Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #552: Walter Lang

Born August 10, 1896, in Memphis, Tennessee, Walter Lang entered the film business as a young man when he got a job in a production company, working his way up to assistant director and then director. His first film as director was 1925’s The Red Kimono. He worked steadily even though he temporarily quit the business to study art in Paris.

Lang, who was a distant nephew of director Fritz Lang, met future wife Madalynne Field in 1936 when he directed Love Before Breakfast starring Carole Lombard. Field and Lombard met while performing for Sennett’s Bathing Beauties in the late 1920s and had remained friends with Field acting as Lombard’s secretary. Lang and Field were married in 1937. Lombard and Clark Gable were godparents of Lang’s son, Richard, who became a Hollywood director himself.

Lang then began a long tenure at Twentieth Century-Fox. Among his early films for Fox were Second Honeymoon with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, The Little Princess with Shirley Temple, The Great Profile with John Barrymore, Tin Pan Alley with Alice Faye and Betty Grable, Moon Over Miami with Grable and Don Ameche, Weekend in Havana with Faye and Carmen Miranda, and Greenwich Village with Miranda and Ameche.

In 1945, Lang became one of Fox’s top directors with his direction of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair with Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, and Vivian Blaine. He followed it with Claudia and David with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young, Sentimental Journey with Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, Mother Wore Tights with Grable and Dan Dailey, Sitting Pretty with O’Hara, Young, and Clifton Webb, and When My Baby Smiles at Me with Grable and Dailey. Webb and Dailey were both nominated for Oscars for Best Actor of 1948 for the latter two films.

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Oscar Profile #551: Joe Pasternak

Born September 19, 1901, in a town in Austria-Hungary that is now part of Romania, József Paszternák, known professionally as Joe Pasternak, was one of eleven children of a town clerk. He emigrated to the US as a teenager in 1920 and stayed with an uncle in Philadelphia. He had a variety of jobs while studying acting in New York.

In 1922, Pastnak got a job as a busboy at Paramount Studios in Astoria, Queens and quickly rose to head waiter before quitting to become an assistant to director Allan Dwan. He worked as assistant director on 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and 1926’s It’s the Old Army Game. He then directed a two-reel comedy starring El Brendel before going to work for Wesley Ruggles at Universal.

Universal sent Pasternak to Europe as associate producer on films made in Germany and Hungary. He returned to the U.S. in 1936, brining with him director Henry Koster. After seeing 14-year-old Deanna Durbin in the short, Every Sunday, he cast her in Three Smart Girls directed by Koster, the film that saved Universal from bankruptcy. As such, he was nominated for the Irving G. Thalberg Honorary Award at the 1938 Oscars. He would make ten films with Durbin including Mad About Music, That Certain Age, First Love and It Started with Eve.

While at Universal, Pasternak was also instrumental in reinventing Marlene Dietrich’s screen persona beginning with 1939’s Destry Rides Again. He produced two more Dietrich films before moving on to MGM in 1941.

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Oscar Profile #550: George Seaton

Born April 17, 1911, in South Bend, Indiana, George Stenius grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Determined to become an actor he joined a stock company rather than continue his education at Yale. In addition to his stage work, he voiced The Lone Ranger from its inception on Detroit Radio in 1933. He invented the Lone Ranger’s “Hi-yo, Silver!” catch-phrase because of his inability to whistle. That same year he sent a play he had written to MGM’s New York office. Irving Thalberg read it and hired him. Working first in New York, he changed his name to Seaton because it was easier to pronounce.

Seaton married his wife, actress and dialogue coach Phyllis Loughton who later became the first female mayor of Beverly Hills.

Starting out in Hollywood as a gag writer, Seaton quickly became a contributor to some of the best films of the late 1930s including A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Stage Door, and The Wizard of Oz. After a brief stint at Columbia in 1939-1940, he moved to 20th Century-Fox where he stayed through 1950. There he received his first Oscar nomination for his screenplay for 1943’s The Song of Bernadette. He made his directorial debut with 1945’s Diamond Horseshoe, a Betty Grable starrer. He became one of the studio’s top directors with 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn. He won an Oscar himself for his screenplay.

Seaton’s later hits at Fox included Apartment for Peggy starring Jeanne Crain and William Holden and The Big Lift starring Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas.

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Oscar Profile #549: Edmund Goulding

Born March 20, 1891 in Feltham, England, Edmund Goulding was the son of a butcher who objected to his son’s early acting and writing ambitions, wanting him to keep working in his butcher shop. It wasn’t until World War I, that he got his chance to escape his oppressive homelife by joining the Army. Wounded in battle, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1919 never to return.

As an actor, Goulding had made an impression in a highly controversial production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. As a playwright, he wrote numerous plays, one of which, The Quest of Life, was made into a film for which he wrote the screenplay in 1916. He continued as a screenwriter, first in England, and then in the U.S. The standout among his early works was his screenplay for 1921’s Tol’able David starring Richard Barthelmess.

Goulding’s first works as a director were 1925’s Sun-Up and Sally, Irene and Mary. His most famous silent film as a director was 1927’s Love, starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in an early version of Anna Karenina.

In 1929, Goulding wrote the screenplay for the Oscar winning Best Picture, The Broadway Melody, and directed Gloria Swanson to an Oscar nomination for The Trespasser. The following year he did the same for Nancy Carroll in The Devil’s Holiday. In 1932, he directed Grand Hotel to an Oscar win for Best Picture but was shockingly not among the nominees for Best Director. He would become the only director of an Oscar winning film never to have been nominated for anything himself.

Not a favorite of MGM chief Louis B. Mayor, Goulding would leave MGM after the 1936 death of his friend and protector, head of production Irving Thalberg.

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Oscar Profile #548: Carey Mulligan

Born May 28, 1985 in London, England, Carey (Hannah) Mulligan is the second child and only daughter of hotel manager Stephen Mulligan and his wife, university lecturer Nano (nee Booth). The family moved to Germany when she was three when her father was transferred there. Her early education was at the international school in Dusseldorf where her brother was also a student. When she was six, she cajoled the school to give her a part in The King and Iin which her brother had a role. They gave a part in the chorus.

Mulligan and her family moved back to England when she was eight. She continued acting in school productions as a teen. She was inspired to become a professional actress when she attended Kenneth Branagh’s production of Henry V when she was 16. She applied to three different drama schools at 17 and was turned down by all three.

Mulligan finally made her professional acting debut on stage in 2004 in Forty Winks at the Royal Court Theatre in London. She made her film debut as Kitty Bennett in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley. She then co-starred in the acclaimed 2005 miniseries, Bleak House and various other television productions until 2007’s When Did You Last See Your Father brought her back to the big screen. Two years later, she had first leading role in An Education opposite Peter Sarsgaard which brought her international acclaim and an Oscar nomination.

Much in demand following her Oscar nomination, Mulligan co-starred with Michael Douglas and Shia LeBeouf in 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which led to a highly publicized affair with LeBeouf.

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Oscar Profile #548: Olympia Dukakis Revisited

Born June 20, 1931 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Olympia Dukakis was the daughter of Greek immigrants. She was a first cousin of 1988 Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (born 1933). Dukakis majored in physical therapy at Boston University, graduating with a BA. She practiced as a therapist during the polio epidemic, later returning to Boston University where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree.

Primarily known as a theatre actress and director prior to exploding into the international consciousness with her Oscar-winning performance in 1987’s Moonstruck, Dukakis has had a long career in television as well as theatre and film, having made her TV debut in 1951 in Search for Tomorrow. She gave strong performances in 1962 episodes of The Nurses and Dr. Kildare, the same year she married her husband, actor Louis Zorich, with whom she had three children and to whom she would remain married until his death in 2018.

Dukakis made her Broadway debut as understudy to three other actresses in 1962’s The Aspern Papers. The following year she won an Obie for her performance in Off-Broadway’s A Man’s a Man.

Among the actress’s early film appearances were those in 1964’s Lilith, 1969’s John and Mary, 1970’s Made for Each Other, 1972’s Sisters, 1974’s Death Wish, 1979’s Rich Kids, and 1980’s The Idolmaker. After winning her Oscar, Dukakis appeared in a minor role in 1988’s Working Girl, after which all her roles were major ones.

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Oscar Profile #547: Frances McDormand Revisited

Born June 23, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois, Frances McDormand was the adopted daughter of Canadian-born parents, Noreen Eloise (Nickleson), a nurse from Ontario, and The Rev. Vernon Weir McDormand, a Disciples of Christ minister from Nova Scotia, who raised her in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. She began her stage career after graduating from Yale in 1982, appearing on Broadway in the 1984 revival of Awake and Sing!, the same year she made her film debut in Blood Simple, marrying the film’s director, Joel Coen.

In 1987 she played another supporting role in one of her husband’s films, Raising Arizona, in which the female lead was played by her college roommate, Holly Hunter. The following year, McDormand received a Tony nomination for playing Stella in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the wife of a racist deputy sheriff in Mississippi Burning.

Despite her Oscar nomination, McDormand languished in minor, often unbilled roles, until her iconic portrayal of the pregnant sheriff in Coen’s 1996 masterwork, Fargo, which brought her numerous awards including an Oscar for Best Actress. She also had important roles in that year’s Primal Fear and Lone Star. Despite the Oscar, however, it was back to supporting roles in films, two of which in 2000, brought her further awards recognition. She was recognized by various critics’ groups for her work in both Wonder Boys and Almost Famous, the latter bringing her a third Oscar nomination, her second in support.

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Oscar Profile #546: Anthony Hopkins Revisited

Born December 31, 1937 in Margam, Port Talbot, Wales to Muriel and Richard Hopkins, a baker, (Philip) Anthony Hopkins was encouraged to become an actor by Richard Burton, who was also born in Port Talbot and whom Hopkins met at the age of 15.

Hopkins made his professional stage debut in 1960 at the Palace Theatre in Swansea. After several years in repertory, he was spotted by Laurence Olivier who invited him to join the Royal National Theatre. His role in the 1967 TV version of A Flea in Her Ear led to his casting as Richard (the Lionheart) in 1968’s The Lion in Winter in support of Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn and the start of a brilliant screen career.

Alternating between the theatre and screens large and small, he gave memorable performances over the next twenty-three years in such films as The Looking Glass War, When Eight Bells Toll, Young Winston, Magic, The Bounty and TV’s QB VII, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case and, Victory at Entebbe, and The Bunker, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Great Expectations.

Having won his first Emmy for playing Bruno Hauptmann in TV’s The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case in 1976, he would win a second as Adolph Hitler in 1981’s The Bunker and be nominated again for playing Quasimodo in 1982’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Magwitch in 1990’s Great Expectations.

He received his first Golden Globe nomination for playing the disturbed ventriloquist on screen in 1978’s Magic and was nominated again for the TV movie The Tenth Man ten years later. He would finally receive Oscar recognition for 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, for which he won.

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Oscar Profile #545: Kevin Costner

Born January 18, 1955 in Lynwood, California, Kevin Costner was the third child of Sharon and Bill Costner. His mother was a welfare worker, his father an electrician. He was raised in various parts of Southern California as his father’s career progressed within Southern California Edison. He was active in sports in high school and had various jobs before becoming an actor.

Costner married Cindy, his high school sweetheart in 1978 with whom he would have three children. He made his film debut in Malibu Hot Summer in which he was fifth billed the same year. The film, subsequently titled Sizzle Beach U.S.A. , was not released until 1981. His second film was 1982’s Night Shift in which he had a minor role. He had small parts in Frances and Table for Five. He played the corpse in 1983’s megahit, The Big Chill. His first role of significance was in 1985’s Silverado.

The actor’s career took off in a big way between 1987 and 1989 in four major hits, The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams. In 1990, he partnered with producer Jim Wilson to form Tig Productions. The company’s first film was Dances with Wolves which Costner directed and starred in. The film was nominated for twelve Oscars and won seven including two for Costner as director and producer. He lost Best Actor to Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune.

The newly minted Oscar winner had a series of successes following his win with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK, The Bodyguard, A Perfect World, and Wyatt Earp. His marriage to Cindy ended in 1994, and he had his first poor showing at the box-office since becoming a major star with that year’s The War. The following year’s Waterworld earned him a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor of the Year.

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Oscar Profile #544: Cecil B. DeMille

Born August 12, 1881 in a boarding house in Ashfield, Massachusetts where his parents had been vacationing for the summer, Cecil Blount DeMille was the son of Matilda Beatrice and Henry Churchill de Mille, a dramatist, actor and lay reader in the Episcopal Church. He was also an English teacher at Columbia, and a member of the board of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Cecil was the second of his three children.

Growing up, young DeMille was in the thrall of his father’s friends, David Belasco, Edwin Booth, and John Philip Sousa, along with New Jersey neighbor Annie Oakley. He began his own career as an actor in 1900. In 1902, he married actress Constance Adams when she was 28, and he was 20. They would eventually have four children, three of them adopted including Katherine DeMille, the future actress and wife of Anthony Quinn.

DeMille also wrote plays and eventually drifted away from acting into directing, becoming director-general of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company in 1913. In 1914, the Lasky Company moved into film and DeMille directed his first, 1914’s The Squaw Man. The Lasky Company became Paramount Pictures and DeMille became the most successful director of the silent era, culminating with 1924’s The Ten Commandments. He then left Paramount, but none of the films he made as an independent producer were successful except 1927’s The King of Kings, which he considered his favorite film.

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Oscar Profile #543: Albert Brooks

Born July 22, 1947 in Beverly Hills, California, Albert Lawrence Einstein, known professionally as Albert Brooks, was one of three sons of former actress Thelma Leeds and her husband, Harry Parke. Parke’s birthname was Einstein, Parke was his original stage name, but he was better known as Parkyarkarkus.

Brooks suffered an early trauma when his father collapsed and died after delivering his remarks at a Friars Club tribute to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1958 at the age of 54. Brooks was just 11 years old.

The brilliant student attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh but dropped out after a year to hone his comedic skills. He changed his name to Brooks at the age of 19 and began to appear regularly on variety and talk shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1975, he directed five short films for Saturday Night Live during its first season.

Brooks made his film debut in a supporting role in Taxi Driver in 1976. In 1979, he wrote, directed, and starred in Real Life. In 1980, he played a supporting role in Private Benjamin and in 1981 he again wrote, directed, and starred in Modern Romance. He then went back to playing supporting roles in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Terms of Endearment, and Unfaithfully Yours. In 1985, he wrote, directed, and starred in his third film, Lost in America for which he won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay.

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Oscar Profile #542: Shirley Temple

Born April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California, Shirley Temple was the third child and only daughter of homemaker Grace and bank employee George Temple. When she was three, her determined stage mother enrolled her in Meglin’s Dance School where she honed her singing, dancing, and acting skills. At the same time, Mrs. Temple began styling her hair in ringlets. While at dance school, she was discovered by Charles Lamont, casting director for Educational Pictures who signed a contract with her parents for film work at his studio.

Temple appeared in several shorts for the company, which loaned her out to Tower Productions for The Red-Headed Alibi, her first feature film in 1932. In 1933, she was loaned out to Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. for various projects. At the end of the year, she was given a contract by Fox which cast her in 1934’s Stand Up and Cheer! starring Warner Baxter and Madge Evans. Third-billed Temple and fourth-billed James Dunn, who played her father, stole the show with their dance number, “Baby Take a Bow”. The result was a second film with Dunn with the title of that song. After making several more films including Little Miss Marker opposite Adolphe Menjou, Temple and Dunn were reunited for Bright Eyes, the first film made expressly for the emerging star in which she sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”.

Following the death of 65-year-old actress Marie Dressler in 1934, six-year-old Temple took over Dressler’s reign as the number one box-office star, a position she held for four years. Her films during this period included Curly Top, The Little Colonel, Captain January, Dimples, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess. 1940’s Young People was her last for Fox. A brief contract with MGM resulted in just one film, the 1941 flop, Kathleen. 1942’s Miss Annie Rooney for United Artists, though better reviewed, didn’t do much better at the box-office and she retired for two years.

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Oscar Profile #541: Amanda Seyfried

Born December 3, 1985 in Allentown, Pennsylvania to occupational therapist Ann and pharmacist Jack, Amanda Seyfried began modeling at 11 and ventured into acting at 15 with roles in the TV soap operas, As the World Turns from 1999-2001 and All My Children in 2003. She made her film debut in Mean Girls in 2004, taking a secondary role after auditioning for the lead roles which went to Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams.

Following her film debut, Seyfried auditioned for the title role in the TV series, Veronica Mars, losing to Kristen Bell, but accepting the role of the character’s murdered friend instead. Her character, Lilly Kane, proved so popular she continued to play the role in flashbacks from 2004-2006. During this period, she turned up in guest starring roles on such series as Law and Order: SVU, House, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation while appearing in such films as Nine Lives, American Gun and Alpha Dog. Her breakthrough came with her starring role in the HBO series, Big Love, a role that she played through 2010.

Seyfried’s first starring role on the big screen was in 2008’s Mamma Mia! . She had two highly publicized follow-ups in 2010’s Dear John opposite Channing Tatum and Letters to Juliet opposite Christopher Egan and Gael Garcia Bernal, but neither romantic comedy lived up to expectations at the box-office.

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Oscar Profile #540: Fay Wray

Born September 15, 1907 in Alberta Canada to Mormon parents, Fay Wray was one of six children who moved to Salt Lake City, Utah with their parents in 1912, relocating to Los Angeles in 1919 where the aspiring actress attended famed Hollywood High.

Wray made her film debut at 16 in the 1923 short, Gasoline Love. She made her feature film debut in 1925’s The Coast Patrol. She was in two dozen more films and shorts within the next two years before landing her first starring role opposite Erich von Stroheim in his 1928 film, The Wedding March. That same year, she married screenwriter John Monk Saunders (Wings).

Wray starred in two of 1929’s biggest hits, The Four Feathers and Thunderbolt. Saunders won a 1930 Oscar for Best Original Story for The Dawn Patrol. Under contract to Paramount, most of Wray’s films were on loan-out to other studios. Her reputation as film scream queen was the result of four classic films that she made between 1932 and 1933, Dr. X, The Most Dangerous Game, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and King Kong. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1933.

For a long time, Wray was taken aback by the popularity of King Kong, wishing audiences would be more appreciative of the work she did on other films such as 1934’s Viva Villa! and The Affairs of Cellini.

Wray and Saunders’ daughter, Susan was born in 1936. They were divorced in 1939. Saunders died in 1940. Wray’s only significant film during this period was 1941’s Adam Had Four Sons in which she had a supporting role. In 1942, she married screenwriter Robert Riskin, by then a four-time Oscar nominee and winner for his screenplay for It Happened One Night. Riskin adopted Susan and together, he and Wray had two more children, Robert, born in 1943, and Victoria, born in 1945.

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Oscar Profile #539: Walter Plunkett

Born June 5, 1902 in Oakland, California to James and Frances Plunkett, Walter Plunkett studied law at the University of California but was more interested in acting. He moved to New York in 1923, where he worked as an actor as well as a costume and set designer for the stage. He moved to Hollywood where he made his film debut as a ballroom dancer opposite fellow costume designer Irene in Erich von Stroheim’s 1925 version of The Merry Widow. His first work as a costume designer for film was for 1926’s One Minute to Pray

Plunkett would eventually design costumes for 269 films, primarily for RKO and MGM, but for other studios as well. His films for RKO included The Animal Kingdom, King Kong, The Silver Cord,Morning Glory, Little Women, Flying Down to Rio, Of Human Bondage, The Gay Divorcée, The Informer, Mary of Scotland, Quality Street, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Plunkett’s first film for MGM was a big one, Gone with the Wind, where he designed perhaps his most famous costume of all, Scarlett’s green dress made from curtains. There were no Oscars for costume design in those days or Plunkett surely would have won. Subsequent award-worthy costume designs by Plunkett prior to Oscar recognizing the craft in 1948 included those for Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Ladies in Retirement, Forever and a Day and Green Dolphin Street.

Plunkett produced Oscar-worthy costumes for 1948’s The Three Musketeers and 1949’s Little Women and Madame Bovary but he wasn’t nominated until 1950’s The Magnificent Yankee and That Forsyte Woman earned him nominations in both the black-and-white and color categories. 1951’s Kind Lady earned him a nomination in the black-and-white category while An American in Paris won him an Oscar for best costume design-color, shared with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff.

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