Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #453: H.B. Warner

Born October 26, 1875 in London, England, Henry Byron Warner was born into a prominent theatrical family. His father was Charles Warner and his grandfather was James Warner, both stars of the London stage.

Warner entered the family business at the age of 21. He made his film debut in 1900 in a filmed scene from the play, English Nell in which he played the Duke of Monmouth. He came to America in the early 1900s, first appearing on Broadway as Harry Warner in 1902’s Audrey in support of James O’Neill, the father of playwright Eugene O’Neill. All subsequent roles were as H.B. Warner.

The actor married Mary Burton Cozzens, a two-time widow in 1907. She died in an auto accident in 1913, the year before Warner made his official screen debut in the 1914 short, Harp of Tara. He married second wife, actress Rita Stanwood in 1915 with whom he had three children prior to their divorce in 1934.

Warner starred in such films as The Vagabond Prince, The White Dove, Zaza and Whispering Smith, achieving his greatest successes on the silent screen in a pair of 1927 films, The King of Kings in which his portrayal of Jesus has long been considered a definitive one, and Sorrell and Son in which he played a man who dedicates his life to his son after the two are abandoned by his wife..

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Oscar Profile #452: Sam Wood

Born July 10, 1883 in Philadelphia, PA, Samuel Grosvenor Wood married Clara Louise Rousch in 1908. He began his Hollywood career as an actor and assistant to Cecil B. DeMille in 1915, becoming a full-time director in 1917. He would eventually direct 82 films between 1920 and his death in 1949.

Wood’s silent films included Peck’s Bad Boy and It’s a Great Life. It was his direction of two Marx Brothers comedies in the mid-1930s, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, that established him as a major director. In 1937, the year of A Day at the Races, he also directed the Gladys George remake of Madame X and worked uncredited on The Good Earth.

Oscar recognized Wood for the first time as the director of 1939’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the film that earned Robert Donat an Oscar and Greer Garson her first nomination. That same year he also directed the David Niven remake of Raffles and worked several weeks in place of an ill Victor Fleming as director on Gone with the Wind. The following year, he had two films nominated for Best Picture, Our Town with Best Actress nominee Martha Scott and Kitty Foyle with Best Actress winner Ginger Rogers, for which he received a second Oscar nomination for Best Director. In 1941, he directed Charles Coburn to an Oscar nomination in The Devil and Miss Jones. With the 1942 Oscar nominations, he become the first and so far, only director to twice have two films nominated for Best Picture in the same year, Kings Row and The Pride of the Yankees with Best Actor nominee Gary Cooper and Best Actress nominee Teresa Wright, receiving a third nomination for Best Director for the former.

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Oscar Profile #451: Laurence Harvey

Born October 1, 1928 in Joniskis, Lithuania, Laruschka Mischa Skikne, was the youngest of three children, known variously as Harry Skikne, Larry Skikne and finally Laurence Harvey, emigrated to South Africa with his parents and to London at 16.

Having enrolled in RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) in London, he made his screen debut in 1948’s House of Darkness, followed by supporting roles in Man on the Run, Landfall, The Black Rose, Seven Days to Noon and others. Reportedly a gigolo in his London years, he lived with actress Hermione Baddely until 1951when he began an affair with actress Margaret Leighton, then married to publisher Max Reinhardt.

Harvey’s luck before the camera changed in 1954 when he starred in three major films, King Richard and the Crusaders along with Rex Harrison, Virginia Mayo and George Sanders; The Good Die Young opposite Gloria Grahame and Romeo and Juliet in which his cold, aloof Romeo was universally reviled despite the film’s otherwise generally warm reception.

In 1955, Harvey starred as Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Camera opposite Julie Harris and Shelley Winters in the film that would become the basis for the 1972 Oscar-winning Cabaret. He married Leighton in 1957.

Harvey achieved major stardom with his Oscar nominated role in 1959’s Room at the Top opposite Oscar winner Simone Signoret with former lover Baddeley also nominated for her supporting turn In 1960, he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in her Oscar winning role in BUtterfield 8 as well as the Oscar nominated The Alamo in which he co-starred with John Wayne and Richard Widmark. In 1961, the year he became divorced from Leighton, he starred opposite Geraldine Page in her Oscar nominated role in Summer and Smoke. In 1962, he had starring roles in Walk on the Wild Side, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and The Manchurian Candidate; in 1963, The Running Man and The Ceremony, which he also directed; in 1964, Of Human Bondage and The Outrage while simultaneously starring as King Arthur in the 1964 London production of Camelot

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Oscar Profile #450: Michael Curtiz

Born December 24, 1896 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary), Mano Kaminer was born into a Jewish family with two brothers and a sister. His father was a carpenter, his mother an opera singer. A born actor-director, he built a theater in the basement of his house when he was 8, performing in plays he improvised with five of his friends.

Working with a traveling theatrical company from the age of 19, Kaminer changed his name to Mihaly Kertesz when he began working for the National Hungarian Theatre in 1912. That same year he directed Hungary’s first feature film, Today and Tomorrow in which he had the leading role. He followed that with a second film, The Last Bohemian and was part of the Hungarian fencing team at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. By 1918, the year he married first wife, actress Lucy Doraine (1898-1989). They divorced in 1923, two years before he was brought to Hollywood by Jack Warner where he again changed his name, this time to Michael Curtiz.

Briefly married to actress Lili Damita (1904-1994), Curtiz would marry prolific writer and Academy founding member Bess Meredyth (1890-1969) in 1929, adopting her 10-year-old son, future writer John Meredyth Lucas. Although separated twice, they would remain married until his death.

Curtiz quickly established himself as Warner’s go-to director all types of films ranging from epics (Noah’s Ark) to musicals (Mammy) to melodramas (Bright Lights, Alias the Doctor) to horror films (Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum). By 1935, he had become one of Hollywood’s most eminent directors. Although not officially an Oscar nominee that year, he was a write-in candidate for Captain Blood, coming in second to winner John Ford (The Informer).

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Oscar Profile #449: Gwen Verdon

Born January 13, 1925 in Culver City, California, Gwyneth Evelyn Verdon, known professionally as Gwen Verdon, was the second child of Gertrude and William Verdon, British immigrants to the U.S. by way of Canada. Her father was an electrician at MGM, her mother a former vaudevillian and dance teacher.

As a toddler, Verdon had rickets which caused her legs to be misshapen which were strengthened by dance classes which she took from the age of 3. By the time she was 6, she was already dancing on stage. She made her film debut at 11 as a solo dancer in The King Steps Out. In high school, she was cast in a revival of Show Boat. In 1942, she was forced to marry tabloid reporter James Henaghan after he got her pregnant at 17. She quit her dancing career to tend to her son, Jimmy, but returned to dancing in the 1945 film, The Blonde from Brooklyn. She divorced Henaghan in 1947 and gave her son to her parents to raise. He later became an actor.

In 1948, Verdon became assistant to noted choreographer Jack Cole with whom she worked for the next five years, appearing on screen as a dancer in such films as On the Riviera, David and Bathsheba, Meet Me After the Show, Dreamboat, The Merry Widow and The I Don’t Care Girl. During this period, she also taught dance moves to such stars as Betty Grable, Lana Turner, Fernando Lamas Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, the latter two on 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

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Oscar Profile #448: Sydney Greenstreet

Born December 27, 1879 in Sandwich, Kent, England, Sydney Greenstreet was one of seven children of Ann (née Baker) and John Jarvis Greenstreet, a tanner. He left home at the age of 18 to make his fortune as a tea planter in Ceylon, but drought forced him out of business. He then managed a brewery while taking acting lessons.

Greenstreet made his stage debut in a 1902 production of Sherlock Holmes in which he played a murderer. He subsequently toured in England and the U.S. in Shakespearean productions and is said to have appeared in every one of Shakespeare’s plays at one time or another. He made his Broadway debut in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in 1907. He married his wife Dorothy with whom he would have one child, in 1918. They would remain married until his death.

Between 1907 and 1940, Greenstreet appeared in 30 Broadway productions including As You Like It, Lady Windemere’s Fan, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Volpone, The Good Earth, Roberta, The Taming of the Shrew, Idiot’s Delight, The Seagull and There Shall Be No Night.

The actor did not make his screen debut until the age of 61 when he played one of the villains in John Huston’s 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre, earning an Oscar nomination for his performance. He would make a total of 23 films over the next 8 years, four of them with Bogart and nine with Lorre.

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Oscar Profile #447: Walter Matthau

Born October 1, 1920 in New York City’s Lower East Side to a mother who worked in a sweatshop and a father who was a peddler and electrician, Walter John Matthow (later Matthau) had several jobs before his service during World War II where he was a radioman-gunner in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart. He flew missions over Continental Europe during the Battle of the Bulge before returning to the States where he took part in the demobilization at the end of the war.

Determined to become an actor, Matthau was educated at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York. He married first wife Grace Johnson in 1948 with whom he had two children. He made his Broadway debut as a servant in that same year’s Anne of the Thousand Days and his TV debut as a reporter in 1950’s The Big Story.

Matthau made his film debut as the whip brandishing villain in 1955’s The Kenuckian directed by and starring Burt Lancaster. He would continue to be noticed in major supporting roles for the next ten years in such films as Bigger Than Life, A Face in the Crowd, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, King Creole, Voice in the Mirror, Strangers When We Meet, Lonely Are the Brave, Charade, Fail-Safe, Goodbye, Charlie and Mirage. At the same time, he became a major star on Broadway in such shows as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? , Once More with Feeling and A Shot in the Dark, winning a Tony for the latter.

Divorced from his first wife in 1958, Matthau married Carol Saroyan in 1959 with whom he had a son, director Charles Matthau.

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Oscar Profile #446: Alvin Sargent

Born April 12, 1927 in Philadelphia, PA, Alvin Supowitz, known professionally as Alvin Sargent, was the son of Esther and Isaac Supowitz, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. He attended Upper Darby High School but quit at age 17 to join the U.S. Navy to fight in World War II, following in the footsteps of his four-year older brother, Herb.

Like his older brother, Alvin was a prolific writer. Herb’s first TV credit appeared in 1955, Alvin’s in 1956 although he had been working on scripts since 1953. Herbert would eventually win six Emmys while Alvin, would have a more substantial career in film, eventually winning two Oscars.

Both brothers would marry actresses from whom they would later become divorced. Alvin married Joan Camden in 1953 with whom he would remain married until 1975. Herb married Geraldine Brooks in 1958 and was divorced from her in 1961. He then married Norma Crane from whom he later became divorced as well. Neither brother had children.

Alvin also had a brief stint as actor, including an uncredited role in the 1953 Oscar winning film, From Here to Eternity playing a friend of Montgomery Clift.

His first credited film was 1966’s Gambit starring Shirley MacLaine on which he collaborated on the screenplay with Jack Davies. 1968’s The Stalking Moon starring Gregory Peck and Eva Marie Saint was the first film for which he was the sole screenwriter. He had further success with 1970’s I Walk the Line, starring Peck and Tuesday Weld and 1972’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanne Woodward. He hit the big time with his Oscar nominated screenplay for 1973’s Paper Moon starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. That same year, he wrote the screenplay for Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing starring Maggie Smith and Timothy Bottoms.

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Oscar Profile #445: Curtis Hanson

Born March 24, 1945 in Reno, Nevada and raised in Los Angeles, Curtis Hanson’s mother was a real estate agent, and his father, a teacher.

Hanson dropped out of school in his senior year but was later made entertainment editor of the Cal State L.A. campus newspaper, despite not being a student there. His uncle, editor of Cinema magazine, hired him as a gofer and he eventually became a photographer, editor and art director where he interviewed numerous Hollywood legends including John Ford, Vincente Minnelli, William Wyler and Dalton Trumbo. His first film credit was as one of three writers of the screenplay for 1970’s The Dunwich Horror directed by Daniel Haller from H.P. Lovecraft’s story.

Hanson’s directorial debut came with 1972’s Sweet Kill, a horror thriller starring Tab Hunter as a serial killer. He later directed 1977’s Evil Town and 1979’s The Little Dragons, but neither attracted much attention. Two 1983 films, Losin’ It starring Tom Cruise and Never Cry Wolf starring Charles Martin Smith, which he wrote but didn’t direct, were more successful but the film that put him on the Hollywood map was 1987’s The Bedroom Window starring Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern and Isabelle Huppert.

Having hit pay dirt with The Bedroom Window, Hanson continued directing successful thrillers with 1990’s Bad Influence starring Rob Lowe and James Spader 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle starring Annabella Sciorra and Rebecca De Mornay, 1994’s The River Wild starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon and 1997’s L.A> Confidential starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger. The latter received 11 Oscar nominations including three for Hanson for writing, producing and directing. He won for writing.

L.A. Confidential was the best reviewed film of 1997, winning the lion’s share of the year’s film critics’ awards but it lost the Oscar to the box-office phenomenon, Titanic.

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Oscar Profile #444: Ethel Waters

Born October 31, 1896 in Chester, Pennsylvania as the result of the rape of her 15-year-mother Louise Anderson by her 18-year-old father, pianist John Waters, Ethel Waters was raised in poverty by her grandmother, Sally Anderson who worked as a housemaid, along with two aunts and an uncle, her mother having married another man shortly after her birth.

Waters grew to almost 5 feet 10 inches in her teens. She married at the age of 13, but her husband was abusive, and she soon left the marriage and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel, working for $4.75 per week. On her 17th birthday, she attended a costume party at a nightclub on Juniper Street. Persuaded to sing two songs, she impressed the audience to the point of being offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore. She earned ten dollars per week, but her managers cheated her out of the tips her admirers threw on the stage.

After that, Waters toured the black vaudeville circuit. Despite her early success, she fell on hard times and joined a carnival, traveling in freight cars, and eventually reaching Chicago. She then found herself in Atlanta, where she worked in the same club as Bessie Smith who demanded that Waters not compete in singing blues opposite her. Waters conceded and sang ballads and popular songs, moving to Harlem in 1919. She joined the Harlem Renaissance and bean recording in 1921. Her 1925 recording of “Dinah” made her a star.

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Oscar Profile #443: Christopher Hampton

Born January 26, 1946 in Faial, Azores, Portugal to British parents, Christopher Hampton’s father was a marine telecommunications engineer. He spent his early childhood in Egypt, Hong Kong and Zanzibar among other places. He was educated at a prep school in Surrey, Lancing College in West Sussex and at Oxford University where he read German and French.

Hampton’s play When Did You Last See My Mother, written at Oxford, was first performed in London in 1966, making him the youngest playwright to have a play performed in the West End in the modern era. Other early plays included Total Eclipse and The Philanthropist. In 1971 his adaptations of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler, as well as The Philanthropist, all reached Broadway. He was nominated for a Tony for the latter along with actors Alec McCowen and Ed Zimmermann. Claire Bloom was nominated and won for her performances in A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. She then starred in the 1973 film version. A Doll’s House returned to Broadway in 1975 with Liv Ullmann who was also nominated for a Tony but did not win.

Hampton’s works from 1975-1982 were performed on the British stage and for British TV. He reemerged as a name in film as a writer on the British films, Honorary Counsel with Michael Caine in 1983, The Good Father with Anthony Hopkins in 1985 and Ovri with Donald Sutherland and Max von Sydow in 1986. He returned to Broadway in 1987 with the play, Les Liaisons Dangereuses from the 1872 novel of the same name by Pierre Chodolos de Laclos which was nominated for eight Tonys including one for Hampton as well as stars Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The 1988 film version, renamed Dangerous Liaisons, was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Actress (Glenn Close) and Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer) and won three including one for Hampton for his screenplay.

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Oscar Pfofile #442: Frank Skinner

Born December 31, 1897 in Meredosia, Illinois, Frank Skinner was the composer of more than 200 film scores utilized in close to 500 films. He was the author of several textbooks on arranging, composing and orchestrating music, most notably 1934’s F. Skinner’s Simplified Method for Modern Arranging and 1950’s Underscore.

A graduate of the Chicago Musical College (now known as the Chicago Conservatory of Music) in 1914, 16-year-old Frank gravitated toward vaudeville and began playing in local areas with his brother Carl Skinner on drums. They were billed as the Skinner Brothers Dance Band. From there they began playing on the steamboats that went up and down the Illinois River. It was during this time that he began writing and arranging music for dance bands. This brought him to New York, where from 1925 to 1935, he arranged about 2000 popular songs for Robbins Publishing.

After a short period at MGM, working on musical settings for 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld, Skinner was hired by Universal. Although he continued to work on musicals, most notably the Deanna Durbin musicals, he quickly mastered the art of dramatic scores, earning five Oscar nominations in the span of six years from 1938–1943, two of them for Durbin musicals.

His distinctive approach to scoring horror films, such as 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and 1941’s The Wolf Man, has been characterized as “a passion for chromatic lines, mirrored contours and restrained, yet ominously mythical orchestrations”. Other films from the 1930s through the 1940s that he was associated with include such diverse productions as Destry Rides Again, My Little Chickadee, Seven Sinners, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror and other Universal Holmes films, Gung Ho! , The Suspect, Black Angel, The Egg and I and The Naked City.

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Oscar Profile #441: Paul Lukas

Born May 26, 1891 in Budapest, Hungary, Paul Lukas was the son of Adolf Munkácsi and Mária Schneckendorf. He was later adopted by Mária (née Zilahy) and János Lukács, an advertising executive, possibly in 1895, the year given as his year of birth during his lifetime.

Lukas volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1913 and served in the cavalry during World War I before became an aviator. Wounded, he was sent home in 1915 after which he studied at the Hungarian Academy of Acting. He made his formal acting debut at the National Theatre in 1916 and was briefly married that year, the marriage ending in 1917.

In Hungarian short subjects from 1915, major films from 1917, Lukas played the title role in Michael Curtiz’s 1920 film, Bocaccio and played a small part in Alexander Korda’s 1922 biblical film, Samson and Delilah. At first, he played elegant, smooth womanizers, but increasingly he became typecast as a villain. Impressed with his performance in Antonia in Budapest, Adolph Zukor brought him to Hollywood in 1927, the year he married second wife Gizella “Daisy” Benes to whom he would remain married until her death in 1962.

Extremely busy in the 1930s, his films included Downstairs with John Gilbert, Rockabye with Constance Bennett, The Kiss Before the Mirror with Frank Morgan and Nancy Carroll, Little Women opposite Katharine Hepburn and Dodsworth with Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, after which he became a naturalized American citizen in 1937. In December of that year, he made his Broadway debut opposite Ruth Gordon in a revival of A Doll’s House.

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Oscar Profile #440: William A. Fraker

Born September 29, 1923 in Los Angeles, California, William A. Fraker III was the son of William A. Fraker, Jr., Department Head of Still Photography at Columbia, and his Mexican born wife who fled Mazatlan, Mexico with her mother and sister on a mule during Mexico’s revolution in 1910. Both parents died of influenza in 1934. He was raised by his fearless Mexican grandmother, then a photographer for Monroe Studios in downtown Los Angeles. She instructed him in the art of photography as she had his father.

Fraker served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and attended USC under the G.I. Bill, graduating with a degree in Cinema. He was admitted into the camera union in 1954 and worked extensively in TV from 1956-1964, predominantly on the series, The Lone Ranger, The Outer Limits and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. During this period, he worked as cinematographer for the Hawaiian sequences of 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea.

He married wife Denise, born in 1941, in 1959. Their son, William A. Fraker IV aka William A. Fraker, Jr., was born in 1960.

After uncredited work behind the camera on 1965’s Morituri and 1966’s The Professionals, Fraker entered the big time with six back-to-back major credits as cinematographer on 1967’s Games, The Fox and The President’s Analyst, 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and Bullitt, and 1969’s Paint Your Wagon.

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Oscar Profile #439: Bonita Granville

Born February 2, 1923 in New York, New York, Bonita Granville was the daughter of stage performers Rosina (née Timponi) and Bernard “Bunny” Granville. Unsurprisingly, she became a child actress at 9, and made her film debut at 10.

Granville’s second credited screen role was as Fanny Bridges, the young dancer daughter of Una O’Connor and Herbert Mundin in the 1933 Oscar winner, Cavalcade. She later had uncredited roles in 1933’s Little Women and 1934’s Anne of Green Gables. She supported Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore in 1935’s Ah, Wilderness. Her breakthrough role was as the brat in 1936’s These Three, William Wyler’s first film version of The Children’s Hour, which he remade under the Lillian Hellman play’s original title in 1961. The role earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in the first year in which the category was recognized. She also appeared uncredited that year in The Garden of Allah starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer.

In 1937, she co-starred in Maid of Salem with fellow 1936 Supporting Actress Oscar nominees Beulah Bondi and winner Gale Sondergaard in support of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. In 1938, she co-starred in White Banners for which Fay Bainter received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Merrily We Live for which Billie Burke received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, playing her mother. Later that year, she starred in Nancy Drew – Detective, the first of four films based on Nancy Drew novels. Nancy Drew – Reporter, Nancy Drew – Troubleshooter and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase would follow in 1939. In 1940, she co-starred with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm, and Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor in Mervyn LeRoy’s Escape, both set in Nazi Germany.

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