger sister, Joan Fontaine.

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Oscar Profile #490: Nick Nolte

Born February 8, 1941 in Omaha, Nebraska, Nicholas King Nolte, known professionally as Nick Nolte, was the son of Franklin Arthur and Helen King Nolte. Following high school graduation in 1959, Nolte attended several colleges and universities and eventually acted at the Pasadena Playhouse and other venues throughout the country. He was a model in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Nolte had roles in various TV series and made-for-TV movies from 1969 on. His breakthrough came with his starring role in the 1976 TV mini-series, Rich Man, Poor Man in which Peter Strauss and he were billed over a cast of Hollywood heavyweights. Both actors as well as Susan Blakely, Dorothy McGuire, Ray Milland, Robert Reed, Bill Bixby, Norman Fell, Van Johnson, Kim Darby, Kay Lenz, Ed Asner and Fionnula Flanagan were nominated for Emmys with Asner and Flanagan winning.

The success of Rich Man, Poor Man led Nolte to starring roles in some of Hollywood’s most prestigious films over the next few years including 1977’s The Deep opposite Jacqueline Bisset, 1978’s Who’ll Stop the Rain opposite Tuesday Weld, 1979’s North Dallas Forty opposite Mac Davis, 1980’s Heart Beat opposite Sissy Spacek, 1982’s Cannery Row opposite Debra Winger, the same yer’s 48 Hours opposite Eddie Murphy and 1983’s Under Fire opposite Gene Hackman. Nolte was billed first in all of them.

The first film in which Nolte did not received top billing since his breakthrough was in 1984’s Grace Quigley in which he was second billed to Katharine Hepburn in her last starring role. Later films included 1984’s Teachers opposite JoBeth Williams, 1986’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills opposite Bette Midler, 1987’s Weeds for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, 1990’s Q&A opposite Timothy Hutton and 1992’s Cape Fear opposite Robert De Niro and The Prince of Tides opposite Barbra Streisand who also directed, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

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Oscar Profile #289: Doctors and Nurses

The heroes on the front lines of the current coronavirus pandemic are the doctors and nurses who treat the sick and dying and the scientists who race to find a new form of treatment if not a cure for the horrific disease. Films about the heroics performed by like-minded individuals of the past were quite common on the screen from the 1930s through the 1950s. Since the 1960s, however, when medical dramas became a TV staple, big screen portrayals of doctors, nurses and scientists have become exceedingly rare. With that in mind, here are ten examples of the genre from 1931 through 1955, only one of which won Oscars, although four others were at least nominated.

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Oscar Profile #488: George Roy Hill

Born December 20, 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Roy Hill was the son of George Roy and Helen Frances Hill, owners of the Minneapolis Tribune.

Young Hill had a love of flying and obtained his pilot’s license at the age of sixteen. He also loved classical music, especially Bach, and as an undergraduate at Yale University studied music under composer Paul Hindemith, graduating in 1943. While at Yale, Hill was a member of The Whiffenpoofs, America’s oldest collegiate, a cappella singing group.

During World War II, Hill served in the United States Marine Corps as a transport pilot in the South Pacific. After his discharge, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Texas, eventually finding his way to Ireland where he became an actor at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre in the late 1940s.

On his return to the U.S., Hill studied theatre at the HB Studio in New York. He acted Off Broadway and then on Broadway in Shakespeare’s Richard II and The Taming of the Shrew, and Strindberg’s The Creditors with Bea Arthur. He married actress Louisa Horton in 1951, with whom he would have four children.

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Oscar Profile #487: Margot Robbie

Born July 2, 1990 in Dalby, Queensland, Australia to Scottish parents, Margot Robbie was one of four children of Sarie Kessler, a physiotherapist, and Doug Robbie, a former farm owner. She and her three siblings, two brothers and a sister, were raised by her single mother with minimal contact with her father.

After graduating from Somerset College in Queensland, Robbie moved to Melbourne, Australia to pursue an acting career. By 2008, she had guest roles in two Australian TV series and made her big-screen debut in 2008’s Vigilante in which she was fourth billed, followed by 2009’s ICU in which she was top-billed. From 2008-2011, she co-starred in the TV series, Neighbors for which she was twice nominated for Australian TV awards. She followed that with another TV series, Pan Am from 2011-2012.

Robbie first gained international attention with Richard Curtis’ 2013 film, About Time in which she played in support of Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy. Later that year, she received worldwide acclaim for her portrayal of Leonard DiCaprio’s wife in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. It was during that year that she met future husband Tom Ackerley, an assistant director on the 2014 film, Suite Francaise in which she was third billed behind Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas.

In 2015, Robbie starred opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor in Z for Zachariah and Will Smith in Focus. She also had a cameo in The Big Short, one of that year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture. In 2016, she starred opposite Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend of Tarzan and Smith again in Suicide Squad before marrying Ackerley the week before Christmas of that year.

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Oscar Profile #486: William Goldman

Born August 12, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, William Goldman was the son of Marion and businessman Maurice Goldman. He was the younger brother of fellow writer James Goldman (1927-1998), best known as the Oscar winning writer of The Lion in Winter.

Goldman, received a B.A. degree from Oberlin College in 1952, and was drafted into the Army shortly thereafter. He knew how to type, so he was assigned to the Pentagon, where he worked as a clerk. Discharged in September 1954, he then earned an M.A. from Columbia University, graduating in 1956. He wrote short stories in his spare time throughout this period but was unable to get any of them published.

It was during this period that Goldman and his brother James shared an apartment in New York with their friend John Kander, later the composer of Cabaret and Chicago . Kander was working on his PhD in music, and the Goldman brothers wrote the libretto for his dissertation.

In June 1956, Goldman began writing his first novel The Temple of Gold, completing it in less than three weeks. He wrote his second novel Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow in a little more than a week in 1958. It was followed by 1960’s Soldier in the Rain, based on Goldman’s time in the military, which was made into a 1963 film starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen.

Married to model Ilene Jones in 1961 with whom he would have two daughters, Goldman next wrote No Way to Treat a Lady which would be turned into a film in 1968. In the meantime, he wrote his first credited screenplay, 1965’s Masquerade starring Cliff Robertson, followed by 1966’s Harper starring Paul Newman.

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Oscar Profile #485: William Powell

Born July 29, 1892 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, William (Horatio) Powell was the only child of Nettie and Horatio Powell. He moved with his family to Kansas City, Missouri in 1907 where he graduated from Central High School in 1911. He then moved to New York where he entered the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1912. He married first wife Eileen Wilson in 1915, made his Broadway debut in 1917, and his film debut in 1922.

Powell’s first screen role was as a villain in Sherlock Holmes starring John Barrymore. In his second film, he supported Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was in Flower. He appeared in featured roles throughout the 1920s, most memorably in 1926’s Beau Geste in support of Ronald Colman, the same year’s The Great Gatsby in support of Warner Baxter, and 1928’s The Last Command in support of Emil Jannings. His son, William Powell Jr. was born in 1925.

The actor’s first starring role was as detective Philio Vance in the 1929 “talkie”, The Canary Murder Case. He would play the character four more times through 1933. Divorced from his first wife in 1930, Powell married actress Carole Lombard in 1931. The marriage would last just two years, but the two would remain friends.

Powell’s performances in three 1932 films, Jewel Robbery, One-Way Passage and Lawyer Man, solidified his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most popular stars. In 1934, he shared star billing with Clark Gable and Myrna Loy in the smash hit, Manhattan Melodrama, followed by the even more successful The Thin Man in which he and Loy starred as Dashiell’s Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, for which he was nominated for an Oscar for the first time. He and Loy would repeat their roles five times through 1947. They would co-star in fourteen films altogether.

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