Category: Oscar Profile

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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Oscar Profile #528: Frank Capra Revisited

Born Francisco Rosario Capra on May 18, 1897 in Bisacquino, Sicily and raised in Los Angeles from the age of six, the future President of both AMPAS (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and the DGA (Directors Guild of America) would become a naturalized American citizen in 1920 at which time he legally changed his name to Frank (Russell) Capra.

Raised in poverty, Capra sold newspapers after school for ten years until he graduated from high school. Instead of working after high school, he enrolled in college against his parents’ wishes. He continued to work odd jobs while studying chemical engineering and entered the Army after graduating in 1918. His father had died in a terrible accident in 1916.

In 1920, he got a job working for a movie studio in San Francisco where he directed his first film, a 1921 documentary on the Italian navy warship Libia during its visit to San Francisco.

Moving to Hollywood, Capra directed a number of shorts before becoming successful as a director of comedian Harry Langdon’s films for First National starting in 1926. Moving to Columbia in 1930, he had an immediate success with Ladies of Leisure starring Barbara Stanwyck. He also directed Stanwyck in two of her biggest early successes in 1931’s The Miracle Woman and 1933’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

Capra’s 1933 box-office smash, Lady for a Day, began his string of six films that would earn in Best Director Oscar nominations, three in five years of which would result in wins.

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Oscar Profile #527: Gregory La Cava

Born March 10, 1892 in Towanda, Pennsylvania, (George) Gregory La Cava studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students’ League in New York. He was hired by silent film cartoonist Raoul Barré in 1913 to do odd jobs at his studio. By 1915, he was an animator on
The Animated Grouch Chasers. By the end of that year, he was hired by William Randolph Hearst to head his International Film Service which was tasked with making animated shorts of Heart’s newspaper cartoons.

La Cava’s work for Hearst was short lived, the studio he ran having closed by the end of 1918, although he continued his prolific output of shorts well into the 1929s. His first live-action film comedy was 1921’s His Nibs starring Chic Sale and Colleen Moore. He married first wife Beryl Morse Greene in 1924 with whom he would have one son. They would divorce in 1930.

The director’s late silent era films included 1927’s Running Wild starring W.C. Fields and 1929’s His First Command starring William Boyd. His early talkies included 1932’s The Half-Naked Truth starring Lupe Velez and Lee Tracy, The Age of Consent starring Richard Cromwell and Eric Linden, and Symphony for Six Million starring Irene Dunne and Ricardo Cortez, and 1933’s Gabriel Over the White House starring Walter Huston, Bed of Roses starring Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea, and Gallant Lady starring Ann Harding and Clive Brook.

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Oscar Profile #526: Lionel Barrymore

Born April 28, 1878 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lionel Herbert Blythe was the oldest of three children of actors Maurice Barrymore and Ellen Drew Barrymore, Barrymore being the stage name that Lionel and his siblings, Ethel, and John, also took.

The most prolific of the acting Barrymores, Lionel made his stage debut in a 1903 Kansas City production of The Rivals, followed by a long career on stage augmented by his career in silent shorts beginning in 1905, receiving his first on-screen credit in 1911. His first full length feature was 1914’s The Span of Life. He was married from 1904 until 1922 to actress Doris Rankin, sister of actress Gladys Rankin who was married to his uncle. He and Doris had two children, both girls, who died in infancy, which he never got over, divorcing Rankin and marrying actress Irene Fenwick in 1923.

A composer, artist, author, and director as well as an actor, Barrymore received a 1929 Oscar nomination for Best Director for Madame X having missed out on a Best Actor nomination for his acclaimed performance in the previous year’s Sadie Thompson opposite Gloria Swanson. His second nomination came two years later as Best Actor for A Free Soul. This time he won playing Norma Shearer’s father, a defense lawyer who drops dead after his summation to the jury defending his daughter’s protector (Leslie Howard) on a charge of murdering her gangster lover (Clark Gable).

Barrymore played many high-profile roles throughout the remainder of career. Whether playing the lead, a major supporting character, or just a minor one, he always brought an air of gravitas to his portrayals, signaling that whatever film he was in was one of importance. Among his early 1930s successes were Broken Lullaby, Grand Hotel, Rasputin and the Empress (with his siblings), Dinner at Eight, One Man’s Journey, Treasure Island, David Copperfield, Mark of the Vampire, and Ah, Wilderness! .

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Oscar Profile #525: Nancy Olson

Born July 14, 1928 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Henry Olson, a physician, and his wife, Evelyn, Nancy Olson was discovered on stage at UCLA which she transferred to in 1948. The peaches-and-cream blonde was given a walk-on in 1948’s Portrait of Jennie and then given a contract by Paramount.

Olson made her first credited appearance in 1949’s Canadian Pacific starring Randolph Scott and Jane Wyatt. Cecil B. DeMille wanted to cast her as Delilah in Samson and Delilah but no one else, Olson included, thought she was right for the part. Instead, she was cast as William Holden’s love interest in Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic, Sunset Boulevard, for which she received her first and only Oscar nomination. That same year she married lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner with whom she would have two daughters.

Later in 1950, Olson starred opposite Holden in Union Station and Bing Crosby in Mr. Music. In 1951, Holden was her co-star again in Submarine Command and in 1952, she starred opposite John Wayne in Big Jim McLain. In 1953, she had one of her best roles as Jane Wyman’s potential daughter-in-law in So Big. 1954 found her opposite Will Rogers Jr. in The Boy from Oklahoma. She was a standout in the ensemble cast of 1955’s Battle Cry as a New Zealand widow in love with an American G.I.

Lerner dedicated his libretto for the classic 1956 Broadway musical, My Fair Lady to her, but the couple divorced the following year.

Olson appeared in three high profile hits on Broadway between 1957 and 1964. She first starred opposite Tom Ewell in The Tunnel of Love and David Wayne in Send Me No Flowers with both roles going to Doris Day when the film versions were made. Then she replaced Barbara Bel Geddes in Mary, Mary. Debbie Reynolds starred in the film version of that one.

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Oscar Profile #524: Terence Rattigan

Born June 10, 1911 in London, England to a British diplomat and his wife, Oxford educated Terence Rattigan was one of the preeminent British playwrights of the 20th Century.

Rattigan began writing plays in 1934. He cowrite an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities with John Gielgud in 1935, but the play was not produced until it was adapted for radio in 1950. It was not performed on stage until 2013. His first produced play was the 1936 comedy, French Without Tears with Rex Harrison, Kay Hammond, Jessica Tandy, Trevor Howard, Robert Flemyng, Roland Culver, and Guy Middleton in the leads. Culver and Middleton reprised their roles in the 1940 film version starring Ray Milland and Ellen Drew. His 1943 play, While the Sun Shines was filmed in 1947.

One of Rattigan’s greatest successes, The Winslow Boy, was first seen in London in 1946, moving quickly to Broadway in 1947. The 1948 film version starring Robert Donat and Cedric Hardwicke was not released in the U.S. until 1950. His 1948 success, The Browning Version became a film in 1951 starring Michel Redgrave and Jean Kent. His 1952 original screenplay for The Sound Barrier aka Breaking the Sound Barrier, for which Ralph Richardson received a New York Film Critics’ award for Best Actor, earned him his first Oscar nomination.

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Oscar Profile #523: Ray Milland

Born January 3, 1907 in Neath, Glamorgan, Wales, UK, Reginald Alfred John Truscott-Jones, known professionally as Ray Milland, was the son of a steel mill superintendent and his wife. He trained as an equestrian on his uncle’s horse breeding farm and later joined the Household Cavalry before becoming an actor.

Turning to acting, Milland’s rise was slow but steady. He made his British film debut in an uncredited role in 1928’s Moulin Rouge. In 1929, he had an uncredited role in the classic Piccadilly, his first credited role in The Lady from the Sea, and his first starring role in The Flying Scotsman which brought him to Hollywood under a nine month contract with MGM.

In Hollywood, Milland met Muriel Webster, a student at USC where he was taking some classes. They married in 1932 and remained married until his death, having had two children. Except for a high-profile role as Charles Laughton’s nephew in Payment Deferred, the actor’s early Hollywood career wasn’t advancing, so he returned temporarily to England while his wife stayed home to continue her studies.

Back in Hollywood in 1934 under contract to Paramount, the actor had solid supporting roles in 1934’s Bolero, We’re Not Dressing, and Charlie Chan in London on loan-out to Fox. His career advanced with 1935’s The Gilded Lily in which he was third billed behind Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. It was, however, his loan-out to Universal for their megahit 1936 Deanna Durbin film, Three Smart Girls, that convinced Paramount to give him his first romantic lead in 1937’s Easy Living opposite Jean Arthur.

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Oscar Profile #522: Burnett Guffey

Born May 26, 1905 in Del Rio, Tennessee, Burnett Guffey attended school in Etowah, Tennessee. He worked as a messenger boy in a bank and then as a camera assistant at Fox beginning in 1923. His first film was that year’s The Courtship of Myles Standish that same year. John Ford picked him for second unit photography on the epic, The Iron Horse the following year. Later in the decade he worked for Famous Players-Laskey, then worked again for Fox and other studios.

Among Gufffey’s films as camera operator in the ten-year period from 1935-1944 included Richard Boleslawski’s Clive of India, Ford’s The Informer, Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once, Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, Tay Garnett’s Seven Sinners, Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman, and Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl.

Guffey’s first film as cinematographer was 1944’s Sailor’s Holiday. Highly regarded for his crisp imaging and superb compositions, he was especially good at film noir, having made twenty of them over the course of his career.

Among the major films Guffey photographed between 1944 and 1953 were Joseph H. Lewis’ My Name Is Julia Ross, Richard Wallace’s Framed, Nicholas Ray’s Knock on Any Door, Max Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment, Robert Rossen’s Oscar-winning All the King’s Men , Ray’s In a Lonely Place, Edward Dmytryk’s The Sniper, and Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity for which he won an Oscar on his first nomination after thirty years in the business.

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Oscar Profile #521: Ross Hunter

Born May 6, 1920 in Cleveland, Ohio, Martin Fuss, known professionally as Ross Hunter, was raised by his German American parents, attending Cleveland’s Glenville High School where he later taught English and Drama. He worked in U.S. Army Intelligence during World War II.

After his war service, Hunter returned to teaching in Cleveland where he his students sent his photograph to Paramount with the expectation that they would sign their handsome teacher to an acting contract. They passed, but Columbia signed him and gave him the lead male role opposite Judy Canova in 1944’s Louisiana Hayride, followed by seven more films through 1946. It was during this time that he met Jacques Mapes (1913-2002), the Hollywood set decorator who would become his life partner for more than forty years, one of the longest relationships in Hollywood history.

Moving to Universal, Hunter’s last role as an actor was in 1951’s The Groom Wore Spurs, the same year he became an associate producer on Flame of Araby. He moved up to full-time producer with 1953’s Take Me to Town, the first of many films he produced for director Douglas Sirk. It was followed by 1953’s All I Desire, 1954’s Taza, Son of Cohise and Magnificent Obsession, 1955’s There’s Always Tomorrow (in which he made his last on-screen appearance in a cameo) and All That Heaven Allows, and 1957’s Battle Hymn, all of which were directed by Sirk.

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Oscar Profile #520: Hugh Jackman

Born October 12,1968 in Sydney, Australia, Hugh (Michael) Jackman was the son of English parents who had emigrated to Australia in 1967. His father was a Cambridge educated accountant. His parents divorced when he was eight years old, with his mother taking his two sisters back to England with her, while Hugh and his two older brothers remained with their father in Australia.

Jackman gravitated toward musical theatre while still in school where he starred in a 1985 production of My Fair Lady. He later spent a year working in England as an education teacher, returning to Australia to obtain a BA in Communications in 1991.

The actor’s post-school rise was meteoric. Frequently on TV from 1994, he appeared on stage as Gaston in the 1995 Australian production of Beauty and the Beast and then starred as Joe Gillis the 1996 Australian production of Sunset Boulevard, the year he married his wife and business partner, Deborra-Lee Furness. He headed the acclaimed 1998 London West End production of Oklahoma! which was filmed for Australian TV in 1999.

Jackman became an international star with Bryan Singer’s 2000 film, X-Men, replacing injured actor Dougray Scott. He would reprise his character of Logan/Wolverine in eight more hit films and several video games. 2001’s Kate & Leopold began his professional relationship with director James Mangold who would direct him as Logan in two X-Men films. This role earned him the first of three Golden Globe nominations.

In 2003, Jackman captivated Broadway with his portrayal of Peter Allen in the musical, The Boy from Oz for which he won a Tony. He hosted the Tonys three years in succession from 2003 through 2005, returning in 2014.

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Oscar Profile #519: Anthony Veiller

Born June 23, 1903 in New York, New Yo0rk, Anthony Veiller was the son of Oscar nominated actress, Margaret Wycherly, and her husband, playwright Bayard Veiller.

Veiller was a journalist, publicist, and stage manager prior to moving to Hollywood in 1930. He married literary agent Laura Kerr in 1934 with whom he would have a daughter born in 1936. Under contract to RKO from 1934 through 1937 as both a writer and producer, his screenplays included those for Break of Hearts, Star of Midnight, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, Swing Time (contributing writer only), A Woman Rebels, Winterset, and Stage Door, receiving an Oscar nomination for the latter along with Morrie Ryskind.

One of Veiller’s best screenplays for RKO was Gunga Din which was not produced until 1939. In the U.S. Army during World War II, he was a major in the film office where he worked with Frank Capra on four Why We Fight documentaries. He also collaborated with the British on two of their documentaries including 1944’s Tunisian Victory.

Back in Hollywood after the war, Veiller was divorced from Kerr in 1945, the year he wrote the screenplay for the widely panned Adventure. He rebounded with two major successes in 1946, Orson Welles’ The Stranger and Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, earning an Oscar nomination for the latter. That film also earned him an Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Picture which he shared with Siodamak and producer Mark Hellinger.

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Oscar Profile #518: Margaret Wycherly

Born October 16, 1881 in London, England to a Canadian doctor and his American wife, Margaret Lovett De Wolfe, known professionally as Margaret Wycherly, had a long and distinguished career on the Broadway stage, but is probably best remembered for two iconic film roles as the very different mothers of screen legends Gary Cooper and James Cagney.

Wycherly married Brooklyn born writer Bayard Veiller in 1901 when she was just 19 years old. Her son, Anthony Veiller, was born in 1903. The younger Veiller would become an even more successful writer than his father and earn two Oscar nominations to his mother’s one.

Wycherly made her Broadway debut as a producer of William Butler Yeats revivals in 1905. She quickly emerged as a major star headlining such hits as 1907’s The Primrose Path, 1908’s Candida, 1910’s The Blue Bird and 1912’s The Fight, which she made into a film in 1915. It would be her only film until 1929’s The Thirteenth Chair, the Broadway version of which she starred in in 1916. Both plays were written by Bayard Veiller whom she would divorce in 1922.

Between her first and second films, Wycherly appeared regularly on Broadway, starring in such plays as 1920’s Jane Clegg, 1922’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1923’s The Adding Machine, 1925’s The Devil to Pay, and 1928’s Strange Interlude. She returned to Broadway after filming The Thirteenth Chair to star in 1932’s Another Language and 1933’s Tobacco Road before making another film, 1934’s Midnight.

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Oscar Profile #517: Charles Walters

Born February 17, 1911 in Pasadena, California, Charles Walters graduated from Anaheim Union High School in 1930 and briefly attended USC-Los Angeles before embarking on a dancing career in 1931.

After joining the touring Fancho & Marcum review as a chorus boy and specialty dancer, Walters embarked on a correspondence with producer, dancer, and choreographer Leonard Stillman leading to his being cast in the Broadway bound Know and Behold alongside Tyrone Power, Eve Arden and Kay Thompson in 1933. The show never reached Broadway, but his next assignment for Stillman in New Faces of 1934 did. He and Imogene Coca received the best notices of the modest Broadway hit.

After his newfound success, Walters was kept busy on Broadway. He danced in 1935’s Parade and 1935’s Jubilee where he introduced “Begin the Beguine”.

He then appeared in 1937’s The Show Is On and Between the Devil, and 1938’s I Married an Angel , after which he became a choreographer with 1938’s Sing Out the News. It was back to acting in 1939’s Du Barry Was a Lady before settling back into choreography with 1941’s Let’s Face It and Banjo Eyes. Then it was off to Hollywood as dance director on four major 1943 MGM musicals, Presenting Lily Mars, Du Barry Was a Lady, Best Foot Forward and Girl Crazy.

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