Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the Helen Hayes, Jack Palance, and Henry Fonda* record

In honor of Jackie Cooper's 88th birthday.

In 1971 and 1992, an Oscar record was set and matched: the longest distance (38 years) between an actor's Academy award and their last Academy Award nomination. It can be said that Henry Fonda (Best Actor nominee, The Grapes of Wrath; Best Actor winner, On Golden Pond) broke that record, but he'll always have an asterisk next to his name for producing 12 Angry Men, which earned him a nomination in the Best Picture category.

As of today, September 15, 2010, seventy-three men and women are in a position to break that record, if they happen to get on the ballots for 2010. It's probably not going to happen: most are retired, and those that are still active aren't being talked about as possible contenders, or they are only active on the stage or on television, or doing low-profile work here and there. Nevertheless, a few items:

Jackie Cooper remains the actor who was youngest (9) at the time of his nomination, for Norman Taurog's 1931 Skippy. Cooper has been retired from the screen since 1990: one of his last films was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, playing iconic Daily Planet chief Perry White (as he did in the first three Christopher Reeve entries). Cooper's acting career was long, not exactly distinguished, but quite functional. He always seemed to be the right person for each age of his life, with instantly identifiable, little-boy nose and (presumably real) full head of hair. He was also a prolific television director for over thirty years, winning a primetime Emmy award for the series, The White Shadow. [years elapsed since last nomination: 79]

Screen legends and (allegedly) feuding sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine have also effectively retired, but still make occasional appearances. De Havilland was recently awarded the French Legion of Honor by President Nicolas Sarkozy. [years elapsed: 60 (de Havilland), 66 (Fontaine)]

Luise Rainer won two consecutive Oscars for Leading Actress, in 1937 and 1938 and, after a few more roles, disappeared from the screen almost completely. Having turned one hundred earlier this year, she still makes public appearances. [years elapsed: 62]

Last nominated for her performance as the creepy Senator's wife in The Manchurian Candidate, Angela Lansbury may be best-known to contemporary audiences for her role as Jessica Fletcher on the long-running (1984-1996) murder mystery series, Murder, She Wrote, but in the context of her exemplary, sixty-six-year long career in the cinema, on TV, and (especially) on the stage, it occupies only a single chapter. With only one live-action film (Nanny McPhee, 2005) since Murder, she was most recently seen in the 2010 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music. [years elapsed: 47]

Kirk Douglas's screen appearances have been infrequent since his 1996 stroke. An actor whose stature - like that of Lansbury, and others - utterly precedes any conversation about his Oscar nominations (rather than the other way around), Douglas was last nominated for playing Van Gogh in Vincente Minnelli's Lust for Life. Well over a dozen movies could qualify as his most memorable and enduringly popular: the two he made with Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory and Spartacus), Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, Brian De Palma's The Fury, to name but a few. [years elapsed: 53]

Eva Marie Saint is arguably better-known for starring alongside Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest than for winning the Oscar for On the Waterfront. She seems to have chosen family life over super-stardom, working steadily since the 1950s but often taking long breaks inbetween film roles, she recently made a cameo appearance in Superman Returns, Bryan Singer's 2006 "reboot" of the Man of Steel series, as Clark Kent's adoptive mother. [years elapsed: 55]

An unlikely screen star, and certainly no matinee idol, Ernest Borgnine didn't begin acting in film until his mid-30s, but he hasn't stopped since. (He even appears in the upcoming Bruce Willis vehicle, Red, an action comedy about over-the-hill black ops agents.) His only nomination and win is for Marty, which is arguably the most modest Best Picture winner - lacking in the bloat and grandstanding ordinarily associated with the award. Borgnine is still very much an active public figure. [years elapsed: 54]

Dorothy Malone, one of the only surviving cast members of Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep (another is Lauren Bacall), is effectively retired, and made her last screen appearance in Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct. [years elapsed: 53]

At 57, Mary Badham is the youngest actor with the potential to break the Hayes/Palance/Fonda-asterisk record, as "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Badham acted little after Mockingbird, coming out of retirement only for the 2005 independent, Our Very Own. [years elapsed: 47]

Dozens of other men and women qualify to break the record, including Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Peter Falk, Terence Stamp, Debbie Reynolds, Anouk Aimée, George Segal, George Kennedy, Seymour Cassel, Ryan O'Neal, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Cloris Leachman, and Liza Minnelli. Some of these (and other) performers are still working (often at a decreased tempo), many more are retired.


jbryant said...

I've got Angela Lansbury's supporting Oscar-winning role in a film noir script of mine--if I can only get it to her. Actually, I need to get it to Clint Eastwood, who should direct, and then HE can get it to her. If you happen to run into Clint, make it happen. I'll give you a finder's fee.

Great article. Couple of nitpicks: technically, Palance's stat is length of time between his Oscar win and his FIRST nomination. And Justin Henry was only 7 when nominated for KRAMER VS. KRAMER--but I suppose you meant Cooper was the youngest nominee ever in the leading actor category, which is true.

Jaime said...

"Couple of nitpicks: technically, Palance's stat is length of time between his Oscar win and his FIRST nomination."

Ah, right you are. Which seems like less of a record: HH had a solid 39 years between "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" and "Airport." Still, that damned Henry Fonda beat both of them, except for that damned producing nomination that throws a monkey wrench into the whole damned thing.

And right you are re: Justin Henry. Should have just kept my focus on one piece of trivia at a time.