Category: Oscar Profile

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Oscar Profile #321: Florence Bates

Born April 15, 1888 to Jewish immigrants in Austin, Texas, Florence Rabe was the second of two children. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Mathematics in 1906, after which she taught school. She gave up her career in 1909 when she married her first husband and gave birth to her only daughter. When the marriage ended, she studied law, passing the bar exam in 1914 and becoming the first female lawyer in the State of Texas.

After the death of her parents, Rabe left the legal profession to help her sister operate their father’s antiques business. She also became a bilingual (English-Spanish) radio commentator whose program was designed to foster good relations between the United States and Mexico. In 1929, following the stock market crash and the death of her sister, she closed the antiques shop and married wealthy businessman Will Jacoby. When he lost his fortune, the couple moved to Los Angeles and opened a bakery, which proved a successful venture until they sold it in the 1940s.

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Oscar Profile #320: Ann Blyth

Born August 16, 1928 in Mount Kisco, New York to Irish-American parents, Ann Blyth’s parents split up when she was very young. She moved to Manhattan with her mother and sister, where they shared a walk-up apartment on East 31st Street and her mother took in ironing to make ends meet. A natural actress and trained singer with a lilting soprano, Blyth performed in radio plays as a child from 1935 to 1941 when she was cast as the daughter of Paul Lukas and Mady Christians in the award-winning Broadway play, Watch on the Rhine.

While on tour with the play in Los Angeles, Blyth was offered a contract with Universal Studios. She accepted and made her film debut third-billed behind Donald O’Connor and Peggy Ryan in the minor 1944 musical, Chip Off the Old Block. She followed it with similar roles in The Merry Monahans, Babes on Swing Street and Bowery to Broadway later that year. Then came her big break when Warner Bros. borrowed her to play Joan Crawford’s selfish daughter in Mildred Pierce.

A sensation in Mildred Pierce, the petite actress (all 5’2’’ of her) received an Oscar nomination for her performance. Warner Bros. borrowed her again for the lead in Danger Signal, but a skiing accident in which she broke her back put her out of commission for a year and a half and she was replaced by Faye Emerson. She returned to Universal in a supporting role in 1947’s Brute Force, but had a more substantial role on loan-out to MGM in that year’s Killer McCoy. 1948 saw her once again put to good use in A Woman’s Vengeance, Another Part of the Forest and Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. In 1949 she starred opposite Bing Crosby in the box-office success, but critically lambasted Top O’ the Morning. She rebounded dramatically as the star of 1950’s Our Very Own opposite Farley Granger.

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Oscar Profile #319: Clifton Webb

Born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 18, 1889, the entertainer later known professionally as Clifton Webb, moved with his mother Mabelle to New York, New York in 1892. On stage from 1902, he had become a professional ballroom dancer by the age of 19, often appearing with star dancer Bonnie Glass who eventually replaced him with Rudolf Valentino. On Broadway from 1913 and on screen in minor roles from 1917, he played the second male lead behind Richard Barthelmess in 1925’s New Toys, but had to wait another nineteen years for another film role, one that would make him a major film star for the rest of his life.

One of his most successful Broadway roles was in Irving Berlin’s 1932 musical, Thousands Cheer in which he introduced the song “Easter Parade”. This led to an 18-month contract with MGM which wanted to make him their Fred Astaire, but nothing came of it. By 1939 he had left musicals behind to star in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest with Estelle Winwood as Lady Bracknell. Two years later he was starring in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit with Peggy Wood as Ruth and Mildred Natwick as Madame Arcati.

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Oscar Profile #318: Peter Hedges

Born July 6, 1962 in West Des Moines, Iowa, Peter Hedges was the third child of psychotherapist Carole Simpson and Episcopalian minister Robert Hedges. Father Hedges was, among other things, the chaplain of the Iowa National Guard for 21 years before relocating to Texas where he died in 2014 at the age of 88.

Peter Hedges attended West Des Moines’ Valley High School, where he was involved in the theater department, including the improv group and the mime troupe, The Bakers Dozen. He later went to the North Carolina School of the Arts where he studied drama. Although he started out as an actor in the second lead of a film at the age of 15 as the older brother of star Eric Buhr in 1977’s Sammy, his acting has since taken a backseat to his writing. Hedges is better known these days as an author, playwright, screenwriter and film director.

Hedges’ first six plays, Oregon, Champions of the Average Joe, The Age of Pie, Andy and Claire, Teddy by the Sea and Imagining Brad were written and performed between 1984 and 1988, preceding his first novel. That novel was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, published in 1991 and made into a film in 1993 for which he wrote the screenplay. His father, in an example of art imitating life, played the minister in the film which starred Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in his first Oscar-nominated performance.

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Oscar Profile #137: Robert Morley

Born May 26, 1908 in Semley, Wilshire, England, Robert Morley was the son of a major in the British Army and a German-born mother. Educated in England, Germany, France and Italy, he was expected to go into diplomatic service, but chose acting instead.

Morley made his West End debut in a 1929 production of Treasure Island and his film debut in an uncredited role in the 1935 British version of Scrooge. He took the London theatrical world by storm as Oscar Wilde in 1936 and equaled that acclaim as Henry Higgins in the 1937 revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. In 1938 he made his Hollywood debut as Louis XVI opposite Norma Shearer’s Marie Antoinette for which he would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Later that year he brought Oscar Wilde to Broadway and further acclaim.

In 1941 Morley got to act Shaw on screen in the acclaimed film version of Major Barbara in which he played Wendy Hiller’s father. In 1940 he married Joan Buckmaster, daughter of acting legend Gladys Cooper. In 1941, while touring as Sheridan Whiteside in Kaufman and Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, the first of his three children was born. His parents named him Sheridan after Morley’s character. He would become one of Britain’s most acclaimed theatre critics and writers.

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Oscar Profile #316: Mercedes McCambridge

mccambridgeBorn March 16, 1916 in Juliet, Illinois, Mercedes McCambridge was the daughter of an Irish-American farmer and his wife, who was of Irish, English and German extraction. Educated in Catholic schools, she graduated from Mundelein University in Chicago before embarking on a career as an actress. Called by Orson Welles “the greatest living radio actress”, her radio career began in the 1930s and continued through the 1940s.

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939. Their son, John Lawrence Fifield was born in December, 1941. The couple divorced in 1946, the year after McCambridge made her Broadway debut in A Place of Our Own.

The actress made her both her TV debut in the first season of the soap opera, One Man’s Family and her film debut in All the King’s Men in 1949. She promptly won a Golden Globe Award and then a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the latter. Later in 1950 she married second husband, TV actor/producer/director, Fletcher Markle. Her son John would later take Markle’s name.

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Oscar Profile #315: Miklos Rozsa

rozsaBorn April 18, 1907 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary) to Jewish parents, Miklos Rozsa’s father was a well-to-do industrialist and landowner, his mother was a pianist. He himself studied the violin from the age of five. In 1926 he began studying music composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. In 1929, his violin concerto was performed there. While living in Paris from 1931, his “Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song” and “Symphony and Serenade for Small Orchestra” were performed there. After settling in London in 1935, he composed the ballet, “Hungaria”. He then met fellow Hungarian Alexander Korda who hired him to write the score for 1937’s Knight Without Armor which began his career in films. He moved to Hollywood while working on the score for 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad and never left, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946.

Rozsa received his first Oscar nomination for The Thief of Bagdad, followed by double nominations the following year for Lydia and Sundown while working for Korda at United Artists. In 1943 he married married Margaret Finlason to whom he would remain married until his death, and with whom he would have two children. He went to work for Paramount the same year where he would compose the scores for Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo, Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend among other films. That relationship would end in 1944. In 1945 he worked for David O. Selznick, composing Spellbound for which he would win his first Oscar. He then went to work for Universal.

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Oscar Profile #314: Anne V. Coates

coatesBorn December 12, 1925 in Surrey, England, Anne V. Coates grew up thinking she’d like to be a horse trainer. After graduating college, however, she served as a nurse in Sir Archibald McIndoe’s pioneering plastic surgery in East Grinstead, but found it a harrowing experience. From there she gravitated toward film, where she worked with a company called Religious Films. There she spliced together film prints of various religious films and sent them out to various British church tours. She also did projectionist and sound recording work. This eventually led to a job as an assistant editor at Pinewood Studios.

Coates’ first credited film as an editor was 1952’s The Pickwick Papers. Other early successes included 1958’s The Horse’s Mouth and 1960’s Tunes of Glory, two major film from director Ronald Neame, who started out as David Lean’s cinematographer, leading to Lean’s hiring her to editing 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, which earned her an Oscar. Other films of the period include 1964’s Becket (her second Oscar nod), 1965’s Young Cassidy and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.

Married to director Douglas Hickox from 1958 to his death in 1988, the couple had three children, all of them with careers in the film industry.

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Oscar Profile #313: Robert Riskin

robert-riskinBorn March 30, 1897 in New York New York, Robert Riskin was one of five children born to Russian Jewish parents. As a teenager, he worked for a shirt-manufacturing firm which sent him to Florida at the age of 17 to run a film production company for them. He turned out one and two reel films until he joined the Army during World War I.

After the war, Riskin became a playwright. Two of his plays, Bless You, Sister and Many a Slip were Broadway stage in 1927 and 1930, respectively. Relocating to Hollywood in 1931, he quickly established himself as one of the town’s premier writers beginning with an adaptation of his Many a Slip. He then adapted Bless You, Sister as The Miracle Woman for Barbara Stanwyck, the first of his numerous collaborations with director Frank Capra.

Riskin and Capra both received Oscar nominations for 1933’s Lady for a Day starring May Robson and 1934’s It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, both winning for the latter. Their love affair with the Academy continued with nominations for 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur and 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You starring Arthur and James Stewart, both of which would win Capra subsequent Oscars.

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