Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #337: Jonathan Demme

Born February 22, 1944 in Baldwin, N.Y., (Robert) Jonathan Demme was the son of Robert Demme, a public relations manager and his wife, Dorothy. The family later moved to Florida, where he graduated from Southwest Miami High School and the University of Florida.

Demme had an early job as a film critic for a shopping guide in Coral Gables. Producer Joseph E. Levine, was vacationing in Miami when he read Demme’s review of Zulu. He was so impressed, he hired him to handle publicity for his Avco Embassy films. In 1971, he went to work for Roger Corman and soon began his film career as a director of exploitation films for Corman. Among them were Black Mama White Mama, Caged Heat and Crazy Mama. His first critically acclaimed film was 1977’s Citizens Band, which did better at the box-office when rereleased as Handle with Care. It earned an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.

1979’s Last Embrace starring Roy Scheider and Janet Margolin earned strong notices, while 1980’s Melvin and Howard earned the National Society of Film Critics Award as Best Film of the Year. It also earned Mary Steenburgen a slew of awards, including the Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress. His successes later in the decade included Swing Shift starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Oscar nominated Christine Lahti; Something Wild starring Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith and Ray Liotta and Married to the Mob starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine and Oscar nominee Dean Stockwell. It was, however, 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs that provided Demme with the opportunity of his career.


Oscar Profile #336: Simone Signoret

Born March 21, 1921 in Wiesbaden, Germany to French parents, Simone Henriette Charlotte Kamiker was a legendary French actress known professionally as Simone Signoret (her mother’s maiden name). Her mother was a French Catholic. Her father, who had Polish Jewish roots, left France to join General DeGaulle in England in 1940. Upon completing secondary school during the Nazi occupation of Paris, she was forced to work as a typist for a French collaborationist newspaper to support her mother and two younger brothers.

On screen in minor roles from 1942, Signoret rose to leading roles after the war, making her English language debut in the 1948 British film, Against the Wind. Her portrayals of prostitutes in 1950’s La Ronde and 1952’s Casque d’or made her an international star. She won the first of three BAFTA awards for the latter. 1955’s Diabolique and 1957’s The Crucible AKA The Witches of Salem earned her further acclaim. She won her second BAFTA for The Witches of Salem.

Briefly married to director Yves Allégret from 1948-1949 with whom she had two children, she married actor Yves Montand in 1951. Hollywood was interested, but the timing was off as their progressive political activities clashed with McCarthy era politics and they were denied visas until he came to America in 1960 to star opposite Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love and she became the first lead female Oscar winner in a non-Hollywood film.


Oscar Profile #435: Martin Scorsese

Born November 17, 1942 in Queens, New York and raised in Manhattan’s Little Italy, Martin Charles Scorsese earned a B.S. in film communications in 1964 and an M.A. in the same field in 1966. Having made his own short films since 1959, he made his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door starring Zina Bethune and Harvey Keitel in 1967 which was nominated for a prize at that year’s Chicago Film Festival. He did not make another until 1972’s Boxcar Bertha starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. The following year’s Mean Streets starring Keitel and Robert De Niro won numerous awards including a New York Film critics award for De Niro and put him on the map.

Scoresese’s first brush with Oscar came when 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore earned three nominations and a Best Actress win for Ellen Burstyn. 1976’s Taxi Driver firmly established his position as one of the best directors of the decade, earning four Oscar nominations as well as numerous other awards for himself and stars Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. His next film, the big budget 1977 musical, New York, New York starring De Niro and Liza Minnelli, was a box-office disappointment, and earned no Oscar nominations, not even one for its iconic title tune.


Oscar Profile #334: Russ Tamblyn

Born December 30, 1934 to actors Sally Triplett and Eddie Tamblyn, Russell Irving Tamblyn known professionally as Rusty, then Russ Tamblyn, was discovered by actor Lloyd Bridges for the play Stone Jungle at the age of ten. He immediately found work on radio and made his film debut in 1948’s The Boy with Green Hair starring fellow child actor Dean Stockwell, who became a lifelong friend, and who later became the godfather of his daughter, actress Amber Tamblyn.

Billed as Rusty until 1953, Tamblyn played his first starring role in only his third film, 1949’s The Kid from Cleveland. Although he did not obtain another starring role as a teenager, he was instantly recognizable in supporting roles in such films as Samson and Delilah, Gun Crazy, Captain Carey, U.S.A. , Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend, As Young as You Feel and The Winning Team. He was first billed as Russ in 1953’s Take the High Ground! .

Tamblyn had his breakout role as the youngest of the brothers in 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and received a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer for the following year’s Hit the Deck. With his dancing abilities firmly established, he even got to dance an acclaimed shovel dance in the 1956 western, The Fastest Gun Alive and then worked uncredited as choreographer on Elvis Presley’s 1957 hit, Jailhouse Rock.


Oscar Profile #333: George J. Folsey

Born July 2, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York, George Joseph Folsey was one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematographers. He was director of photography on more than 160 films from 1919 to 1972, earning 13 Oscar nominations along the way.

Folsey began in the film industry as an office boy in Jesse Lasky’s New York production company in 1914. By 1919 he was a full-fledge cinematographer, so impressing Alice Brady, the star of his first film, His Bridal Night, that she offered him a contract to photograph all her films, which he accepted. Among the many silent films that he photographed, in addition to Brady’s films, were 1924’s The Enchanted Cottage and 1928’s Lady Be Good sans the Gershwin music. His early sound successes included 1929’s The Letter, The Cocoanuts and Applause, 1932’s The Big Pond, Animal Crackers, The Royal Family of Broadway and Stolen Heaven, 1931’s The Smiling Lieutenant, 1932’s Animal Kingdom and 1933’s Reunion in Vienna which earned him his first Oscar nomination.

In addition to receiving a second Oscar nomination for 1934’s Operator 13 and a third for 1936’s The Gorgeous Hussy, Folsey’s later 1930s projects included a segment of The Great Ziegfeld and uncredited work on 1938’s Marie Antoinette.


Oscar Profile #332: Lee Remick

Born December 14, 1935 in Quincey, Massachusetts to Gertrude (nee Waldo), an actress and Francis Remick, a department store owner, Lee Remick was educated at Barnard College, where she studied dancing as well as acting.

Remick made her TV debut at the age of 17 in an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre. After several more TV roles, she made her film debut as the Southern majorette baton twirler who catches Andy Griffith’s eye in Elia Kazan’s 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd, the same year that she married TV director Bill Colleran. Her second film role was also as a Southern sexpot in Martin Ritt’s 1958 film of William Faulkner’s The Long, Hot Summer alongside Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles and Angela Lansbury.

The actress gave birth to her daughter Kate in 1959, the same year she starred opposite Don Murray and Richard Egan in Richard Fleischer’s These Thousand Hills and ended the year in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder in which she became a major star in a role intended for Lana Turner opposite James Stewart.


Oscar Profile #331: Robert Aldrich

Born August 9, 1918 in Cranston, Rhode Island, to the former Lora Lawson and newspaper publisher Edward Burgess Aldrich, Robert Aldrich was a long-time Hollywood director. He was the grandson of U.S. Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, nephew of John D. Rockefeller and cousin of Nelson Rockefeller. He was educated at the Moses Brown School in Providence, and studied economics at the University of Virginia where he also was a letterman on the 1940 football team. In 1941, he dropped out of college for a $50-a-week clerical job at RKO Radio Pictures, resulting in his being disowned by his family. It has been said that “No American film director was born as wealthy as Aldrich—and then so thoroughly cut off from family money.”

Aldrich was a quick learner. By 1942, he had become a second assistant director on such films as Joan of Paris, The Big Street, Behind the Rising Sunand A Lady Takes a Chance. By 1945, he had moved up to Assistant Director on such films as The Story of G.I. Joe, The Southerner, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, Body and Soul, Force of Evil, The Red Pony, M and Limelight.

After working with Charlie Chaplin on Limelight, Aldrich became a director in his own right. After some TV work in 1952, he directed his first theatrical film, 1953’s Big Leaguer starring Edward G. Robinson. From there, he went on to direct such well-remembered 1950s films as Apache, Vera Cruz, Kiss Me Deadly, The Big Knife, Autumn Leaves, Attack and The Angry Hills.


Oscar Profile #330: Natalie Portman

Born June 9, 1981 in Jerusalem, Neta-Lee Hershlag, known professionally as Natalie Portman, was the only child of an Israeli doctor and an American homemaker. She holds dual American and Israeli citizenship. The family relocated the U.S. when she was three years old.

Portman began taking dance lessons at the age of four. At ten, she was spotted in a pizza parlor by a Revlon agent who offered her a job as a child model. She turned the offer down in favor of acting. In 1992, she auditioned for the lead role of a young girl who is prepared to commit murder to get the lead in a school play in off-Broadway’s Ruthless!. Laura Bell Bundy got the part, while Portman and Britney Spears were both chosen as Bundy’s understudies. One year later she auditioned for, and won, the part of the 12-year-old orphan befriended by assassin Jean Reno in her first film, Léon: The Professional.

Following the success of 1994’s Léon: The Professional, Portman was cast in major roles in four 1995-1996 films, Heat, Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You and Mars Attacks! . She had to wait three years for her next role, but the wait paid off when she was cast as Padme Naberri AKA Queen Amidala in Geroge Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the first of three prequels to the original Star Wars. That same year she starred opposite Susan Sarandon in Anywhere but Here, earning her first Golden Globe nomination.


Oscar Profile #329: Casey Affleck

Born August 12, 1975 in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Caleb Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt, known professionally as Casey Affleck, like his older brother, Ben, began his career as a child actor.

Affleck made his film debut at the age of 12 in 1988’s Lemon Sky. Two years later he was playing Robert Kennedy from 12 to 15 in the TV mini-series, The Kennedys of Massachusetts. In 1995, he and friend Joaquin Phoenix had major roles in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. Two years after that he had a major supporting role in Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, written by childhood friend Matt Damon and big brother Ben, for which they later won Oscars.

Affleck was introduced to Summer Phoenix by her brother, Joaquin. They began dating in 1999, became engaged in 2004 and married in 2006. Their first son was born in 2004, their second in 2008. The actor found steady work through 2006, but it was the back-to-back success of Andrew Domink’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and brother Ben’s Gone Baby Gone in 2007 that made casting directors sit up and take notice. He received his first Oscar nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.


Oscar Profile #327: Robert Surtees

Born September 8, 1906 in Covington, Kentucky, Robert Surtees was raised in Ohio. After graduating high school, he got a job as a photographer and re-toucher at a portrait studio in Cincinnati. He moved to California in 1925 intending to go to college, but was offered a job as a camera assistant at Universal based on some of his published photography. In 1928 and 1929 he also worked abroad for UFA in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland, returning to Hollywood in 1930. It wasn’t until 1935’s A Midsummer Night’s Comedy that he would become a full-fledged camera operator. He later went to work for MGM where he became a director of photography (cinematographer) in 1943 and soon received his first of sixteen Oscar nominations for 1944’s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

After his long apprenticeship, Surtees quickly established himself as one of Hollywood’s most distinguished cinematographers. His remaining 1940s input included such diverse works as Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, A Date with Judy and Intruder in the Dust. 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines earned him his second Oscar nomination and first win. 1951’s Quo Vadis brought him his third nomination and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful fourth nomination and second win.


Oscar Profile #326: Oliver Stone

Born September 15, 1946 in New York, New York, Oliver Stone’s father was a non-practicing Jewish stockbroker and his mother a German-east European non-practicing Catholic war bride. Stone was raised Episcopalian in Manhattan and Stamford, Connecticut. He is now a Buddhist.

Stone graduated New York University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree in 1971. He made his film debut as an actor in a minor role in 1971’s The Battle of Love’s Return and his debut as a writer and director with the same year’s Last Year in Viet Nam. He became a household name with his controversial screenplay for Alan Parker’s 1978 film, Midnight Express, for which he won his first of three Oscars on the first of his eleven nominations to date.

Stone’s first success as a director came with the 1981 horror film, The Hand, but he was soon back writing screenplays for other directors including 1983’s Scarface for Brian De Palma and 1985’s Year of the Dragon for Michael Cimino. He came into his own as a writer-director with two 1986 films, Salvador and Platoon, earning Oscar nominations for writing both films and a directing nomination for the latter, which he won.


Oscar Profile #325: Guy Green

Born November 5, 1913 in Somerset, England, Guy Green was a true renaissance man of the movies. His love for movies began at an early age, leading to his first job a projectionist aboard the ocean liner The Majestic, which brought him to America for the first time in 1929. He worked in London as a portrait photographer and as an assistant cameraman for an advertising agency. He began his screen career as a clapper boy in the camera department at Shepperton Studios in 1933. By 1935 he had become a camera operator, eventually working for the likes of Powell and Pressburger on One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and David Lean on In Which We Serve.

Green became a D.P. (director of photography aka cinematographer) in 1943. By 1944 his cinematography on Carol Reed’s The Way Ahead make critics sit up and take notice. Two years later, he won an Oscar for his black-and-white cinematography on Lean’s Great Expectations. He met his wife Josephine while working on Lean’s Oliver Twist in 1948. In 1949, he co-founded the British Society of Cinematographers with Freddie Young and Jack Cardiff.


Oscar Profile #324: Anna Magnani

Born March 7, 1908 to Marina Magnani and an unknown father in Rome, Italy, Anna Magnani was raised in poverty by her maternal grandparents with whom her mother left her. Although it was first said that Magnani’s father was Egyptian, she later claimed that he was from Calabria, Italy, although she never knew his name.

Magnani was considered a “plain, frail child with a forlornness of spirit” by her grandparents who compensated by pampering her with food and clothes. Growing up, she is said to have felt more at ease around “more earthly” companions, often befriending the “toughest kid on the block.” This trait carried over into her adult life when she proclaimed, “I hate respectability. Give me the life of the streets, of common people.”

At 17, Magnani went on to study at the Eleonora Duse Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome for two years. To support herself, Magnani sang in nightclubs and cabarets; leading to her being dubbed “the Italian Edith Piaf”.

On stage, Magnani was considered an “outstanding theatre actress” in such plays as Anna Christie and The Petrified Forest. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in 1928, but didn’t begin her screen career in earnest until a few years later.


Oscar Profile #323: Mary Steenburgen

Born February 8, 1953 in Newport, Arkansas to Nellie May (Wall) and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor, Mary Steenburgen grew up tap-dancing her way through talent shows and school functions. Active in school drama classes as well, she appeared in numerous high school plays, enrolling in Hendrix College upon graduation. At the recommendation of her drama professor, she left college in 1972 and moved to New York to audition for the Neighborhood Playhouse to continue her education and won a spot.

Steenburgen worked a series of jobs while continuing to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse and was discovered by Jack Nicholson at Paramount’s New York offices six years later. He immediately cast her as his leading lady in 1978’s Goin’ South. She met and fell in love with future husband Malcolm McDowell, the star of her second film, 1979’s Time After Time, on the set of the film. Her third film, 1980’s Melvin and Howard, won her an Oscar. She would receive a Golden Globe nomination for her fourth, 1981’s Ragtime.


Oscar Profile #322: Karl Malden

Born Mladen George Sekulovich on March 22, 1912 to a Serbian father and a Czech mother in Chicago, Illinois, the future Karl Malden spoke only Serbian until he entered kindergarten. The eldest of three children, his father worked in the steel mills and as a milkman in Gary, Indiana. His mother, who was twenty when he was born, worked as a seamstress. His father had a passion for music and organized a choir within the Serbian Orthodox church in which young Malden sang. He also taught drama and put on plays in which young Malden acted. It is worth noting that Malden’s hardworking father lived to be 89, dying in 1975. His equally hardworking mother lived to be 103, dying in 1995. They both lived long enough to enjoy much of their son’s extraordinarily long career as a major star.

Young Malden worked alongside his father in the steel mills after graduating high school. It wasn’t until 1934 that he left Gary to seek his fame and fortune as an actor. It didn’t take long. By 1937 he was on Broadway performing with the famed Group Theatre in Golden Boy. He married his wife Mona, born in 1918, in 1938. In 1940 he made his film debut in They Knew What They Wanted. Although he appeared sporadically in films throughout the 1940s, most notably in Boomerang! and Kiss of Death, he could be seen more frequently on the Broadway stage where he worked steadily, most memorably in All My Sons and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Malden did not get to reprise his role in the film version of All My Sons, but he did get to repeat his great success in the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire for which he won on Oscar on his first nomination. Outstanding in 1953’s I Confess, the actor received a second Oscar nomination for 1954’s On the Waterfront. He gave equally outstanding performances in 1956’s Baby Doll for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, 1957’s Fear Strikes Out and 1959’s The Hanging Tree for which he was nominated for a Laurel Award.


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