Category: Oscar Profile

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.


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.


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.


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.


Oscar Profile #438: W. Howard Greene

Born August 16, 1895 in River Point, Rhode Island, William Howard Greene, whose nickname was “Duke”, was a pioneer in color cinematography. He won two honorary Academy Awards for his work before color cinematography became an Oscar category and was then nominated in each of the first five years in which it was a category from 1939-1943, twice for 1942, finally winning a competitive Oscar on his sixth nomination at the 1943 awards.

Greene began specializing in color cinemagraphy in the early 1920s. He shot the color sequences for 1925’s Ben-Hur in two-strip Technicolor, which was a subtractive cemented-dual-print process. He later worked as camera operator for Warner Bros. on 1932’s Doctor X and 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, which were photographed in Technicolor’s newer, subtractive two-color dye process. Mystery of the Wax Museum is generally considered the most beautiful color film made in that process.

Color usage waned in the early 30s due to the economic effects of the Depression, the lack of novelty, and audience dissatisfaction with the limited palette of colors. It wasn’t until later in the decade with the advent of Technicolor’s three-strip, three-color dye transfer process that color film took hold. 1935’s Becky Sharp, for which Greene was the camera operator, was the first filmed in the process. 1936’s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which was shot by Greene and documentary filmmaker Robert C. Bruce, was the first shot outdoors.

Technicolor chief Herbert Kalmus didn’t believe that color cinematography could be done outside of a studio because he thought that light and color couldn’t be controlled, but Trail’s director, Henry Hathaway insisted, and the on-location photography was a success.


Oscar Profile #437: Tom Berenger

Born May 31, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois as Thomas Michael Moore, the future Tom Berenger’s father was a printer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a traveling salesman.

After graduating from Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois in 1967, Moore studied journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, but decided to seek an acting career following his graduation in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Moore selected “Berenger” as his professional name after he was forced to change his surname professionally when he began to work in regional theatre in 1972, as there was already a “Tom Moore” in Actors’ Equity. He worked as a flight attendant out of Puerto Rico before settling into acting on a regular basis.

Berenger’s breakthrough role was as Diane Keaton’s killer in the 1977 film, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. The following year he played the lead in In Praise of Older Women. His physical resemblance to Paul Newman won him the starring role of Butch Cassidy in 1979’s Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. His early 1980s successes included The Dogs of War, The Big Chill and Eddie and the Cruisers. His performance in 1986’s Platoon earned him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.
The actor’s hits of the late 1980’s include Someone to Watch Over Me, Shoot to Kill, Betrayed, Last Rites, Major League and Born on the Fourth of July.


Oscar Profile #436: Greta Garbo

Born September 18, 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden to a mother who later worked in a jam factory and a father who was a laborer, Greta Gustafffson (later Garbo) was the middle of three children in an impoverished family that lived in a slum. Her father became ill during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919, began missing work and lost his job. Young Garbo, who left school at 13 to work, would take him to his doctor’s appointments. He died in 1920 when she was 14.

Garbo had several jobs leading to becoming a fashion model for the department store in which she worked. That experience led to her being cast in a commercial for women’s clothes. In 1922, she was given a part in the short comedy, Peter the Tramp which began her acting career.

Having attended the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s Acting School from 1922-1924, Garbo was given a small part in 1924’s The Saga of Gosta Berling starring Lars Hanson. From that she was given the second lead in G.W. Pabst’s 1925 film, The Joyless Street that led to her discovery by Louis B. Mayer. Brought to the U.S., she waited six months in New York and when she didn’t hear from MGM, paid her own way to Hollywood where she continued to be ignored. On the verge of returning to Sweden, a friend helped get her a screen test with Irving Thalberg and the rest, as they say, was history.


Oscar Profile #435: Diane Cilento

Born October 5, 1933 in Queensland, Australia, Diane Cilento was the daughter of distinguished medical practitioners, Sir Raphael Cilento and Phyllis, Lady Cilento. She wanted to become an actress from an early age, and after being expelled from school in Australia, was educated in New York while living with her father. She later won a scholarship with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and moved to England in the early 1950s.

After graduation, Cilento found film work immediately. Her early films include Captain Horatio Hornblower and Moulin Rouge in which she had minor roles. Her first starring role was in 1954’s The Woman Who Pawned Her Harp opposite Felix Aylmer. Subsequent films included 1955’s Passage Home opposite Peter Finch and 1957’s The Admirable Crichton opposite Kenneth More. She married second unit director Andrea Volpe in 1956 with whom she had a daughter in 1957.

Divorced from Volpe in 1960, Cilento’s early 1960s films included The Naked Edge in support of Gary Cooper and Deborah Kerr and I Thank a Fool in support of Susan Hayward and Peter Finch. She married second husband Sean Connery in 1962, the year he began making a name for himself as James Bond. Their son, future actor Jason Connery, was born in January 1963. Cilento’s performance in that year’s Tom Jones earned her an Oscar nomination in support of Albert Finney. Subsequent films of the decade included The Third Secret in support of Stephen Boyd, The Agony and the Ecstasy in support of Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison and Hombre in support of Paul Newman and Fredric March.


Oscar Profile #434: Rouben Mamoulian

Born October 8, 1897 in Tiflis, Georgia, Russian Empire to Armenian parents, Rouben Mamoulian’s mother was a director of the Armenian Theatre and his father was a bank president. Educated in Tiflis and Paris, he founded a drama studio in Tiflis in 1918. He relocated to England and started directing plays in London in 1922. Brought to America the following year by opera tenor and director, Vladimir Rosing to teach at the Eastman School of Music, he was also active in directing opera and theatre.

Mamoulian made his Broadway debut in 1927 as director of the non-musical version of Porgy, opening the play with an innovative blending of sounds which led to his film debut with 1929’s Applause which included an innovative use of the camera for talking films which had been more or less frozen with the advent of sound two years earlier. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1930 as soon as he was eligible.

With 1931’s City Streets, he used novel tracking shots and introduced subjective sound. The same year’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is notable for its use of a subjective, 360-degree revolving camera and stunning transformations of man-becoming-monster right before your eyes. It’s also notable for its emphasis on sexual tension over horror.

One of the most inventive original screen musicals, 1932’s Love Me Tonight, with a score by Rodgers & Hart, was conceived entirely in musical terms and opens with a stylish symphonic montage of an awakening city. 1933’s Queen Christina has two remarkable scenes, the bedroom scene in which Greta Garbo fondly touches inanimate objects, and the final close-up in which Garbo’s face becomes a haunting enigma.


Oscar Profile #433: Viggo Mortensen

Born October 20, 1958 in New York, New York, Viggo Mortensen (Jr.) was the first of three brothers born to Grace and Viggo Mortensen, Sr. The family moved to Venezuela, then Demark, then Argentina, the boys and their mother returning to New York when Viggo was 11 after their parents’ divorce. After graduating from St. Lawrence University in 1980, he moved to England, then Spain, then back to Denmark, returning to the U.S. in 1984 to pursue an acting career.

Mortensen made his film debut in Woody Allen’s 1985 film, The Purple Rose of Cairo in support of Mia Farrow and Jeff Daniels, but his scenes were deleted from the film’s release print. His portrayal of an Amish famer in Peter Weir’s 1985 film, Witness in support of Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis and Lucas Haas got him noticed. His films over the next few years included Fresh Horses and Young Guns II. It was as David Morse’s brother 1991’s The Indian Runner, directed by Sean Penn, that he became a star.

The actor ‘s films through 2000 included Crimson Tide in support of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, The Portrait of a Lady in support of Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey, G.I. Jane opposite Demi Moore , A Perfect Murder in support of Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow, Psycho in the John Gavin role in the infamous remake of the 1960 Hitchcock classic, A Walk on the Moon opposite Diane Lane and 28 Days opposite Sandra Bullock.


Oscar Profile #432: Donald Sutherland

Born July 17, 1935 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, Donald Sutherland survived rheumatic fever, hepatitis and polio as a child to study engineering in college but gave it up to study drama in England’s London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in 1957. He later spent a year and a half in a repertory theatre in Scotland. He married first wife Lois Hardwick in 1959.

Sutherland began to get small roles in British films and TV from 1962 on, his most memorable role in this period being in 1965’s Die! Die! My Darling in support of Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers. He divorced Hardwick in 1966 and married second wife, Shirley Douglas, the mother of his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland and his twin sister. His breakthrough came in 1967’s The Dirty Dozen, a Hollywood film made in the U.K. by Robert Aldrich, after which he migrated to the U.S.

Stardom came quickly to Sutherland once he settled in the U.S. with his starring role in 1970’s M*A*S*H. He was divorced from Douglas that same year and had a highly publicized affair with Jane Fonda, his co-star in 1971’s Klute. His infamous sex scene with Julie Christie in 1973’s Don’t Look Now were so intense that for years rumors persisted that the two were actually having sex during filming.


Oscar Profile #431: Margaret Rutherford

Born May 11, 1892 in London, England, Margaret Rutherford was the only child of William Rutherford Benn, a journalist and poet and his wife, Florence. Her parents were married in 1882. In 1883, her father murdered his father, a Congregational Church minister, was declared insane and admitted to Bethnal House Lunatic Asylum where he spent seven years. Released in 1890, he was reunited with his wife two years before his daughter was born, legally dropping Benn as his last name. After Margaret’s birth, they moved to India to start a new life. In 1895, Margaret’s pregnant mother committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. Her father died of a broken heart soon after and three-year-old Margaret was returned to England where she was raised by a maiden aunt.

Contrary to popular folklore, Rutherford did not wait until she was in her 50s to become an actress. She began working as an actress at 33, which at the time (1925) was considered “late in life” but not as late as it would have been if she had waited until her 50s.

Rutherford met character actor Stringer Davis in 1930, whose marriage proposal she immediately accepted, but due to his mother’s dislike of her, postponed marriage until after the woman’s death in 1945. The two acted together in minor roles until Rutherford became something of a star as Miss Prism in John Gielgud’s 1939 production of The Importance of Being Earnest after which he played minor roles on stage and eventually in films in which she had more important roles.


Oscar Profile #430: Nicole Kidman

Born June 20, 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Nicole Kidman was raised in a suburb of Sydney, Australia by her Australian parents who were visiting Hawaii on educational visas at the time of her birth.

Young Kidman’s first love was ballet, but she soon gravitated toward drama and made her film debut in the 1983 Australian film, Bush Christmas at 16. She worked steadily from then on in both Australian films and TV, achieving international success with 1989’s Dead Calm. She was then cast opposite Tom Cruise in 1990’s Days of Thunder and married him on Christmas Eve of that year.

The Cruise-Kidman marriage lasted eleven years through August of 2001. During its course, Kidman’s career blossomed through such films as 1991’s Billy Bathgate for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, 1992’s Far and Away, 1993’s Malice, 1995’s To Die For for which she won a Golden Globe, 1996’s The Portrait of a Lady and 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s last film and Kidman’s last with Cruise.


Oscar Profile #429: Glenn Close Revisited

Born March 19, 1947 in Greenwich, Connecticut to Bettine (née Moore) and William Taliaferro Close, a doctor who ran a clinic in the Belgian Congo and served as personal physician to the Congo’s president, Glenn Close has long been considered one of our greatest actresses. Her paternal grandfather was first married to cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her maternal grandmother’s sister was actress Brooke Shields’ great-grandmother.

Raised from the age of 7 as part of the Moral Re-Armament sect, Close broke away at 22 to attend the College of William and Mary where she majored in drama and anthropology. She made her Broadway debut in 1974 and earned the first of four Tony nominations in 1980 for Barnum. Subsequent Tony nominations for The Real Thing; Death and the Maiden and Sunset Boulevard would all result in wins.

Close made her film debut as a feminist author in 1982’s The World According to Garp for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her second and third films, 1983’s The Big Chill and 1984’s The Natural also brought her nominations for Best Supporting Actress. Starring roles in 1985’s Maxie and Jagged Edge kept her profile high, but it was 1987’s box office smash, Fatal Attraction that would make her a major film star. That and 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons brought her back-to-back Oscar nominations for Best Actress.


Oscar Profile #428: Willem Dafoe Revisited

Born July 22, 1955 in Appleton, Wisconsin, William J, Dafoe was one of eight children whose parents were a surgeon and a nurse who worked together constantly, leaving the future actor to be raised by his five older sisters. He became known as “Willem”, the Dutch name for “William”, while in high school.

Dafoe studied drama in college and joined an experimental acting company in the late 1970s. He made his film debut in 1980’s ill-fated Heaven’s Gate from which he was fired and most of his performance excised. After several small parts, he won kudos for his portrayal of a counterfeiter in 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. . His portrayal of the compassionate sergeant in the 1986 Oscar winner, Platoon, earned him his first Oscar nomination. He received even stronger notices for his portrayal of Jesus in 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and co-starred opposite Gene Hackman in that year’s Oscar nominated Mississippi Burning. Over the next few years he alternated lead roles in such films as Triumph of the Spirit and Light Sleeper with major supporting turns in such other films as Cry-Baby, Born on the Fourth of July and Wild at Heart.

In 1994, Dafoe was T.S. Eliot to Miranda Richardson’s Vivienne Haigh-Wood in Tom & Viv for which she was Oscar nominated and he wasn’t. He rounded out the decade with mostly highly visible supporting roles in such films as Clear and Present Danger, Basquiat, The English Patient, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Affliction and Existenz.