Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #345: Joseph LaShelle

Born July 9, 1900 in Los Angeles, California, Joseph LaShelle was trained as an electrical engineer, but went to work at Paramount as a lab technician in order earn money for tuition at Stanford University. Promoted to superintendent of the printing room within three years, he decided to forego his college education and stay on at Paramount.

Mentored by cinematographer Charles G. Clarke, he became his assistant cameraman in 1925. He later worked for Arthur C. Miller and followed him to Twentieth Century-Fox where he assisted Miller on How Green Was My Valley and The Song of Bernadette among other films. Shortly thereafter he became a credited cinematographer with 1943’s The Happy Land. With 1944’s Laura he earned his first of nine Oscar nominations and the only one that would result in a win.

Among the 1940s films that LaShelle put his stamp on were A Bell for Adano, Cluny Brown, The Late George Apley, The Foxes of Harrow, Captain from Castile, The Luck of the Irish and Come to the Stable for which he earned his second Oscar nomination. His 1950s films for Fox included Under the Skin, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Mister 880, The 13th Letter, Les Misérables and My Cousin Rachel for which he earned his third Oscar nomination.

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Oscar Profile #344: Nancy Meyers

Born December 8, 1949 to an executive at a voting machine plant and his wife, an interior designer, Nancy Meyers is an American director, producer and screenwriter.

At the age of 12, Meyers became interested in the theatre after reading Moss Hart’s autobiography, Act One. Upon graduating college, she spent a year working in public television in Philadelphia. She later moved to Los Angeles where she got a job as a production assistant on The Price Is Right.

Inspired by The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Meyers obtained work as a story editor working with screenwriters on projects in development. This led to writing her own scripts, which led in time to partnering with Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller on the script for her first film, 1980’s Private Benjamin, which was also the first film she produced. She and Shyer, who had been in a relationship with Meyers since 1975, along with Miller, received an Oscar nomination for the script of the successful comedy which was turned into a TV series in 1981.

Meyers wrote the original story for 1984’s Protocol and the screenplays for 1984’s Irreconcilable Differences, 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash and 1987’s Baby Boom which became her biggest hit to date. This, too, was turned into a TV series for which she wrote three episodes in 1988.

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Oscar Profile #343: Maximilian Schell

Born December 8, 1930 in Vienna, Austria, but raised in Zurich, Switzerland where his family fled after Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, Maximilian Schell was perhaps the most famous of all non-English speaking born actors in Hollywood history. He was the second child of an actress mother and poet father. He and his three siblings, older sister Maria, older brother Carl and younger sister Immy, all became actors. Maria, who entered films in 1942, was for a time the most celebrated actor in the family with BAFTA nominated performances in 1953’s The Heart of the Matter and 1956’s Gervaise. Max did not enter films until 1955.

A Shakespearean trained actor, Schell had great success with Richard III in Germany before making his film debut in the German anti-Nazi film, Children, Mothers and a General. He came to the U.S. for the Broadway play, Interlock in early 1958, the same year he made his Hollywood debut in The Young Lions. In 1959, he played the defense attorney in the Playhouse 90 TV production of Judgment at Nuremberg. More American TV work followed, with time out for a return to Germany to film Hamlet, which was released in the U.S. in 1962 after Schell’s Oscar win for the 1961 film version of Judgment at Nuremberg, which was only his second Hollywood film.

Schell’s post-Oscar film successes included Five Finger Exercise, The Reluctant Saint, Topkapi, Return from the Ashes and The Deadly Affair. His first film as a director was 1970’s First Love. His 1973 West German film, The Pedestrian was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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Oscar Profile #342: Mildred Dunnock

Born January 25, 1901 in Baltimore, Maryland, Mildred Dunnock was a schoolteacher who did not start acting until she was past 30. Once she began to act, however, her rise was swift and her career meteoric although she never rose above the ranks of character actress, albeit a superb one.

Dunnock’s first Broadway role was as one of the nurses on the maternity ward in 1932’s Life Begins. She was not asked to reprise her role in the film version made later that year. In 1933, she married Keith Urmey, an executive with Chemical Bank in Manhattan with whom she had one child. She remained married to him until her death. Continuing to act on the stage, she was finally allowed to recreate the part of one of her Broadway roles with the 1945 film version of The Corn Is Green. She returned immediately to Broadway where she created the role of Aunt Lavinia in 1946’s Another Part of the Forest, the prequel to The Little Foxes.

Uncredited as the old lady Richard Widmark pushes down the stairs in 1947’s Kiss of Death, she returned to Broadway once again where in 1949 she played her most famous role, that of the wife in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, directed by Elia Kazan. She repeated the role in the 1951 film version, earning her first Oscar nomination in the process.

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Oscar Profile #341: William Hurt

Born March 20, 1950 in Washington, D.C. William Hurt’s mother Claire worked for Time, Inc. and his father Alfred worked for the State Dept. After their divorce, his mother married Henry Luce II and young William lived abroad in Lahore, Mogadishu and Khartoum where he father was stationed.

Educated at Tufts University and Julliard, Hurt began his career on the stage in the 1970s. On TV late in the decade, he made his film debut as the star of Ken Russell’s 1980 film, Altered States opposite Blair Brown. He then starred in Peter Yates’ 1981 film, Eyewitness with Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer and James Woods. His next film, that same year, Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat opposite Kathleen Turner made him a star.

In December 1981, Hurt starred opposite Sally Field in a live TV broadcast of All the Way Home directed by Delbert Mann. He returned to the screen as part of the ensemble in Kasdan’s 1983 film, The Big Chill in which his co-stars included Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams, Tom Berenger and Meg Tilly. The film was a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

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Oscar Profile #340: Kate Winslet

Born October 5, 1975 in Reading, Berskshire, England, Kate Elizabeth Winslet was one of four children of a barmaid and a swimming pool contractor, both of whom were part-time actors. Actor Robert Bridges was her mother’s brother.

Winslet made her acting debut in a TV commercial at the age of 2, and as a teenager appeared in more than 20 stage plays including a stint as Miss Hannigan in Annie. In various British TV shows from 1991, she made her film debut as a teenage murderess in the 1994 Australian film, Heavenly Creatures and received her first Oscar nomination for the following year’s British-American coproduction, Sense and Sensibility for which she won the first of three SAG and three BAFTA awards to date.

Winslet earned kudos for 1996’s Jude and Hamlet, in which she played Ophelia opposite director-star Kenneth Branagh. She then starred in the 1997 blockbuster, Titanic, for which she received her second Oscar nomination among many other honors.

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Oscar Profile #339: Leonardo DiCaprio

Born November 11, 1974 in Los Angeles, California, Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio is the son of a German born mother of German and Russian descent and a father of Italian and German descent. His mother worked as a legal secretary and his father as an underground performance artist. They separated when he was just a year old and divorced soon after. Although he lived mostly with his mother, he spent part of his childhood living with his maternal grandparents in Germany.

DiCaprio made his first TV appearance at the age of four in an episode of Romper Room. Ten years later he began showing up in featured roles on various TV shows. He made his film debut in 1991’s Critters 3 and drew attention in the TV series, Growing Pains during its 1991-1992 season. He became a star as Robert De Niro’s stepson in 1993’s This Boy’s Life and has remained one ever since, earning his first Oscar nomination for the same year’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in which he played Johnny Depp’s mentally handicapped brother. His received further critical acclaim for his performances in two 1995 films, Total Eclipse and The Basketball Diaires. He then starred in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet and co-starred with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton in the same year’s Marvin’s Room.

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Oscar Profile #338: Joseph Walker

Born August 22, 1892 in Denver, Colorado, Joseph Bailey Walker worked as a wireless telephone engineer, inventor and photographer of documentaries for the Red Cross during World War I before beginning his feature film career in 1919 with Back to God’s Country, a Canadian film that was filmed near the Artic Circle. He then freelanced as a cinematographer until he signed a contract with Columbia in 1927, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Walker’s first film for Columbia was Frank Capra’s Submarine for which he and Capra worked out a way to use miniature toys and a discarded aquarium found in the props department to conjure up special effects. Walker quickly became Capra’s favorite cinematographer. He worked on all the director’s films for the next ten years including Lady for a Day, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon, You Can’t Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He received his first Oscar nomination for You Can’t Take It with You. Among films he made for other directors during this period were Richard Boleslawski’s Theodora Goes Wild and Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth.

He was married to first wife, silent screen actress Marjorie Warfield from 1923 to 1935. She was the mother of his daughter, Margaret.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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