Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #508: Wes Anderson

Born May 1, 1969 in Houston, Texas, Wes(ley) Wales Anderson was the middle of three children of archeologist turned real estate agent Ann (née Burroughs) and Melver Leonard Anderson, who worked in advertising. Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs was his great-grandfather. His grandfather was Burroughs’ illustrator. It’s no wonder the young Anderson began writing plays and making 8-mm films as a child.

The future Oscar-nominated writer-director worked part-time as a theatre projectionist while attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he met future collaborator Owen Wilson. He graduated in 1990 with a degree in philosophy. His first film was 1996’s Bottle Rocket, based on a short film of the same name he had made with Luke and Owen Wilson. His second film was 1998’s Rushmore starring Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Murray, Schwartzman, and Schwartzman’s cousin Roman Coppola, would along with the Wilson brothers, continue to be collaborators throughout his career.

Anderson and Wilson collaborated on the screenplay for his third film, 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums for which they received an Oscar nomination. It would be the first of seven to date for Anderson, the first and only for Wilson. The cast included Bill Murray and both Wilson brothers, but it was Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston who received the brunt of the film’s notices, leading to a Golden Globe win for Hackman as Best Actor – Comedy or Musical.

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Oscar Profile #507: Steven Soderbergh

Born January 14, 1963 in Atlanta, Georgia, Steven (Andrew) Soderbergh was the second of six children of Mary Ann and Peter Soderbergh, a college professor and later dean of the College of Education at Louisiana State University. He became interested in filmmaking as a teenager and made experimental 8mm and 16mm films from the age of 15.

Soderbergh moved to Hollywood after graduating high school in the early 1980s. His first job was as a game show composer and cue card holder, after which he found work as a freelance film editor. He directed the concert video 9012Live for the rock band Yes in 1985, for which he received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video, Long Form.

In 1989, at the age of 26, Soderbergh wrote and directed Sex, Lies, and Videotape which he submitted to the Cannes Film Festival where it won the Palme d’Or for Best Film. Released later that year in the U.S., it earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Also, in 1989, he married actress Betsy Brantley with whom he would have a daughter in 1990. They would divorce in 1994.

Soderbergh’s second film, 1991’s Kafka, was a notorious flop. His third and fourth films, 1993’s King of the Hill and 1995’s The Underneath, were well received by the critics but not by the public. It would take 1998’s Out of Sight and 1999’s The Limey to bring him back into the spotlight and 1990’s Erin Brockovich and Traffic to bring him back into awards contention. With those two films, he became the first director since Michael Curtiz in 1938 to be nominated for Best Director Oscars for two films in the same year, winning for Traffic.

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Oscar Profile #506: Richard Attenborough

Born August 29, 1923 in Cambridge, England, Richard (Samuel) Attenborough was the son of May (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council and Frederick Levi Attenborough, don at Emmanuel College and author of a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. The family later moved to Leicester where his father was appointed principal of the University. The future actor and director received his education at Wyggeston School for Boys and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).

Attenborough made his film debut in an uncredited role in 1942’s In Which We Serve. Alternating between stage, screen, and radio, he married actress Sheila Sim in 1945 with whom he would have three children. Outstanding among his early screen performances were those in 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death, 1948’s Brighton Rock, and 1951’s The Magic Box. In 1952, he and Sim appeared on stage together in the original cast of Agatha Christie’s long-running play, The Mousetrap.

The actor’s reputation continued to grow with roles in such films as 1958’s Dunkirk, 1959’s I’m Alright Jack, 1960’s The Angry Silence and The League of Gentlemen, 1962’s Only Two Can Play, and 1963’s box-office sensation, The Great Escape.

Attenborough won the BAFTA for Best British actor for his performances in two 1964 films, Guns at Batasi and Séance on a Wet Afternoon. He then won back-to-back Golden Globes for his supporting roles in 1966’s The Sand Pebbles and 1967’s Doctor Dolittle. He received his first BAFTA nomination as Best Director for his directorial debut with 1969’s Oh! What a Lovely War.

Continuing as an actor in such films as 1971’s 10 Rillington Place, 1975’s Conduct Unbecoming, and 1979’s The Human Factor, Attenborough also directed three major films during the decade , 1972’s Young Winston, 1977’s A Bridge Too Far (his second BAFTA nod for direction) and 1978’s Magic. He was made a Knight of the British Empire in 1976.

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Oscar Profile #505: Peter Finch

Born September 28, 1916 in London, England, Peter Finch was the subject of a custody battle between his mother and her husband who was not his actual father. His “father” won, and the child was kept from his mother who later married Finch’s actual father. He never met his mother until he was 33, and his real father until he was 45. He was brought up by relatives of his “father” in France, India and eventually Australia.

After graduating from North Sydney Intermediate High School in 1929, Finch went to work as a copy boy for the Sydney Sun. Gravitating toward acting, he made his stage debut in 1933 in a play called Caprice. He made his film debut two years later as Prince Charming in the short, The Magic Shoes. Alternating between the Australian stage and films, he joined the Australian Army in 1941 and remained a soldier to the end of World War II in 1945. He married ballerina Tamara Tchinarova in 1943 with whom he would have one child.

Encouraged by Laurence Olivier on a tour of Australia in 1946, Finch moved to England in 1948, leaving Australia permanently behind. Success on the British stage and in British films was immediate. By 1950, he was appearing in films made buy U.S., as well as British, companies. Among them were The Miniver Story, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Heart of the Matter, Elephant Walk and The Detective. He received the first of his eventual seven BAFTA nominations and his first of five wins for 1956’s A Town Like Alice. He received his second nomination for 1957’s Windom’s Way.

Finch was divorced by Tchinarova in 1959 when she learned of his affairs with Vivien Leigh, Kay Kendall and others. Later that year he married actress Yolande Turner with whom he would have two children. The couple would divorce in 1965. During this period the actor was nominated for his third BAFTA for 1959’s The Nun’s Story, won the Best Actor award at the Moscow Film Festival for 1960’s The Trials of Oscar Wilde for he won his second BAFTA, and 1961’s No Love for Johnnie for which he won his third. He also starred in such films as The Sins of Rachel Cade, I Thanks a Fool, In the Cool of the Day, The Pumpkin Eater, Girl with Green Eyes and The Flight of the Phoenix.

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Oscar Profile #504: Eileen Heckart

Born March 29, 1919 in Columbus, Ohio, (Anna) Eileen Herbert was an only child who went with her mother when her parents separated when she was 2. Her mother was an alcoholic who married five times. She was often shunted off to her mother’s mother and her second husband who eventually adopted her, changing her last name from Herbert to his, the similarly sounding Heckart.

A lonely child, Heckart immersed herself in movies, graduating from the University of Ohio with a B.A. in Drama in 1942. That same year she married husband, John Harrison Yankee Jr., an insurance broker with whom she had four children and remained married to until his death in 1997. Her first Broadway role was as assistant stage manager and understudy to both Margaret Sullavan and Audrey Christie in The Voice of the Turtle in 1943.

In numerous plays on Broadway and later TV, her career took off with her portrayal of Rosemary Sydney, the schoolteacher in Picnic in 1953, the role that went to Rosalind Russell in the 1955 film version. The following year she played the mother of the murdered boy in The Bad Seed, a role she repeated in the 1956 film version for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

The Bad Seed was the fourth of four films Heckart made in 1956, her first year in films. It followed Miracle in the Rain as Jane Wyman’s friend; Somebody Up There Likes Me as Paul Newman’s mother; and Bus Stop as Marilyn Monroe’s friend.

In 1957, Heckart created the role of the wife’s bigoted sister in Broadway’s The Dark the Top of the Stairs for which she received a Tony nomination. The role went to Eve Arden in the 1960 film version. She continued to alternate between Broadway, TV, and film roles, receiving another Tony nomination for 1969’s Butterflies Are Free, a role she repeated in the 1972 film version, for which she received a much deserved Oscar.

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Oscar Profile #503: Henry Koster

Born Hermann Kosterlitz on May 1, 1905 in Berlin, Germany, the future Henry Koster was the grandson on his mother’s side of famed operatic tenor Julius Salomon who died of tuberculosis in the 1880s. His father, who was a salesman of women’s underwear, abandoned his family when the future director was 5. His mother got a job playing piano in her brother’s movie theatre in 1910, taking young Koster with her where he developed his fascination with film.

Koster achieved success as a short story writer at 17, which resulted in a Berlin movie company hiring him as a scenarist where he eventually became assistant to director Curtis Bernhardt. He became a director himself in 1931, moving to Budapest, Hungary when Hitler came to power. There he met and married actress Kato Kiraly. There he also met Joe Pasternak, Universal’s representative in Europe, for whom he made four films. In 1936, Universal brought Pasternak, Koster and his wife, and several other refugees to Hollywood where he was given a contract.

Koster’s first Hollywood film was 1936’s Three Smart Girls starring 14-year-old Deanna Durbin, the film that saved Universal from bankruptcy, His second was 1937’s 100 Men and a Girl, also starring Durbin, and also a huge hit. Both films were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. In 1940, he discovered Abbott and Costello doing a nightclub act in New York and brought them to Universal where they became overnight sensations. Divorced from Kiraly in 1941with whom he had one child, he married actress Polly Moran in 1942 with whom he would have two more children.

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Oscar Profile #502: Overlooked Leading Actors

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.” As I have been saying, Julie and they are in good company. Awards bodies have been egregiously ignoring great work for decades.

In this fourth week of focusing on performances that failed to win Oscars in the last century, we turn to actors in leading roles. Of the six iconic performances selected here I’ve chosen four actors who won for other films and two who never won at all. Between them, they have 28 nominations, 6 wins and 3 honorary awards from the Academy. Two are nominated for performances in foreign language films, the first I’ve noted among the two dozen actors and actresses I’ve profiled over this four-week period.

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Oscar Profile #501: Overlooked Leading 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.” As I have been saying, Julie and they are in good company. Awards bodies have been egregiously ignoring great work for decades.

In this third week of focusing on performances that failed to win Oscars in the last century, my focus is on actresses in leading roles. I selected six iconic performances to profile here, three from women who never won an Oscar despite multiple nominations and three from actresses who won for other performances. Three of them are profiled for dramatic roles and three for comedic ones, but all six moved effortlessly between both disciplines. All six also appeared in musicals throughout their lengthy careers. They have 36 Oscar nominations, 6 wins and 2 honorary awards from the Academy between them, yet they were all egregiously overlooked for one of their greatest performances.

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Oscar Profile #500 – Overlooked Supporting Actors

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.” As I said last week, Julie and they are in good company. Awards bodies have been egregiously ignoring great work for decades.

Beginning last week and continuing this week and the next two, 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. This week we explore the Best Supporting Actor category.

With so many to choose from, I ignored the major stars who won Oscars in leading roles but failed to pick up supporting wins either because they were nominated in the wrong category such as Spencer Tracy in San Francisco, completely ignored such as Freric March in Seven Days in May or not yet established such as Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Although I didn’t set out to profile mostly nominated performances, it ended up that five of the six I chose actually were nominated performances and the sixth might well have been had they given awards for supporting players in 1935. They didn’t start until the following year.

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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. They 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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