Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oscar's Late-Blooming Actresses

Next week I'll be giving you an article about the overall Best Actress race and my thoughts on how crazy-awesome it looks this year (so many possibilities!), but before I get there I want to focus on one woman in particular who might be able to make a significant impression on the race: Sandra Bullock.  Bullock has a major film coming out that she's getting strong reviews for in Our Brand is Crisis, and at this point it's hard to imagine that she spent most of the Aughts wandering through the wilderness before finally making a major comeback and scoring an Oscar for The Blind Side.

Bullock was 45-years-old when she received her first nomination, which is actually pretty old for an acting nominee, particularly a female nominee.  Most women tend to be nominated in their twenties (I have read the average age for a Best Actress nominee is around 29), and especially those women who are going to be nominated multiple times will have started early.  As a result of this, I was wondering if Bullock gets her third nomination this year (she was also cited for Gravity for those keeping track at home), will she make the list of the Top 10 3+-nominees in terms of age at their first nomination?  Let's take a look at the top ten, shall we?

10. Anne Revere

Age at First Nomination (we'll be going age at the Oscar ceremony): 40
First Nominated Film: Best Supporting Actress in The Song of Bernadette (1943), followed by supporting citations in National Velvet (1945) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Did She Win?: Yes, Revere pulled off the win for playing Elizabeth Taylor's mother in National Velvet, besting two women who are still alive to hold grudges, actually (Dame Angela Lansbury, the youngest person ever to be nominated for two Academy Awards and Ann Blyth, Joan Crawford's demon spawn in Mildred Pierce).
What Took So Long?: Revere was most noted for her work on the stage (she would eventually win a Tony Award for Toys in the Attic), and was more just a contract player who gained steadily in stature in the years that followed Song of Bernadette until she was forced to resign from the Screen Actors Guild because she refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Also Worth Noting: Revere played opposite Taylor six years after her Oscar win as Montgomery Clift's mother in A Place in the Sun.  Despite the film being a huge hit with Oscar and the Academy's penchant for both women, neither would be nominated for the film.

9. Agnes Moorehead

Age at First Nomination : 42
First Nominated Film: Best Supporting Actress in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), followed by Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948), and Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte, all in supporting.
Did She Win?: No, Moorehead never made it.  Based on some readings I have done she was probably closest either for The Magnificent Ambersons (where she may have fallen prey to the Orson Welles-hate that was still reverberating from the year before) or for 1964's Hush...Hush, where she was the sentimental favorite but Oscar was very international that year, going with all non-Americans for the first time ever that year rather than the Massachusetts-born Moorehead.
What Took So Long?: Moorehead really struggled early in her career, frequently going without work and even food.  She eventually found success in radio, working with Orson Welles and his Mercury Players.  This resulted in her getting the two most iconic roles in her film career: as Charles Foster Kane's mother in Citizen Kane and her marvelous work as Fanny in The Magnificent Ambersons.
Also Worth Noting: She didn't do particularly well at the Emmys either, never winning for Bewitched, her best-known role overall to modern audiences, though she did pick up an Emmy for her role on The Wild Wild West of all things.

8. Kathy Bates

Age at First Nomination: 42
First Nominated Film: She was first noted for her iconic breakthrough as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery, followed by supporting citations for Primary Colors (1998) and About Schmidt (2002)
Did She Win?: She won in a bit of a surprise on her first outing for Misery, a very atypical role for a Best Actress contender, though it's hard to tell if Joanne Woodward or Julia Roberts was her bigger competition.  Eight years later she'd nearly pull off an upset over Judi Dench when she was the only American in a field of Brits (which frequently results in a win for the Yank).
What Took So Long?: Bates was initially one of those character actors who never really popped.  Though she appeared in films for prestigious directors (Milos Forman and Robert Altman), she had more success on the stage, winning a Tony nomination for 'night Mother and eventually transferring to television in a series of soap roles.
Also Worth Noting: In one of those great "what could have been" sorts of moments, Anjelica Huston was originally offered the role of Annie Wilkes, and wanted to do the movie but was committed to making the film The Grifters.  Huston would go on to lose the Oscar for her Grifters performance to Kathy Bates.

7. Fay Bainter

Age at First Nomination: 45 (for those interested, Bullock was slightly older when she landed her first nomination by a few months and so would knock out Bainter if she were nominated again)
First Nominated Film: Bainter became the first actor nominated in two different acting categories in the same year, being cited for lead actress in White Banners and supporting in Jezebel in 1938.  She would go on to get a very late-in-her-career supporting nod for The Children's Hour in 1961.
Did She Win?: She did-Bainter set a longtime pattern of actors who were nominated for two different categories in the same year winning the supporting trophy, a trend that would last for fifty years until Sigourney Weaver broke it in 1988 (to this day she's the only actor to have been nominated twice in one year to have never won an Oscar, thanks to Julianne Moore's recent victory).
What Took So Long?: Like several women on this list, Bainter got her start and much of her success on the stage, appearing in a number of major New York productions before MGM finally convinced her to give film a try, and she became wildly successful pretty quickly.
Also Worth Noting: Back in the day, supporting actors would occasionally present the category they won the previous year, rather than the alternating genders we see today.  As a result, Bainter was the first person ever to present an Oscar to an African-American when she handed the statue to Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind.

6. Thelma Ritter

Age at First Nomination: 48
First Nominated Film: Like most of her costars, Ritter scored a nomination for the classic 1950 film All About Eve, and followed that up with five supporting bids for The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Did She Win?: Ritter is the most-nominated woman without a competitive Academy Award trophy to show for it, tied with Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close (though it's worth noting Kerr eventually got an honorary Oscar).  Despite the plethora of options, it's hard to tell if Ritter was actually ever close or just the female equivalent of Arthur Kennedy.
What Took So Long?: Ritter, though she was classically-trained, never really popped, working largely in radio and stock theater until she managed to have small parts three Best Picture nominees (Miracle on 34th Street, A Letter to Three Wives, and All About Eve), which brought her to the attention of casting directors.
Also Worth Noting: She was nearly able to make a fifth nomination in a row in 1954 for the classic Rear Window, which would have tied her with Greer Garson and Bette Davis for the most consecutive nominations.  Considering that she would have almost-certainly lost to Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront, perhaps the miss was for the best for a woman who said her many losses meant she "knew what it was like to be a bridesmaid, but never a bride."

5. Helen Mirren

Age at First Nomination: 49
First Nominated Film: Mirren scored a bit of a surprise nomination for The Madness of King George in 1994, but followed that with three expected citations for Gosford Park (2001), The Queen (2006), and The Last Station (2009).
Did She Win?: Mirren stampeded to basically every award known to mankind in 2006 with The Queen, a performance so noteworthy that she ended up winning a Tony for the same role nearly a decade later.
What Took So Long?: One of the most unexpected movie stars of the past decade, Mirren worked steadily in films in the 1980's, but almost always in character roles.  She also took frequent time off to do theater, and wasn't one of the Merchant-Ivory go-to's at the time, which probably hurt as that was what British actors were being cited for during the era.
Also Worth Noting: Mirren is well-known for her work as a monarch.  In her lifetime she's played 5 Queens: Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II, Queen Charlotte of Mexklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Gertrude (in Halmet), and the Queen of Egypt in The Prince of Egypt.

4. Gladys Cooper

Age at First Nomination: 54
First Nominated Film: Cooper's first nomination came for her nightmarish work in Now, Voyager (1942), and she earned two more supporting nods for The Song of Bernadette (1943) and My Fair Lady (1964).
Did She Win?: Cooper never pulled this off.  I wonder if she was pretty close for Song of Bernadette (it's a show-y part), but the other two seem unlikely.
What Took So Long?: Cooper spent much of her earlier career as one of the biggest theatrical draws of the 1930's, frequently finding herself headlining shows in the West End and on Broadway.  It wasn't until she moved to Hollywood in 1940 that she made her mark in film, and all things considered got on with Oscar pretty damn quickly.
Also Worth Noting: Is one of the rare actresses to have been nominated for the Tonys, Emmys, and Oscars without winning any of them.  Had she been nominated for a Grammy and lost, she would have joined Lynn Redgrave as the only person to have been nominated for all four awards and never won a trophy.

3. Judi Dench

Age at First Nomination: 63
First Nominated Film: Dench, like so many British actresses of a certain age before her, got in for playing a queen, in this case Victoria in Mrs. Brown.  She followed that turn with six more nominations for Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chocolat (2000), Iris (2001), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006), and Philomena (2013).
Did She Win?: She did, for Shakespeare in Love, the second-shortest performance ever to win an Academy Award after Beatrice Straight in Network.
What Took So Long?: Dench didn't really do film prior to her major breakout in Mrs. Brown, focusing principally on television and theater (she's in the Royal Shakespeare Company).  However, it is worth noting that she won a BAFTA eleven years prior to her turn in Mrs. Brown for the Oscar-blessed Room with a View.  Had her costar Maggie Smith stuck to lead like she did at the BAFTA's for the Oscars, Dench may well have gotten to Oscar eleven years earlier than expected (which still would have kept her on this list, for the record).
Also Worth Noting: Dame Judi has never been able to pull off an Emmy, perhaps the only major acting trophy she hasn't bagged, despite three nominations (for The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, Cranford, and Return to Cranford).  Dench nearly got a Razzie nomination for her bizarre appearance in The Chronicles of Riddick (she was on the shortlist), but the bizarre list of Britney Spears, Condoleezza Rice, Carmen Electra, Jennifer Lopez, and Sharon Stone kept her from such a dubious distinction.

2. Ethel Barrymore

Age at First Nomination: 65
First Nominated Film: The Grand Dame of the American Stage got her first Oscar nomination in None But the Lonely Heart in 1944, followed by The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Paradine Case (1947), and Pinky (1949).
Did She Win?: Yes, Barrymore won on her first try with None But the Lonely Heart.
What Took So Long?: Barrymore made a few silent films very early in her career, but largely stuck to the stage and was actually quite snobbish about the cinema, sticking to the theater and doing the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Maugham in the process.  She was bought by a major paycheck for None But the Lonely Heart, her first film in over a decade, and the acclaim that followed convinced her to stay in Hollywood.
Also Worth Noting: Barrymore turned down a marriage proposal from Winston Churchill because she thought he wasn't going anywhere.  That has nothing to do with movies or Oscars, but is a good anecdote so use it at your next dinner party.

1. Edith Evans

Age at First Nomination: 75
First Nominated Film: In the only year where three women were nominated in Supporting Actress for the same film, Evans joined her costars Diane Cilento and Joyce Redman in being nominated for Tom Jones (1963).  She followed that citation with nods for The Chalk Garden (1964) and The Whisperers (1967).
Did She Win?: No, Evans never won.  She likely came the closest in 1967 after picking up a number of precursors and getting numerous plaudits (she's superb in the largely forgotten film).  However, sentiment won the day and the inferior Guess Who's Coming to Dinner got Kate Hepburn her second trophy in the wake of Spencer Tracy's death.
What Took So Long?: Evans was one of the biggest names on the British stage, playing numerous Shakespearean roles and debuting roles in plays by the likes of Noel Coward and Bernard Shaw.  Though she dabbled in film, she didn't really take off until her small role in Tom Jones.  After that she stuck with film and gained a large amount of success during the 1960's and 1970's.
Also Worth Noting: Though she didn't win in 1963 (fellow dame Margaret Rutherford was successful), she did get to pick up Tony Richardson's Best Director award for him as he wasn't there.

It's worth noting before we go that Bullock isn't the only actress that is in contention for being included in this list (though she's the only one with a film that's an immediate threat).  Brenda Blethyn, Jacki Weaver, Catherine Keener, Viola Davis, and Melissa Leo also all are sitting at two nominations and would crack this Top 10 if they scored a third.  Do you think Bullock or any of these women will be able to go-the-distance and get a third nod?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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