By Alan Hurst
We know the Oscars aren’t always fair, but they do get it right a lot of the time which makes the times when they don’t just that much more frustrating. When you look back into Oscar history, the number of iconic actors and actresses never nominated – in addition to those who were made never made it to the winner’s podium – is truly eye opening. It’s definitely not a recent phenomenon. From almost the first year onward, there have been omissions and losses that have promoted hours of head scratching and debate among Oscar junkies. Here are some of the most noteworthy for me among actresses:
Although primarily known for her spectacular run on television from 1951 until she passed away in 1989, Ball also made movies, more than many realize (around 80) with a few performances that should have caught the attention of the Academy. The first is Dance Girl Dance (1940), a strong female centered film (directed by Dorothy Arzner) with a tough, funny performance by Ball as a burlesque dancer. She should have been on the list for Best Supporting Actress. I would have liked to see her get a Best Actress nomination for her bitchy and wonderful performance in The Big Street (1942), but the film lets her down and the competition was stiff that year (Bette Davis in Now Voyager, Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver, among others). Other nominations for Ball should have included a supporting nomination for her hilarious performance in Easy to Wed (1946), a remake of Libeled Lady (1936) where she excels in the Jean Harlow role, and for The Facts of Life (1960), a funny and bittersweet look at adultery with Bob Hope. It’s one of the best things Ball did on screen.
An often-overlooked part of Hollywood`s golden age, Blondell was a dependable presence in dozens of films – usually enlivening the proceedings with a no-nonsense attitude and a great way with snappy dialogue. But she was also a good actress who should have received more attention from Oscar than her sole nomination as Best Supporting Actress for The Blue Veil (1951). She’s excellent in an early Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Night Nurse (1931) but that was before they were handing out supporting Oscars. Blondell’s two biggest opportunities for a win should have been with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) (wonderful as the free-spirited Aunt Sissy) and The Cincinnati Kid (1965), but she wasn’t nominated for either film. She should have also been in the final five for her supporting work in John Cassavetes Opening Night (1977).
I looked back at Day’s career in a previous article and bemoaned her lack of Oscar attention for Love Me or Leave Me (1955), a terrific performance in one of the decades best musicals. She wasn’t nominated (co-star James Cagney was) and she should have been the winner that year. I think a first nomination should have come her way for Calamity Jane (1953), a good Warner Brothers musical with Day carrying the whole thing on her energetic shoulders. Day was thankfully nominated for Pillow Talk (1959), but that’s it. And, to date, no special Oscar despite the fact that she’s still will us at 96.
A fascinating star and a good actress, Dietrich had a long film career but very little attention from the Oscars. Never a winner, she was nominated only once and that was for her first American film Morocco (1930), a wonderfully exotic romance of the early sound era. Oscar should have included her among the nominees – and selected her as the ultimate winner – two years later for Shanghai Express (1932), a superb example of Dietrich’s art. Another nomination should have come her way for Witness for the Prosecution (1957) for a virtuoso turn as the wife of accused killer Tyrone Power. It’s a great Billy Wilder film and Dietrich is the key to making it work.
One of the acknowledged greats of the silent era who made a spectacular transition to sound, Garbo wasn’t completely ignored by Oscar. She received a special award in 1955 and received four nominations for Best Actress – twice in 1930 for Anna Christie and Romance, or Camille (1937) and for Ninotchka (1939). But no competitive win. I think she should have won in 1933 for her beautiful work in Queen Christina, and there should have been additional nominations for Love (1927) and Anna Karenina (1935).
Garland did receive nominations for A Star Is Born (1954) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961), but no wins. Her loss for A Star Is Born is viewed as one of the prime examples of Academy voters getting it very wrong. She lost to Grace Kelly for her work in The Country Girl. Kelly was Hollywood’s new big star in 1954 but her work in The Country Girl is just OK – she was much better in her two 1954 Hitchcock films Dial “M” for Murder and Rear Window, but still nowhere near the calibre of what Garland did in A Star Is Born. Garland did win a special juvenile Oscar for The Wizard of Oz (1939), but she should have been in the running for Best Actress, and also for The Clock (1945).
Harlow’s star burned brightly but briefly during the thirties and it took a few years and quite a few films before critics started to take notice. She wasn’t a great actress, but she was a wonderful comedienne as evidenced by her work in both Red Dust (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933), both of which should have been Oscar nominated. It’s too bad that the introduction of the supporting Oscar was a few years away in 1933 – Harlow’s work as the trashy wife of trashy tycoon Wallace Beery would have been a shoo-in.
Kerr is one of the most nominated lead performers in Oscar history with no win. She received six Best Actress nominations over the course of her career for Edward My Son (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958) and The Sundowners (1960). I think the deserved the award for Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (and co-star Robert Mitchum is equally good), but she had to wait until the early nineties to get a special Oscar.
Lansbury was nominated for three Best Supporting Actress Oscars during her career and could have easily won for any of them but, of course, she didn’t. She made her film debut at 19 in Gaslight (1944) as Ingrid Bergman’s flirtatious, conniving maid. It’s a wonderful film debut and she gives this excellent film a nice jolt. Her next nomination was for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) as one of Gray’s victims – charming, innocent and the complete opposite from her role in Gaslight. Her next nomination was 17 years later in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a chilling performance that remains her best piece of film acting. The award should have hers, but Patty Duke won for her strong work in The Miracle Worker. I think Oscar should have also included her as a Best Supporting Actress nominee for State of the Union (1948) and for her hilarious work as an alcoholic novelist in the Agatha Christie adaptation of Death on the Nile (1978).
One of the biggest stars of the thirties and early forties, Loy was typecast very early on as both a sophisticated comedienne and the perfect wife. She was not an actress of great range, but within that range she was superb – a warm, amusing presence in all of her films. Loy received no Oscar nominations in her long career, only a special Oscar in the early nineties when she was too feeble to accept in person. Oscar should have taken notice back in 1934 with her sparkling work as Nora Charles in the first of The Thin Man movies. Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night and Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage got the most attention that year (even though Davis wasn’t nominated), but there was definitely room for Loy on the list. I think she should have also been recognized with a Best Actress nomination for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a smaller role but beautifully handled.
The biggest female star of the fifties and not one Oscar nomination, probably due to the fact that Monroe wasn’t really taken seriously as an actress until later. But that being said, Oscar should have taken notice with Best Actress nominations for both Bus Stop (1956) and Some Like it Hot (1959). She got great reviews for both and she’s excellent – particularly in Bus Stop where’s she’s the whole show as the funny, sad dance hall girl. I think it’s her best work and it should have definitely brought her Oscar gold.
She was one of the great character actresses of all time and an actress with an incredible range. Moorehead ran the gamut from comedy to drama to thriller and musicals – on screen, stage, radio and TV. She achieved her most popular success as the bitchy but fun mother on TVs Bewitched (1964-72), garnering multiple Emmy nominations. But her best work was on screen between 1942 and 1971. Oscar invited her to the party four times as a Best Supporting Actress nominee – The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Those nominations were all deserved and she should have won for both The Magnificent Ambersons and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She also deserved recognition with a nomination for Dark Passage (1947), Caged (1950) and All that Heaven Allows (1955).
Ritter received six Best Supporting Actress nominations in a 12-year span – a great achievement but it would have been nice to see the award come her way for at least one (or two) of these performances. One of the funniest and most natural of performers, Ritter was just as strong in comedy and drama (and musicals – winning a Tony for her Broadway musical New Girl in Town). Her Oscar nominations came for All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1961). Despite the juggernaut of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, I think Ritter should have taken home the supporting actress award that year instead of Kim Hunter. And I would have awarded it to her for Pillow Talk as well. Ritter should also have received supporting nominations for Rear Window (1954) and The Misfits (1961).
A terrific comedic actress and one of the big stars of the golden age, Russell was nominated four times for Best Actress – My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) and for Auntie Mame (1958), but never took the statue home. The first and last of those nominations were well-deserved, the other two films and performances are tough to sit through today. Russell was always better when she was allowed to be funny, but was usually one dimensional and sanctimonious when she turned serious. One film where the Oscars should have taken notice was for her supporting role in Picnic (1955). It’s a performance that has its detractors, but I think she’s wonderful as the spinster school teacher.
Another of the greats who had to make do with a special Oscar at the end of her career. Stanwyck was one of the best film actresses of the thirties through the fifties. She received four Best Actress nominations for excellent work in Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry Wrong Number (1948). I would have given Stanwyck the Oscar in 1941, but not for Ball of Fire. She was also excellent in The Lady Eve that same year – and it’s one of the great comedy performances of the decade. She should have also received attention for some her early films, notably Ladies of Leisure (1931) and Baby Face (1933).
I’ll probably take some heat for this one. Turner was never acknowledged as a great actress. She was a beautiful and magnetic presence, but also the least “natural” actress of the era. However, with the right director and material, Turner could and did deliver. Not all the time, but enough. Oscar took notice just once with a nomination for Peyton Place (1957), a good Turner performance where she’s a little more restrained and low key than normal but she didn’t deserve the award that year. I think Turner really only came close two other times – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Both are excellent films and she’s very good in both. Arguably she should have walked away with the Best Actress Oscar for the latter. It’s an over the top, emotional performance where she plays a character quite close to her self – a movie star with limited acting ability and a talent for picking the wrong guy.
There are others: Natalie Wood, Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Maureen O’Hara, Carole Lombard, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Liv Ullmann, Catherine Deneuve and Debbie Reynolds. More recent examples include Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Annette Bening and Sigourney Weaver – all four of whom could justifiably have at least one Oscar each, particularly in a world where Hilary Swank, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Reese Witherspoon have made it to the winner’s circle.
Hooked from a first viewing of Mary Poppins at four and after school reruns of I Love Lucy, Alan has been a movie and TV enthusiast ever since. A particular aficionado of films from the late thirties through the seventies, he enjoys helping others discover the joys of those films, directors and stars. His career has careened from journalism to public relations to marketing, always with one foot in the arts and with a unique ability to relate all work and life experiences back to a movie. Alan’s top five desert island films are Bonnie and Clyde, Sunset Boulevard, Cabaret, Mildred Pierce and, with no apologies, Mary Poppins. Alan’s focus will be on films from Hollywood’s first golden era (and a little beyond) as well as TV.