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.
Born February 8, 1894 in Galveston, Texas, King Wallis Vidor was the son of a prominent businessman and his wife. He became freelance newsreel cameraman and cinema projectionist before becoming a filmmaker himself. The city of Vidor, Texas, was named after his father Charles Shelton Vidor who founded the Miller-Vidor Lumber Co., which the town grew up around. His grandfather, Karoly (Charles) Vidor, was a Hungarian immigrant who served with the 1st Texas Infantry at the battle of Gettysburg.
Vidor made his first film as a director in 1913 with The Grand Military Parade at 19. He married Florence Arto, one of the great beauties of early Hollywood, known professionally as Florence Vidor in 1914. Moving to Hollywood in 1915, Vidor worked as a screenwriter and director of a numerous shorts. His first full-length film in Hollywood was 1919’s The Turn in the Road.
After the success of 1922’s Peg o’ My Heart, Vidor won a long-term contract with Goldwyn Studios (later absorbed into MGM). Divorced from Florence in 1924, he made The Big Parade, among the most acclaimed war films of the silent era and an enormous commercial success. Florence Vidor went on to marry violinist Jascha Heifetz who adopted her daughter with Vidor.
Born May 20, 1946 in El Centro, California, Cherilyn Sarkisian, known professionally as Cher, has been a star in multiple mediums for over five decades. The daughter of a truck driver and a housewife, she left school at 16, had a brief relationship with Warren Beatty and met future husband Sonny Bono that same year.
Sonny and Cher’s music career took off with the number one hit song “I Got You Babe” in 1965. Cher made her acting debut in a 1967 episode of TV’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and appeared on screen for the first time in an unbilled appearance in that year’s Good Times. Married in 1969, the couple had one child, Chastity, now Chaz, born that year. That same year Cher starred in a film called Chastity written by Bono. They had a hit TV series with The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour that ran for three years from 1971-1974. It was nominated for Emmys for Outstanding Musical Series in all three years.
Sonny and Cher divorced in 1974. Cher married rocker Gregg Allman the day after the divorce was final. Their son Elijah Blue was born in 1976. In 1977, she legally changed her name to Cher. Her marriage to Allman ended in 1979. From 1979 to 1972 she was in residence at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
Born January 7, 1964 in Long Beach, California, Nicolas Kim Coppola, known professionally as Nicolas Cage, is the son of literature professor August Coppola and his wife, dancer/choreographer Joy Vogelsang. He is the nephew of Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola and Oscar-nominated actress Talia Shire.
Inspired to become an actor by watching James Dean in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, he told his famous uncle at 15 that he would show him what acting was all about if he were to cast him in one of his films. His outburst met with dead silence from Coppola.
Making his professional acting debut under his birth name in the 1981 TV movie, Best of Times, he made his first big screen appearance in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but his role was mostly cut from the film. Changing his name to Cage so as not to be accused of treading on his uncle’s name, he played his first lead in 1983’s Valley Girl followed by his uncle’s Rumble Fish for which he had to audition. Stardom quickly followed with such films as Birdy, Peggy Sue Got Married opposite Oscar nominee Kathleen Turner and Moonstruck opposite Oscar winner Cher. He entered into a relationship with actress Christina Fulton in 1988 which produced son Weston Coppola Cage in 1990. Weston, an actor and singer who has been married three times, made Cage a grandfather for the first time in 2014.
Born October 25, 1892 in Riace, Calabria, Italy, Nicola (later Nicholas) Musuraca emigrated to the U.S. with his father in 1907 when he was 14. They settled in Brooklyn where his father’s brother was already living.
Musuraca began his show business career as a chauffer for silent film director and producer J. Stuart Blackton. He became a projectionist, editor and assistant director with the Vitagraph Company of America in Brooklyn. He went to California with Blackton in the early 1920s and joined the Robertson-Cole Compnay at their studio in 1921. He stayed with the company when it evolved into Film Booking Offices of America in 1922 and RKO Pictures in 1928, becoming one its top cinematographers in the 1930s.
Musuraca’s first film as cinematographer was 1923’s The Virgin Queen, directed by Blackton, after which he made many other silent films. Among his 1930s films were Chance at Heaven, Murder on a Honeymoon and Saturday’s Heroes. Along with Gregg Tolans’s work on 1941’s Citizen Kane, Musuraca’s lighting of 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor is credited with defining the visual conventions for film noir and codifying the RKO look for the 1940s. In 1941, he photographed the added scenes for The Magnificent Ambersons after Orson Welles and Stanley Cortez had left the project.
Born April 9, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York, Brandon De Wilde was the only son of Dutch immigrants. His father was actor and Broadway stage manager Frederic de Wilde (1914-1980) and his mother Eugenia (1915-1987) was a part-time actress.
Frederic De Wilde was the stage manager for 1950’s The Member of the Wedding which was having trouble finding a child actor for the third starring role alongside Julie Harris and Ethel Waters. A friend of his suggested young Brandon for the part which his father reluctantly allowed him to audition for. He was hired on the spot. Catapulted to a national phenomenon as a child prodigy at the age of seven, he won the prestigious Donaldson Award for his performance. The Donaldson Awards were the preeminent Broadway theatrical award begun in 1944 but ending in 1955 due to competition from the Tonys which began handing out awards in 1947.
The young actor next starred opposite Helen Hayes 1952’s Mrs. McThing before repeating his legendary stage performance in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film of The Member of the Wedding with Harris and Waters to equal acclaim. He followed that with an even more legendary performance as the young boy in George Stevens’ 1953 film, Shane for which he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor at the age of 11, the youngest performer nominated since Jackie Cooper who was 9 when nominated for Skippy.
Born September 15, 1922 in Los Angeles, California, John (Jackie) Cooper (Jr.) was the nephew of actress Julie Leonard, writer Jack Leonard and by marriage, director Norman Taurog. His father abandoned the family when he was just two years old. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother who was an extra in films. She took him on her daily casting calls which led to his first job at the age of three when both he and his grandmother were cast as extras in a film.
Cooper continued in shorts until he was cast in bit parts in two 1929 features, Fox Movietone News and Sunnyside Up. Recommended by David Butler, the director of those two films, to Leo McCarey who cast him in the Our Gang comedies beginning with Boxing Gloves that same year. His most notable Our Gang comedies were Teacher’s Pet, School’s Out and Love Business exploring his crush on his schoolteacher, Miss Crabtree. He was loaned to Paramount in the spring of 1931 to star in Skippy, directed by his uncle, Norman Taurog.
Skippy catapulted Cooper to superstardom, earing him an Oscar nomination at the age of nine, making him the youngest actor nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, a record he still holds.
Born February 9, 1892 in Brooklyn, New York, Mary Margaret (Peggy) Wood was the daughter of journalist Eugene Wood and telegraph operator Mary Gardner Wood. A lilting soprano, she began taking singing lessons at the age of 8 and made her stage debut at 18 in a production of Naughty Marietta. She made her Broadway debut the following year in The Three Romeos.
Alternating between musicals and classic dramas, Wood starred in 1917’s Maytime in which she introduced the song “Will You Remember (Sweetheart)”. She made her film debut in 1919’s Almost a Husband but it did not lead to a sustained film career. Married to poet and writer John Weaver in 1924, they had a son David, born in 1927. Both were both members of the famed Algonquin Round Table. One of her most memorable Broadway roles was as Portia in a 1928 Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice. In 1929 Noel Coward wrote Bitter Sweet for her, which she played both in London and New York. That same year she co-stared on screen with Lewis Stone and Leila Hyams in Wonder of Women which was nominated for an Academy Award for writing at the second awards ceremony.
Wood’s next film was 1934’s Handy Andy in which she played Will Rogers’ wife. She appeared in several other films in the 1930s including The Right to Live, A Star Is Born and The Housekeeper’s Daughter. Her husband died of tuberculosis in 1938 at the age of 44.
Born September 29, 1909 in Bisbee, Arizona, Mitchell John (Mike) Frankovich was one of four children of immigrant Yugoslavians Yova and Melica Frankovich. When the children were small, the Frankovich family left the copper-mining town of Bisbee en route to California but stopped in Tonopah, Nevada, for several years after the elder Frankovich won its casino in a card game. They moved on to Long Beach, California, where he owned a fishing fleet. After Yova Frankovich abandoned the family, his wife moved to Los Angeles, where Mike and a brother excelled in high school football, gaining scholarships to the University of California, Los Angeles, on the recommendation of actor Joe E. Brown (Some Like It Hot). While attending UCLA, Frankovich parked cars, planted geraniums and dug ditches to support himself. He began producing radio shows in 1934 during his years as a sports announcer. He also acted in films in uncredited roles from 1935. He got further into the film business by writing screenplays for Universal and Republic Pictures in the late 1930s.
Frankovich was briefly married to first wife Georgiana Feagans from January 1938 to September 1940. The day after their divorce was granted, he married British actress Binnie Barnes to whom he would adopt four children, remaining married until his death. He then served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, earning the rank of colonel. Multilingual, he resumed his work in films in Europe after the war, and soon became a director and executive for Columbia’s British operation.
Born May 6, 1961 in Lexington, Kentucky, George (Timothy) Clooney is the son of Nina Bruce (née Warren) and former TV host Nick Clooney. The late legendary singer and actress Rosemary Clooney was Clooney’s father’s sister.
Clooney’s first role as an actor was as an extra in the 1978 mini-series Centennial filmed near his Kentucky home. He then moved to Hollywood and stayed with his famous aunt and her family while pursuing his acting career. His breakthrough came with his supporting role as a handyman in the TV series The Facts of Life in 1985. Guest starring appearances in TV’s Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls led to a semi-regular role in TV’s Roseannefrom 1988-1991. Married to Talia Balsam in 1989, they were divorced in 1993, after which he earned a starring role in TV’s ER from 1994-1999. He was nominated for Emmys for the first two seasons of the series in 1995 and 1996.
On screen, Clooney starred in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn and One Fine Day, 1997’s Batman & Robin and The Peacemaker, 1998’s Out of Sight and The Thin Red Line and 1999’s Three Kings, all of them box office successes. His output continued with 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Perfect Storm, 2001’s Ocean’s 11, 2002’s Solaris and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve, which were all major successes..