Born May 11, 1892 in London, England, Margaret Rutherford was the only child of William Rutherford Benn, a journalist and poet and his wife, Florence. Her parents were married in 1882. In 1883, her father murdered his father, a Congregational Church minister, was declared insane and admitted to Bethnal House Lunatic Asylum where he spent seven years. Released in 1890, he was reunited with his wife two years before his daughter was born, legally dropping Benn as his last name. After Margaret’s birth, they moved to India to start a new life. In 1895, Margaret’s pregnant mother committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. Her father died of a broken heart soon after and three-year-old Margaret was returned to England where she was raised by a maiden aunt.
Contrary to popular folklore, Rutherford did not wait until she was in her 50s to become an actress. She began working as an actress at 33, which at the time (1925) was considered “late in life” but not as late as it would have been if she had waited until her 50s.
Rutherford met character actor Stringer Davis in 1930, whose marriage proposal she immediately accepted, but due to his mother’s dislike of her, postponed marriage until after the woman’s death in 1945. The two acted together in minor roles until Rutherford became something of a star as Miss Prism in John Gielgud’s 1939 production of The Importance of Being Earnest after which he played minor roles on stage and eventually in films in which she had more important roles.
Born June 20, 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Nicole Kidman was raised in a suburb of Sydney, Australia by her Australian parents who were visiting Hawaii on educational visas at the time of her birth.
Young Kidman’s first love was ballet, but she soon gravitated toward drama and made her film debut in the 1983 Australian film, Bush Christmas at 16. She worked steadily from then on in both Australian films and TV, achieving international success with 1989’s Dead Calm. She was then cast opposite Tom Cruise in 1990’s Days of Thunder and married him on Christmas Eve of that year.
The Cruise-Kidman marriage lasted eleven years through August of 2001. During its course, Kidman’s career blossomed through such films as 1991’s Billy Bathgate for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, 1992’s Far and Away, 1993’s Malice, 1995’s To Die For for which she won a Golden Globe, 1996’s The Portrait of a Lady and 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s last film and Kidman’s last with Cruise.
Born March 19, 1947 in Greenwich, Connecticut to Bettine (née Moore) and William Taliaferro Close, a doctor who ran a clinic in the Belgian Congo and served as personal physician to the Congo’s president, Glenn Close has long been considered one of our greatest actresses. Her paternal grandfather was first married to cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her maternal grandmother’s sister was actress Brooke Shields’ great-grandmother.
Raised from the age of 7 as part of the Moral Re-Armament sect, Close broke away at 22 to attend the College of William and Mary where she majored in drama and anthropology. She made her Broadway debut in 1974 and earned the first of four Tony nominations in 1980 for Barnum. Subsequent Tony nominations for The Real Thing; Death and the Maiden and Sunset Boulevard would all result in wins.
Close made her film debut as a feminist author in 1982’s The World According to Garp for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her second and third films, 1983’s The Big Chill and 1984’s The Natural also brought her nominations for Best Supporting Actress. Starring roles in 1985’s Maxie and Jagged Edge kept her profile high, but it was 1987’s box office smash, Fatal Attraction that would make her a major film star. That and 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons brought her back-to-back Oscar nominations for Best Actress.
Born July 22, 1955 in Appleton, Wisconsin, William J, Dafoe was one of eight children whose parents were a surgeon and a nurse who worked together constantly, leaving the future actor to be raised by his five older sisters. He became known as “Willem”, the Dutch name for “William”, while in high school.
Dafoe studied drama in college and joined an experimental acting company in the late 1970s. He made his film debut in 1980’s ill-fated Heaven’s Gate from which he was fired and most of his performance excised. After several small parts, he won kudos for his portrayal of a counterfeiter in 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. . His portrayal of the compassionate sergeant in the 1986 Oscar winner, Platoon, earned him his first Oscar nomination. He received even stronger notices for his portrayal of Jesus in 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ and co-starred opposite Gene Hackman in that year’s Oscar nominated Mississippi Burning. Over the next few years he alternated lead roles in such films as Triumph of the Spirit and Light Sleeper with major supporting turns in such other films as Cry-Baby, Born on the Fourth of July and Wild at Heart.
In 1994, Dafoe was T.S. Eliot to Miranda Richardson’s Vivienne Haigh-Wood in Tom & Viv for which she was Oscar nominated and he wasn’t. He rounded out the decade with mostly highly visible supporting roles in such films as Clear and Present Danger, Basquiat, The English Patient, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Affliction and Existenz.
Born July 18, 1911 in London, Ontario, Canada, Hume Cronyn was one of five children whose father, Hume Sr. was a businessman and member of Parliament for London who had an observatory at the University of Western Ontario and an asteroid named after him.
After graduating from Ridley College, Cronyn switched majors from pre-law to drama while attending McGill University, continuing his studies under Max Reinhardt at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He made his Broadway debut playing a janitor in Hipper’s Holiday, the first of many Broadway productions in which he had a minor role for the next decade. He married philanthropist Emily Woodruff that same year, but the two never lived together. They were divorced in 1936.
In 1940, Cronyn met actress Jessica Tandy who had just emigrated to the U.S. from England following her divorce from actor Jack Hawkins. They married in 1942, had two children, and acted together throughout their more than 50-year marriage on stage, in films and on television. Cronyn made his film debut in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. Tandy made her U.S. film debut in 1944’s The Seventh Cross, Cronyn’s fifth film for which he received an Oscar nomination in support of Spencer Tracy.
Born January 10, 1939 in the Bronx, New York City, New York, Salvatore (Sal) Mineo was one of four children of casket maker Sal, Sr. and his wife, Angela. A troubled kid, his mother enrolled him in dance school after he was kicked out of parochial school at the age of eight. Arrested for robbery at age of ten, he was given a choice between juvenile confinement and professional acting school. He chose the latter and within two years was on Broadway in The Rose Tattoo and The King and I in which he played the crown prince. Privately tutored by the show’s star, Yul Brynner, it wasn’t long before he was appearing in TV movies and by 1954 in Hollywood films.
The young actor made his big screen debut at 15 in 1955’s Six Bridges to Cross in which he played the boy who grows up to be Tony Curtis. He followed that with The Private War of Major Benson and the film that made him a household name, Rebel Without a Cause for which he received his first Oscar nomination.
More supporting roles on TV and in such films as 1956’s Crime in the Streets, Somebody Up There Likes Me and Giant, but by the end of the year Mineo had his first starring role in Rock, Pretty Baby, followed by more of the same in 1957’s Dino and The Young Don’t Cry, 1958’s Tonka and 1959’s A Private’s Affair and The Gene Krupa Story.
Born June 11, 1919 in Dublin, Ireland, Richard Andrew Palethorpe-Todd was the son of Andrew William Palethorpe Todd, an an international Irish rugby player who gained three caps for his country before becoming a British Army physician. Todd spent much of his early years in India where his father was stationed. The family later moved to Devon where he attended Shrewsbury School. Upon graduation, he trained for a military career at Sandhurst but gave it up to become an actor, causing him to become estranged from his mother. When he learned at 19 that she had committed suicide several years earlier, he refused to grieve.
Todd first appeared professionally as an actor at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He played in regional theatres and then co-founded the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland in 1939. He also appeared as an extra in three British films including 1938’s A Yank at Oxford. He served in the British Army with distinction from 1941-1946, taking part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and later played his commanding officer in 1962’s The Longest Day while another actor played him.
Born October 1, 1935 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England as Julia Elizabeth Wells, the internationally acclaimed superstar known professionally as Julie Andrews took the last name of her stepfather (Ted Andrews) when her mother remarried in 1944.
Andrews began performing at early age with her mother and stepfather who were both music hall performers. Just after her 13th birthday in 1948, she became the youngest performer ever to be seen in Royal Command Variety Performance before King George V and Queen Elizabeth at the London Palladium on a bill with Danny Kaye and the Nicholas Brothers. She then followed her parents into radio and television. From 1950-1952, she played West End roles at the London Casino in such productions as Humpty Dumpty, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood. In 1952, she voiced Princess Zeila in the English dubbed version of the animated Italian film, The Singing Princess. She made her Broadway debut starring in The Boy Friend on the eve of her 19th birthday.
After The Boy Friend, Andrews’ career bloomed with the starring role of Eliza Dolittle opposite Rex Harrison in Lerner & Loewe’s legendary 1956 Broadway smash, My Fair Lady and her concurrent portrayal of the title character in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1957 TV production of Cinderella. After taking My Fair Lady to London with Harrison in 1959, she returned to Broadway as Guenevere opposite Richard Burton in Lerner & Loewe’s 1960 hit, Camelot.
Born February 28, 1894 in New York City, Ben Hecht was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. At ten, he was considered a child prodigy on his way to becoming a violin virtuoso but at 12 he became an acrobat in the circus.
The family moved to Racine, Wisconsin where Hecht attended high school. He would spend his teen summers with an uncle in Chicago and moved there permanently after graduation at the age of 16. He became a reporter, working for several newspapers, and at the end of World War I was sent to Berlin as a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. While there he wrote his first and most successful novel, Erik Dorn in 1921. Meanwhile, he had also become a successful playwright with his first play, The Hero of Santa Maria which opened on Broadway in 1916. The Egotist appeared in 1919 and The Stork in 1925. By the time The Front Page opened in 1928 he had already received his first on-screen credit for 1927’s Underworld for which he would win an Oscar when the first Academy Awards for 1927/28 were presented in 1929.
The Front Page made it to the screen in 1931. The following year his Twentieth Century opened on Broadway, which along with The Front Page has remained one of the most enduring American plays to be frequently revived on Broadway.
Born December 19, 1902 in Cheltenham, England, Ralph Richardson’s parents were eccentric artists. When he was four, his parents got into a row over the wallpaper his mother had chosen for his father’s study. His mother left his two older brothers with their devout Quaker father who raised them in his religion and took Ralph with her and raised him in her Roman Catholic religion.
Richardson enjoyed being an altar boy so much so that his mother assumed he was destined to become a priest and enrolled him in a seminary at 15, which he promptly left. Intending to be an artist like his parents, he gravitated instead toward acting, making his stage debut in 1920. He married actress Muriel Hewitt in 1924 with whom he acted in various productions before she became too ill to work.
On stage for the remainder of his life, the actor enjoyed making films as well. Like contemporaries Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, he excelled at Shakespearean roles, but unlike them, preferred smaller character roles to major starring ones. On screen from 1933, he was excellent throughout the decade in such films as Things to Come, The Man Who Could Work Miracles, South Riding, The Citadel and The Four Feathers.
Film history is full of wonderful characters played by actors and actresses, some of whom were in countless films without making on a mark and then suddenly burst into our collective consciousness with one special performance from which they built successful careers, while others came and went with just that one unforgettable performance.
Before 1936, there were no Oscar nominations for supporting performances, although Frank Morgan in The Affairs of Cellini and Franchot Tone in Mutiny on the Bounty managed to snare acting nominations in the Best Actor category which didn’t distinguish between lead and supporting performances. Consequently, many great performances such as those of Billie Burke in A Bill of Divorcement and Dinner at Eight and Edna May Oliver in Little Women and David Copperfield failed to be nominated for iconic work while earning nominations for lesser work in Merrily We Live and Drums Along the Mohawk later in the decade. Others such as Jean Hersholt (The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, Emma), Warner Oland (The Jazz Singer) and Una O’Connor The Invisible Man, The Informer) never got the awards recognition they deserved, although Hersholt eventually received two honorary awards and later had one named after him.
Some performers, however, not only failed to receive nominations for their one iconic role before or after 1936, they never got another chance at such a role. Here are twelve such performers, five men and seven women, who gave unforgettable performances in films from 1928 through 1959, none whom got another chance at such a role again, some of them despite long careers.
Born July 26, 1926 in Stratford, England as John Theobald Clarke, actor-writer-producer-director Bryan Forbes was evacuated to Cornwall during World War II. In 1943, a neighbor who was a BBC producer put 17-year-old Clarke into BBC Radio’s The Will Hay Programme. He spent four years in the Intelligence Corps from 1944-1948. Upon completing his military service, he was forced to change his name under British Equity rules to avoid confusion with actor John Clark (Lynn Redgrave’s future husband) before beginning his stage and screen career.
In numerous films in small roles, Forbes branched out as a writer with 1954’s The Black Knight for which he supplied additional dialogue. He was married to troubled actress Constance Smith at the time, having married her in 1951. They were divorced in 1955, the year he married second wife Nanette Newman with whom he would have two children and remain married until his death.
Forbes’ first fully credited screenplay was 1955’s Cockleshell Heroes. He was nominated for an Oscar for the first and only time for his screenplay for 1960’s The Angry Silence the same year he wrote the better-known The League of Gentlemen.
Holidays have been celebrated in films since their inception. There have been films about virtually all of them. 1942’s Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire is in fact a celebration of all of the U.S. holidays.
We have had films that celebrate those we honor on their birthdays – George Washington (1942’s George Washington Slept Here with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan) and Abraham Lincoln (1940’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois with Raymond Massey and Ruth Gordon) in the days when those two presidents’ birthdays were separate holidays and more recently, Martin Luther King (2014’s Selma with David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo). Who hasn’t spent at least one 4th of July watching 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney and Joan Leslie and/or 1972’s 1776 with William Daniels and Ken Howard?
We’ve had films about Passover (1956’s The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner), films about Easter, both secular (1948’s Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire) and religious (1961’s King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter and Robert Ryan), films about Election Day (1958’s The Last Hurrah with Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien), films about Halloween (1978’s Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance) and films for Memorial Day (1962’s The Longest Day with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum) and Veteran’s Day (2017’s Last Flag Standing with Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne).
Born November 26, 1892 in Sarasota Springs, New York to New York State Senator Edgar Truman Brackett and his wife Mary, nee Corliss, Charles Brackett’s American family heritage could be traced back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. A 1915 graduate of Williams College, he earned his degree from Harvard University. A member of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War I, the future multiple Oscar winner was awarded the French Medal of Honor. He married Elizabeth Barrows Fletcher, a descendant of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower in 1919 with whom he had two daughters.
Brackett’s writing career included a stint as a drama critic for the New Yorker from 1925 to 1929, succeeding Herman J. Mankiewicz. A frequent contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and Vanity Fair, he wrote five novels between 1920 and 1934. His first film was 1925’s Tomorrow’s Love which he adapted from one of his own short stories. A prolific screen writer, his first collaboration with Billy Wilder, with whom he would work through 1950, was 1938’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. He was elected president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1938, serving through 1939.
Born October 29, 1971 as Winona Laura Horowitz in Winona, Minnesota, the actress chose her professional last name of Ryder while listening to an album by Mitch Ryder. Her mother is an author, video producer and editor, and her father an author, editor, publisher and antiquarian bookseller. He also worked as an archivist for psychedelic guru Timothy Leary who was Ryder’s godfather.
When she was seven years old, Ryder’s family including two older half-siblings and a younger brother moved to a commune outside Elk in Mendocino County, California. They lived with seven other families on a remote property without electricity or television. She developed an interest in acting after watching a few movies her mother showed her in the family barn. When she was ten, the family moved to Petaluma, outside of San Francisco. At ten, she enrolled in the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She made her film debut at 14 in 1986’s Lucas. While still in high school, she won acclaim for her performances in 1987’s Square Dance opposite Rob Lowe and 1988’s Beetlejuice opposite Michael Keaton and Heathers opposite Christian Slater.
After graduating Petaluma High School with a 4.0 grade average in 1989, she starred in three films in 1990, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael opposite Jeff Daniels, Edward Scissorhands opposite Johnny Depp, to whom she was linked romantically, and Mermaids as Cher’s eldest daughter. She won the National Board of Review award and a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress in the latter.