Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #405: Kim Hunter

Born November 12, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan to an engineer and his wife, a former concert pianist, Janet Cole was a painfully shy child who studied drama to overcome her shyness.

The actress made her stage debut as Penny in Penny Wise in Miami in 1939. She was discovered by an RKO talent agent in a 1942 Pasadena Playhouse production of Arsenic and Old Lace and given a seven-year contract by David O. Selznick where her named was changed to Kim Hunter. She made her screen debut in a starring role in 1943’s horror classic, The Seventh Victim followed by a featured role in 1944’s Tender Comrade as Ginger Rogers’ roommate and the female lead opposite Robert Mitchum in the same year’s When Strangers Marry. She was married in real life that year to marine captain William A. Baldwin. The marriage lasted just two years. Their daughter Kathryn would grow up to become a judge and mother of four.

After playing a supporting role in 1945’s You Came Along, Hunter went to England to play the female lead in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. She also filmed a scene for the U.S. release of their 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale which was released in the U.S. until 1949. In the interim, she made her Broadway debut as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire for which she won several theatre awards. She later won an Oscar for her performance in the film version, which she followed up with the female lead opposite Humphrey Bogart in 1952’s Deadline U.S.A..

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Oscar Profile #404: Brenda Blethyn

Born February 20, 1946 in Kent, England to an engineer and his wife, Brenda Anne Bottle was the youngest of nine children. Married to Alan Blethyn in 1966, she worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper for the British Rail Company until her divorce in 1973 when she enrolled in the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey, England. By the mid-1970s she was working on stage having joined the National Theatre Company in 1975 under her married name.

Blethyn made her TV debut in 1980, her best remembered role during the 1980s being one of the murder suspects in the 1983 BBC mini-series, Death of an Expert Witness based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James. Augmenting her TV career, she continued to appear on the British stage, most notably as Nora in a 1987 production of A Doll’s House and Billie Dawn in a 1988 production of Born Yesterday. She made her film debut in Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film, The Witches in support of Anjelica Huston and Mai Zetterling..

Visiting a sister in the U.S., she was cast in Robert Redford’s 1982 film, A River Runs Through It as Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt’s mother and Tom Skerritt’s wife, but a career in Hollywood films wasn’t to be. Her big screen breakthrough came in 1996 at the age of 50 when she starred in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies for which she won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for Best Actress. She was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Frances McDormand in Fargo. Two years later she received a slew of major nominations including Golden Globe and Oscar nods, but no wins, for Best Supporting Actress in Little Voice.

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Oscar Profile #403: David Niven

Born March 1, 1910 in London, English (James) David (Graham) Niven was the youngest of four children, his father being killed in World War I during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. His mother married Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt, believed to be Niven’s biological father, in 1917. Raised in private schools, Niven graduated from Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the British Army in 1930. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1933 but was bored with the peacetime army and resigned his commission while crossing the Atlantic later that year.

Niven, who had two uncredited roles as an extra while in England in 1932 and 1933, also had uncredited roles in such Hollywood classics as 1934’s Cleopatra and 1935’s Oscar-winning Mutiny on the Bounty. He had his first role of note in 1936’s Dodsworth, followed by major roles in 1937’s The Prisoner of Zenda, 1938’s The Dawn Patrol and 1939’s Wuthering Heights as well as the lead opposite Ginger Rogers in 1939’s Bachelor Mother and the starring role in the 1939 remake of Raffles. He to returned to England to fight in World War II and was recommissioned a lieutenant in February 1940. He married Primula Rollo that year, with whom he would havde two children, and made two highly successful films in England during the war, 1942’s The First of the Few and The Way Ahead. He had his biggest role to date in 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death before returning to Hollywood where his post-war films includedMagnificent Doll, The Bishop’s Wife and Enchantment, Primula having been killed in a tragic accident falling down the stairs at a party in Tyrone Power’s house in 1946. He married second wife, Hjordis Genberg in 1948 with whom he would adopt two more children.

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Oscar Profile #402: Jim Sheridan

Born February 6, 1949 in Dublin, Ireland, Jim Sheridan was one of three sons of Anna and Peter Sheridan, Sr., owners of a lodging house. Anna also worked at a hotel and Peter as a railway clerk to support their young family. The future writer-producer-director was educated in a Christian Brothers School. In 1969, he attended University College Dublin where is studied English and History and became involved in theatre after meeting future writer-director Neil Jordan. After graduating UCD in 1972, the same year he married wife Fran, he and brother Peter, Jr. began writing and staging plays. He and Fran moved to Canada with their two young daughters in 1981 and then to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1982. The family’s immigrant experience would become the source material for Sheridan’s 2002 film, In America, written by Sheridan and his daughters.

After struggling through the 1980s in New York, Sheridan and his family moved back to Ireland in 1989 where he made his first film, My Left Foot which would catapult him to fame at the age of 40. Among the film’s many honors were five Oscar nominations Including Best Picture, and two wins. The wins were for the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker as cerebral palsy afflicted writer-painter Christy Brown and his mother. The other two went to Sheridan for both writing (shared with Shane Connaughton) and directing.

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Oscar Profile #401: Vittorio De Sica

Born July 7, 1901 in Lazio, Italy, Vittorio de Sica grew up in Sicily where his first job was as an office clerk in support of his poor family. Drawn to acting, he made his film debut as the title character as a boy in The Clemenceau Affair in 1917. He did not make another film for ten years, becoming in the interim one of Italy’s most popular matinee idols on stage.

De Sica married actress Giuditta Rissone in 1937 with whom he had a daughter. She was also his business partner with whom he produced and directed comedies for the stage in the late 1930s. He became a film director in 1940 while still acting. On the set of a film in 1942, he met Spanish actress Maria Mercader who was the sister of Trotsky’s assassin, Ramon Mercader. From then on, he kept up a double life, married to Rissone but living with Mercader with the full knowledge and approval of the two women. On Christmas and New Year’s, he would celebrate the holidays with Rissone and their daughter at Rissone’s home and then celebrate all over again with Mercader and their eventual two sons at the home he shared with her. He was not able to divorce Rissone until 1954. His marriage to Mercader in France in 1959 was not recognized in Italy.

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Oscar Profile #400: Elizabeth Patterson

Born November 22, 1974 in Savannah, Tennessee, Elizabeth Patterson was the daughter of a confederate soldier who became a judge. Educated at Martin College with postgraduate work at Columbia Institute in Tennessee, Patterson’s parents sent her to Europe hoping the experience would diminish her interest in becoming an actress, but it only intensified her determination. By the turn of the century, she was appearing in Shakespearean productions in Chicago. She made her Broadway debut in a revival of the fifteenth century morality play, Everyman in 1913 and would continue to appear on Broadway off and on through 1954.

Patterson made her film debut in The Boy Friend at the age of 51 in 1926, playing the mother of the heroine. She made her talkie debut in Words and Music in 1929 playing a college dean. She would soon become a fixture in the supporting cast of such early talkies as The Smiling Lieutenant, Daddy Long Legs, Penrod and Sam, So Big! , New Morals for Old, Miss Pinkerton, Love Me Tonight and Life Begins.

The actress had her busiest year to date in 1932, appearing in thirteen films, most notably A Bill of Divorcement in which she played John Barrymore’s sister. She slowed down a bit in 1933, appearing in only eight films that year, but one of those films happened to be Dinner at Eight in which her hilarious scene with Marie Dressler still draws howls of laughter from appreciative audiences. She would make another twenty-one films before being given one of the biggest roles of her career as the mother Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray and Donald O’Connor in 1938’s Sing You Sinners. She would reunite with MacMurray for another of her standout roles as his aunt in 1940’s Remember the Night.

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Oscar Profile #399: Richard Harris

Born October 1, 1930 to a farming family in Limerick, Ireland, Richard Harris was bound for a career in rugby when a teenage bout with tuberculosis steered him in the direction of the theatre instead.

After honing his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Harris appeared in several stage and TV productions before making his screen debut in 1959’s Shake Hands with the Devil, followed by the same year’s Alive and Kicking and The Wreck of the Mary Deare. That same year he married actress Elizabeth Rees with whom he would have three children. With supporting roles in 1961’s The Guns of Navarone and 1962’s Mutiny on the Bounty under his belt, he played his first lead role in 1963’s This Sporting Life for which he received an Oscar nomination opposite Rachel Roberts who was then married to Rex Harrison. Roberts was also nominated as was Harrison for Cleopatra.

The actor returned to supporting roles, albeit high profile ones, in 1965’s Major Dundee and The Heroes of Telemark and 1966’s The Bible and Hawaii, finally achieving major stardom in 1967’s Camelot for which he received a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. The following year he released his first album, A Tramp Shining which featured the megahit “MacArthur Park”. In 1969 he and Elizabeth Reees divorced. Two years later she became the fourth Mrs. Rex Harrison.

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Oscar Profile #398: Vanessa Redgrave

Born January 30, 1937 in London, England to acting giants Michael Redgrave (1908-1985) and Rachel Kempson (1910-2003), Vanessa Redgrave was the eldest of the couple’s three children which later included equally acclaimed actors Corin Redgrave (1939-2010) and Lynn Redgrave (1943-2010).

The young actress made her stage debut in London’s west end in 1958 opposite her brother Cori. That same year, she made her film debut co-starring with her father in Behind the Mask. Continuing to act in high profile roles on stage and TV, Redgrave married director Tony Richardson in 1962 with whom she had daughters Natasha Richardson (1963-2009) and Joely Richardson (born 1965) before resuming her film career.

1966 was a big year for Redgrave. She starred in both Morgan! and Blow-up and played a smiling Anne Boleyn in A Man for All Seasons. She was nominated for an Oscar for Morgan! while the same time, her sister Lynn was nominated for Georgy Girl, a role she turned down. After Richardson left her for Jeanne Moreau, she met Franco Nero on the set of 1967’s Camelot with whom she had a four-year relationship that included the birth of their son, Carlo in 1969.

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Oscar Profile #397: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Born February 11, 1909 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Joseph Leo Mankiewicz was the younger brother of Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897-1953), the Oscar-winning co-writer of Citizen Kane.

Young Joe Mankiewicz received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1928 at the age of 19. His college professor father sent him to Berlin to study German drama at the University of Berlin. Instead, he went to work for UFA film studios translating German intertitles into English for distribution by Paramount in the U.S. His brother Herman, then head of Paramount’s scenario department, hired him to write for Paramount in Hollywood where he quickly established himself, earning an Oscar nomination for co-writing 1931’s Skippy.

Mankiewicz moved to MGM in 1934 where he first worked on the screenplay for Manhattan Melodrama. That same year he married first wife actress Elizabeth Young. The marriage would produce one child but was over by 1937. In 1939 he would marry actress Rose Stradner with whom he would have two children.

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Oscar Profile #396: Glenda Jackson

Born May 9, 1936 in Birkenhead, England to working class parents, Glenda Jackson was named after actress Glenda Farrell. Having performed with a local acting group while in her teens, she received a scholarship to the London based Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1954. She made her professional acting debut in a RADA production of Separate Tables in 1957. Her film debut was in a bit part in 1963’s This Sporting Life.

Jackson’s career took off with Marat/Sade in which she first appeared in London in 1965. She was nominated for a Tony for the Broadway production in 1966, the first of five Broadway plays throughout her career, all of which earned her a Tony nomination. She also starred in the 1967 film version.

It was Ken Russell’s 1969 film, Women in Love (1970 in the U.S.) that made her a major star and won her a New York Film Critics award and an Oscar. In 1971, she would star in Russell’s The Music Lovers opposite Richard Chamberlain and play a cameo in his film version of The Boy Friend. That year she also starred as Elizabeth I in the acclaimed TV mini-series, Elizabeth R, for which she won an Emmy. She then starred alongside Peter Finch in John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and ended the year reprising her Elizabeth I opposite Vanessa Redgrave’s Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Oscar Profile #395: Stanley Donen

Born April 13, 1924 in Columbia, South Carolina to Moses and Helen Donen, Stanley Donen was a lonely and unhappy child who spent much of his youth in movie theatres. His favorite film was the 1933 Astaire-Rogers film, Flying Down to Rio which he saw between thirty and forty times. He shot and screened home movies with an 8mm camera and projector that his father bought for him.

Inspired by Astaire, Donen took dance lessons in Columbia and performed at a local theatre. His family often traveled to New York City during summer vacations where he saw Broadway musicals and took further dance lessons. After graduating from high school at sixteen, he attended the University of South Carolina for one summer semester, studying psychology. Encouraged by his mother, he moved to New York to pursue dancing on stage in the fall of 1940. After two auditions he was cast as a chorus dancer in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hart’s Pal Joey, starring Gene Kelly. He was next cast in the chorus of Best Foot Forward choreographed by Kelly who made Donen his assistant choreographer.

Donen came to Hollywood in 1943 to play an uncredited role in the film version of Best Foot Forward. He then assisted Kelly as choreographer on 1944’s Cover Girl. In 1948, he eloped with Jeanne Coyne, Kelly’s assistant, whom he first met in the Broadway production of Best Foot Forward. In 1949, he received his first screen credit as co-director with Kelly of On the Town. His marriage to Coyne was an unhappy one as he (Donen) was reportedly in love with Kelly’s wife, Betsy Blair, while Coyne was in love with Kelly with whom she reportedly had been having an on-going affair. Donen and Coyne divorced in 1951. Kelly and Blair divorced in 1957. Coyne would eventually marry Kelly in 1960. In the meantime, Donen married actress Marion Marshall with whom he had two children. The marriage would last through 1959.

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Oscar Profile #394: Willem Dafoe

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.

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Oscar Profile #393: Don Ameche

Born May 31, 1908 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Dominic Felix Amichi, known professionally as Don Ameche, the actor was one of eight children and after his 1932 marriage, became the father of six.

Having played in college shows, stock, and vaudeville, Ameche became a major radio star in the early 1930s, which led to the offer of a movie contract from 20th Century Fox in 1935. There the versatile actor became a popular star of comedies, dramas, and musicals.

Ameche made his film debut in an uncredited role as a prisoner in a black hole in 1935’s Clive of India and after two more uncreditable roles, emerged as a star opposite Loretta Young in 1936’s Ramona. By 1938, he was a major star, co-starring with Alice Faye and Tyrone Power in both In Old Chicago and Alexander’s Ragtime Band. 1939 was an even better year for him. That was the year he starred opposite Claudette Colbert in the classic screwball comedy, Midnight, and played both Alexander Graham Bell in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell with Loretta Young and Henry Fonda in support, and Stephen Foster in Swanee River with Andrea Leeds and Al Jolson in support.

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Oscar Profile #392: Kathleen Turner

Born June 19, 1954 in Springfield, Missouri to Patsy and Allen Richard Turner, a U.S. Foreign Service officer who grew up in China as the son of a Methodist missionary, (Mary) Kathleen Turner also grew up abroad. After graduating from the American School in London, her father died of a coronary thrombosis and she and her family, her mother, sister and two brothers, moved back to the U.S. There she attended the Missouri State University and the University of Maryland, graduating in 1977 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree

Turner made her TV debut in the daytime soap opera The Doctors in 1979 and her film debut opposite William Hurt in Lawrence Kasdan’s steamy Body Heat in 1981. An overnight sensation, Turner was in high demand for similar femme fatale roles but turned them all down for fear of being typecast. Instead she chose to star opposite Steve Martin in Carl Reiner’s 1983 comedy, The Man with Two Brains and Michael Douglas in Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 adventure film, Romancing the Stone for which she won a Golden Globe. Only then did she return to femme fatale roles in Ken Russell’s 1984 film, Crimes of Passion opposite Anthony Perkins and John Huston’s 1985 film, Prizzi’s Honor opposite Jack Nicolson for which she won a second Golden Globe. Later in 1985, she rejoined Michael Douglas for Lewis Teague’s Romancing the Stone sequel, The Jewel of the Nile and in 1986 played the title role in Francis Ford Coppola’s comedy, Peggy Sue Got Married for which she received her first and only Oscar nomination to date.

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Oscar Profile #391: Alan Bates

Born February 17, 1934 in Derbyshire, England, Alan Bates was the eldest of three sons of an insurance broker and a housewife. Wanting to be an actor from the age of 11, he won a scholarship to RADA (the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) where his classmates included Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole. After his studies he joined the Royal Air Force for a stint before embarking on his stage and screen career. Making his staged debut in 1955, he won acclaim for his 1956 West End performance in Look Back in Anger which he repeated on TV. His part in the 1959 film version, however, went to Richard Burton.

Bates his film debut in 1960’s The Entertainer in which he and Finney played the sons of Laurence Olivier. By 1962 he had become a major star in two British films, Bryan Forbes’ Whistle Down the Wind and John Schlesinger’s A Kind of Loving for which he earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor. He became internationally known for his major supporting performances in 1964’s Zorba the Greek and 1966’s Georgy Girl and gave what many considered the best performance in Schlesinger’s 1967 film of Far from the Madding Crowd.

Bates received his only Oscar nomination for John Frankenheimer’s largely forgotten 1968 film of Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer. He received a second BAFTA nomination for Ken Russell’s 1970 film of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love.

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