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.
THE MOST EGREGIOUSLY OVERLOOKED
BASIL RATHBONE in ANNA KARENINA (1935)
A noted stage actor, Basil Rathbone made his film debut in a leading role in the British film, Innocent in 1921. With the advent of the talkies he was still playing leading roles but by 1935 he had become one of the screen’s most consummate character actors, appearing in no less than six high profile films including David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and Captain Blood with his best performance being that of Greta Garbo’s vengeful cuckhold husband in Anna Karenina for which he surely would have been nominated had supporting Oscars been given before 1936. He did become one of the first nominated the following year for his brief role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet.
Rathbone received a second Oscar nomination in 1938 for If I Were King but his best remembered screen role was that of Sherlock Holmes in twelve films made between 1939 and 1946. A frequent guest star on TV from 1949 on, he could still be seen in an occasional film such as The Court Jester, The Last Hurrah, The Magic Sword and Tales of Terror right up to his death in 1967 at 75.
CLIFTON WEBB in LAURA (1944)
A noted stage actor, singer and dancer, Clifton Webb appeared in several silent films but did not become a film actor of consequence until 1944’s Laura in which his acerbic newspaper gossip columnist is one of the murder suspects. The stylish film was a huge success and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance but there was no way he or anyone else was going to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar over Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way. Nominated again for Best Supporting Actor in 1946 for The Razor’s Edge, he was unexpectedly nominated for Best Actor for 1948’s Sitting Pretty in which he was third billed behind Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara.
From then on, Webb consistently received star billing in such films as Cheaper by the Dozen, Stars and Stripes Forever, Titanic, Three Coins in the Fountain, Woman’s World, The Man Who Never Was, Boy on a Dolphin, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, Holiday for Lovers and Satan Never Sleeps. He died in 1966 at 76.
CLAUDE RAINS in NOTORIOUS (1946)
A stage actor since the of 11 and a noted acting teacher whose pupils included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Charles Laughton, Claude Rains made his film debut in a bit part in a 1920 British film. He didn’t make another until he was given the star role in James Whale’s The Invisible Man in 1933. An in-demand screen actor from then on, mostly in major supporting roles, Rains finally received his first Oscar nomination for 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, followed by subsequent nominations for 1943’s Casablanca and 1944’s Mr. Skeffington.
Rains received his fourth and final Oscar nomination for 1946’s Notorious for which he was the early favorite for his sensitive portrayal of Ingrid Bergman’s mother-dominated cuckhold husband and Nazi spy. He lost to Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives. Later films included This Earth Is Mine, Lawrence of Arabia and Twilight of Honor. He died in 1967 at 77.
SESSUE HAYAKAWA in THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
Sessue Hayakawa was the first Asian move star in America. He starred in more than fifty films from 1914-1929, becoming an overnight sensation in Cecil B. DeMille’s notorious 1915 film, The Cheat. He made his talkie debut in support of Anna May Wong in 1931’s Daughter of the Dragon but his heavy accent put an end of his Hollywood career and he returned to Japan and then France where he starred in the 1937 remake of The Cheat in the same role that made him a star. He returned to Hollywood after World War II where he gave memorable performances in 1949’s Tokyo Joe and 1950’s Three Came Home.
Oscar recognition finally came his way with David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai for which he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor as the commandant of the Japanese POW camp. Ironically, he lost to Red Buttons as American G.I. in post-war Japan opposite newcomer Miyoshi Umeki who won the Best Supporting Actress award. Later in Hell to Eternity and Swiss Family Robinson, he died in 1973 at 84.
ROBERT PRESTON in VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982)
Robert Preston was a Los Angeles stage actor who made his screen debut in 1938. Almost always the second or third male lead in his films, it wasn’t until he went to Broadway in 1950 in the John Barrymore role in a revival of Twentieth Century that his fortunes changed, culminating with his Tony award-winning role in 1957’s The Music Man, a role he reprised with enormous success on screen in 1962. He also gave memorable performances in the classic 1960s films, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and All the Way Home before winning a second Tony for Broadway’s I Do! I Do in 1967. He was back on screen in 1972’s Junior Bonner and Child’s Play.
Blake Edwards’ 1981 comedy S.O.B. won him numerous critics’ awards and Edwards’ even more successful 1982 musical-comedy, Victor/Victoria earned him more accolades including his first and only Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a gay cabaret star who helps ignite the career of struggling singer Julie Andrews. Last on screen in 1984’s The Last Starfighter, he died in 1987 at 68.
DEAN STOCKWELL in MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988)
Dean Stockwell is one of the few actors to have had a lifelong career in front of the cameras. He was a highly popular child star in such films as The Valley of Decision, The Green Years, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Boy with Green Hair, Down to the Sea in Ships, The Secret Garden and Kim. As a young man he starred in such films as Compulsion, Sons and Lovers and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Much on TV in the 1960s and 1970s, he had more memorable big screen roles in the 1980s in such films as Paris, Texas, Dune, To Live and Die in L.A. and Blue Velvet.
It wasn’t until the 1988 comedy Married to the Mob that he was given an Oscar nomination for his hilarious portrayal of an inept mob boss, only to lose to Kevin Kline in another comedy, A Fish Called Wanda. Since then he’s continued to show up regularly on TV and in occasional films such as The Rainmaker, Rites of Passage and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. He’s now 84.
THE MOST EGREGIOUSLY OVERLOOKED AND OSCAR
- Basil Rathbone – 2 nominations, no wins
- Clifton Webb – 3 nomination, no wins
- Claude Rains – 4 nominations, no wins
- Sessue Hayakawa – 1 nomination, no win
- Robert Preston – 1 nomination, no win
- Dean Stockwell – 1 nomination, no win