Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #459: Shirley Knight

Born July 5, 1936 in Goessel, Kansas, Shirley Knight was the daughter of an oil executive and his wife. At the age of 14, she wrote a short story which was published in a national magazine. She later attended Phillips University and Wichita State University and trained in acting with Erwin Piscator, Lee Strasberg, and Uta Hagen. She is a life member of the Actors Studio.

Knight made her TV debut in an episode of the series Playbill in 1955 and her film debut later that year in an uncredited role in Picnic. She had a starring role in the 1958 TV series, Buckskin and her first credited screen role as a nun in 1959’s Five Gates to Hell. She married first husband, actor Gene Persson, that year.

The actress started out 1960 playing Richard Burton’s granddaughter in the film version of Edna Ferber’s Ice Palace, later appearing in numerous TV shows and rounding out the year co-starring in Delbert Mann’s film of William Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs emerging as the only Oscar nominee from the film’s legendary cast.

More TV and two more films in 1962 including Richard Brooks’ film version of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth brought Knight her second Oscar nomination. More TV work and the 1964 film Flight from Ashiya led to two films again in 1966, Sidney Lumet’s all-star cast film, The Group and Anthony Harvey’s Dutchman which was co-produced by Knight and her husband. She won the Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for the latter.

Knight was to make just three more films in the 1960s including Richard Lester’s Peulia and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People. She divorced Persson and married playwright John Hopkins in 1969 with whom she would have her second child. Hopkins would also adopt her daughter with Persson, the future actress Kaitlin Hopkins.

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Oscar Profile #458: Michael Redgrave

Born March 20, 1908 in Bristol, England, Michael Redgrave was the son of actors Roy Redgrave and Margaret Scudamore, the first generation of the Redgrave acting dynasty. The elder Redgrave, who had been a star in silent films, left his wife and child behind to pursue acting opportunities in Australia when Michael was two. He died when he was fourteen and his mother subsequently remarried.

The younger Redgrave made his acting debut in a 1934 production of Counselor-at-Law in Liverpool. He spent two years with the Liverpool Repertory Company where he met wife Rachel Kempson. They were married in 1935 and subsequently had three children, future acting legends Corin, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

Redgrave made his London debut in Love’s Labour Lost at the Old Vic in 1936. He made his TV debut in a 1937 BBC production of Romeo and Juliet. He made his film debut top-billed opposite Margaret Lockwood in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 classic, The Lady Vanishes.

The young thespian continued to flourish on the British stage where he was considered one of the acting giants of the era along with such other luminaries as Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft.

Redgrave’s films from 1940 through 1946, prestigious productions all, included Carol Reed’s 1940 film of A.J. Cronin’s The Stars Look Down; Reed’s 1941 film of H.G. Wells’ Kipps; Roy Boulting’s 1942 fantasy film, Thunder Rock; the classic 1945 horror film. Dead of Night and Basil Dearden’s 1946 prisoner-of-war drama, The Captive Heart. A trip to Hollywood to film Dudley Nichols’ 1947 film of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra resulting in an Oscar nomination. That same year he filmed Fritz Lang’s The Secret Beyond the Door opposite Joan Bennett before he returned to England.

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Oscar Profile #457 – Richard Burton

Born November 10, 1925 in Pontrhydyfen, Wales to Welsh speaking parents, Richard Walker Jenkins, Jr. was the twelfth of thirteen children. His mother died shortly after giving birth to his younger brother when Richard was just two years old. His father, a coal miner soon abandoned the family and he was raised by his older sister, Cecilia. An avid fan of Shakespeare, poetry and reading, he once said “home is where the books are”. He received a scholarship to Oxford University to study acting where he was mentored by his teacher, Philip Burton, who made the young actor his ward.

Having legally changed his name to Richard Burton, the young actor made his stage debut in 1944 and his film debut in 1949 in Woman of Dolwyn third billed behind Edith Evans and Emlyn Williams, the year he married first wife Sybil Williams. His first Hollywood film was 1952’s My Cousin Rachel opposite Olivia de Havilland for which he received the first of his seven Oscar nominations. The following year he received his second nomination for The Robe in which he starred opposite Jean Simmons. Other successes followed including 1955’s Prince of Players as Edwin Booth and The Rains of Ranchipur opposite Lana Turner, 1956’s Alexander the Great in the title role supported by Fredric March and Claire Bloom and 1957’s The Sea Wife opposite Joan Collins.

In 1959, Burton starred in the first British kitchen sink drama, Look Back in Anger opposite Bloom and Mary Ure and in 1960 starred in Broadway’s Camelot opposite Julie Andrews for which he won a Tony. In 1962, he was part of the ensemble cast of The Longest Day and in 1963 starred in both Cleopatra and The V.I.P.s opposite Elizabeth Taylor with whom he had a widely publicized affair during the making of Cleopatra. He would divorce his first wife in 1963 and marry her in 1964. 1964 was also the year that he starred in both Becket opposite Peter O’Toole and The Night of the Iguana opposite Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, earning his third Oscar nomination for Becket.

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Oscar Profile #456: Robert Siodmak

Born August 8, 1900 in Dresden, Germany, Robert Siodmak was one of four sons of a Jewish family from Leipzig. He worked as a stage director and banker before becoming editor scenarist for director Curtis Bernhardt in 1925. The following year he was hired by his cousin, producer Seymour Nebenzal to assemble original silent movies from stock footage of old films. In 1929, he persuaded Nebanzal to finance his first film, People on Sunday, featuring a script by his brother Curt and Billy Wilder. Released in 1930, it would be Germany’s last silent film.

Siodmak directed several early German talkies before fleeing to Paris with the rise of Hitler in 1933. There he directed a number of films including the 1933 comedy, The Weaker Sex, the 1936 French-English musical, Parisian Life and the 1939 thriller, Personal Column starring Maurice Chevalier and Erich von Stroheim later remade in Hollywood by Douglas Sirk as 1947’s Lured.

Emigrating to the U.S. in 1939, Siodmak’s first American film under contract to Universal was 1941’s West Point Widow. That and several subsequent films were not up to the levels he had achieved in its earlier work, but in 1943 critics took notice of his direction of Son of Dracula from a script by his brother Curt. He followed that with 1944’s Phantom Lady, his first film noir which established him as a master of the genre. Working with A-list stars once again, he directed in quick succession, Denna Durbin and Gene Kelly in Christmas Holiday, Charles Laughton in The Suspect and George Sanders and Geraldine Fitzgerald in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.

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Oscar Profile #455: Gail Patrick

Born June 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama, Margaret LaVelle Fitzpatrick, known professionally as Gail Patrick, was the daughter of a municipal fireman and his wife. After graduating from Howard College, she remained as the school’s acting dean for two years while studying law at the University of Alabama, hoping to eventually become her state’s governor.

For a lark, the future actress entered a Paramount Pictures beauty and talent contest, winning train fare to Hollywood for herself and her brother. Although she did not win the contest for a part in 1932’s Island of Lost Souls, she made her film debut in an uncredited role that year in Paramount’s If I Had a Million.

Patrick’s early films included Murder in the Zoo, The Phantom Broadcast, To the Last Man, Cradle Song, Death Takes a Holiday, Mississippi and No More Ladies. She established her on-screen persona as the bad girl or other woman as Carole Lombard’s spoiled sister in 1936’s My Man Godfrey. She then outdid herself as Ginger Rogers’ rival in 1937’s Stage Door.

In December 1936, Patrick married restauranteur Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby and inventor of the Cobb Salad. He was also owner of the Hollywood Stars baseball team for which she often threw out the first ball.

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Oscar Prfile #254: Hayley Mills

Born April 18, 1946 in London, England, Hayley Mills was the second of three children of actor John Mills and his wife, novelist-playwright Mary Hayley Bell. Her sister Juliet was born in 1941 and her brother Jonathan in 1949. She made her film debut as an infant in her father John’s 1947 film, So Well Remembered.

The outgoing child who turned shy after being sent to a boarding school at age nine, was discovered by director J. Lee Thompson playing in her parents’ home in 1958 and was immediately cast in a role intended for a boy who witnesses a murder in Thompson’s 1959 film, Tiger Bay starring her father and Horst Buchholz. The film was an international success, earning her an award for her performance at the 1959 Berlin Film Festival.

One of Walt Disney’s producers saw Tiger Bay before its U.S. release and suggested her for the lead in Disney’s 1960 film, Pollyanna which catapulted her to superstardom and earned her the last Oscar given for a juvenile performance.

The young star then made her biggest hit, The Parent Trap, for Disney, after which she returned to England to film Whistle Down the Wind opposite Dirk Bogarde, based on her mother’s novel. A return to Disney found her in In Search of the Castaways co-starring Maurice Chevalier and Summer Magic co-starring Dorothy McGuire.

Mills next co-starred in the 1964 film version of the hit play, The Chalk Garden with Deborah Kerr and Edith Evans and then made her last two films for Disney, The Moon-Spinners opposite Peter McEnery and That Darn Cat! opposite Dean Jones. She had a huge hit opposite Rosalind Russell in 1966’s The Trouble with Angels followed later that year by The Family Way in which she played her first adult role as a young married woman.

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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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