Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #353: Margaret Leighton

Born February 26, 1922 in Barnt Green, Worcestershire, England, Margaret Leighton was the daughter of a businessman who made her acting debut at the Old Vic in 1938’s Laugh with Me which was also televised that year. She made her Broadway debut in 1946 in five touring plays starring Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, beginning with Henry IV. She returned to England, where she married publisher Max Reinhardt in 1947 and made her film debut in 1948’s The Winslow Boy, which was released in the U.S. in 1950 after American audiences had already seen her as the second lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1949 film, Under Capricorn starring Ingrid Bergman, Joseph cotton and Michael Wilding, who would later become her third husband.

Busy in British films in the early 1950s, she starred in such films as The Astonished Heart, The Elusive Pimpernel, Calling Bulldog Drummond, Home at Seven, The Holly and the Ivy, The Teckman Mystery and The Good Die Young opposite future husband Laurence Harvey.

Leighton divorced Reinhardt in 1955 and married Harvey in 1957. In-between she won a Tony for Broadway’s Separate Tables in which she played the role that would be split between Deborah Kerr and Rita Hayworth in the 1958 film version. It was a role she had first played in London in 1954.

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Oscar Profile #352: Fritz Lang

Born December 5, 1890 in Vienna, Austria, Friedrich Christian Anton Lang, Fritz for short, was one of the most influential film directors of all time yet won no major awards, possibly due to his reputation as a tyrant on film sets.

Although trained in Paris in 1913-14 to be a painter, Lang returned to Vienna at the outbreak of World War I and volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian Army. He joined as a private, but received a battlefield commission as a lieutenant. Injured three times and suffering from shell shock, while recuperating in 1916, he wrote scenarios and ideas for films. After his discharge in 1918, he went to work for producer Eric Pommer, leading to his employment as a director at Berlin’s Ufa studio and others.

Lang married first wife Lisa Rosenthal in 1919. She committed suicide in 1921 after finding him in a compromising position with writer Thea von Harbou, then married to actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, the star of Lang’s 1922 masterpiece, Dr. Mabuse, co-written by von Harbou. She and Klein-Rogge were quickly divorced and Lang and von Harbou were married in 1922.

Klein-Rogge had a major role in Lang’s second masterpiece, 1927’s Metropolis, from von Harbou’s novel for which she received sole credit for the screenplay. She would also co-write Lang’s 1931 masterpiece, M with Lang as well as two more celebrated Dr. Mabuse films in 1933.

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Oscar Profile #351: Sam Shepard

Born November 5, 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois where his US Army officer father was stationed, Samuel Shepard Rogers, known professionally as Sam Shepard, spent his childhood moving from base to base around the US until the family settled in Duarte, California. He became interested in acting and writing while in high school, while at the same time working as a ranch hand in Chino. Upon graduation in 1961, he entered Mount San Antonio Junior College intent on becoming a veterinarian. A touring theater company in 1962 rekindled the acting bug and he left home to join them.

While working as a busboy at the Village Gate, he became involved in writing plays for Off-Off-Broadway venues, graduating to Off-Broadway, winning six Obies between 1966 and 1968, five of them for Off-Off Broadway productions. 1967’s La Turista earned him his first for an Off-Broadway play. Oh! Calcutta!, for which he was a contributing writer was his first play to be presented on Broadway in 1969. That same year he married actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had a son born in 1970. From 1970-71 he had an affair with singer-songwriter Patti Smith that ended when he moved with his wife and son to London. They returned in 1975

Still writing plays, while occasionally contributing to film screenplays, Shepard burst upon the screen in an acting role in 1978’s Days of Heaven, all but stealing the film from charismatic star Richard Gere. The following year he earned his second Off-Broadway Obie as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child. He then won further acclaim as an actor for 1980’s Resurrection opposite Ellen Burstyn, 1981’s Raggedy Man opposite Sissy Spacek and 1982’s Frances opposite Jessica Lange with whom he began a relationship that produced two children, lasting through 1999 when Shepard felt he could no longer live in New York city and moved to Kentucky to raise thoroughbred horses. His relationship with Lange continued off and on through 2010 when they permanently split up.

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Oscar Profile #350: Samuel Fuller

Born August 12, 1912 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Samuel Fuller was one of seven siblings, whose life was as interesting as any of the many characters of his long career. One of the best writer-directors never to be nominated for an Oscar, his films which were mostly overlooked during his lifetime, have gained in stature since his death.

His father having died when Fuller was 11, young Sam went to work at the age of 12 as a copy boy on the New York Evening Graphic where his older brother Ving was a staff cartoonist. Mentored by veteran crime report Rhea Gore, the former wife of Walter Huston and mother of John Huston, he became a crime reporter himself at 17, breaking the news of actress Jeanne Eagels’ death in 1929.

Moving to Hollywood, Fuller’s first screenplay was 1936’s Hats Off. With time out for military service during World War II, he became increasingly annoyed with the direction directors were taking with his screenplays and in 1949 signed a three-film contract with independent producer Robert Lippett stipulating that he be allowed to direct as well as write at his writer’s salary. His first film was 1949’s I Shot Jesse James, followed by The Baron of Arizona and the 1951 Korean War film, Steel Helmet for which he won a Writer’s Guild award.

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Oscar Profile #349: Glynis Johns

Born October 5, 1923 in Pretoria, South Africa while her Welsh parents were on tour, Glynis Johns was the daughter of actor Mervyn Johns (1899-1992) and pianist Alice Maude Steele (1901-1970).

A trained dancer, pianist and singer as well as actress, Johns made her first stage appearance as a child ballerina in London’s Garrick Theatre in 1935. She made her film debut in 1938’s South Riding and continued in British films largely unnoticed through 1941. In 1942, she married actor Anthony Forwood with whom she had her only child, actor Gareth Forwood (1945-2007). In 1943, she received excellent notices for her portrayal of a resistance fighter and martyr to the cause in The Adventures of Tartu retitled Sabotage Agent for the U.S. market. Other important roles during this period were as Deborah Kerr’s friend “Dizzy” in 1945’s Perfect Strangers AKA Vacation from Marriage and as the titled mermaid in 1948’s Miranda. She and Forwood divorced in 1948. He later became Dirk Bogarde’s manager and life partner. She would later marry three times, her last marriage ending in divorce in 1964.

1951’s No Highway in the Sky in support of James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich was an international success, resulting in Johns being brought to the U.S. to play the title role in the 1952 Broadway play Gertie. In Hollywood, she starred opposite Richard Todd in two Disney live-action features, 1953’s The Sword and the Rose and 1954’s Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue.

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Oscar Profile #348: Max Steiner

Born May 10, 1888 in Vienna, Austria, Max(well) Steiner was a child prodigy who conducted his first operetta when he was twelve and became a full-time professional, either composing, arranging, or conducting, when he was fifteen. He wrote and conducted the operetta, The Beautiful Greek Girl which led to opportunities to conduct other shows in various cities around the world, including Moscow and Hamburg. He was invited to London to conduct Lehar’s The Merry Widow and stayed for 8 years conducting theater productions and symphonies. With the outbreak of World-War I in 1914, he was interned as an enemy alien. Through his friend, the Duke of Westminster, he was given exit papers to go to America, but his money was impounded. He arrived in New York in December 1914 with only $32 to his name.

Steiner quickly acquired work in New York as a musical director, arranger and orchestrator. In 1919, he accepted an offer to go to work for RKO in their musical department. It didn’t take long for him to be named director of that department. His first credited score was for 1930’s Dixiana, quickly followed by the Oscar-winning Cimarron and Katharine Hepburn’s early films including A Bill of Divorcement and Little Women, but it was 1933’s King Kong that put him on the map.

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Oscar Profile #347: Richard Brooks

Born May 18, 1912 in Philadelphia, PA to Russian Jewish immigrants Hyman and Esther Sax, Reuben Sax known professionally as Richard Brooks, grew up poor. He studied journalism at Temple University for two years from 1929-1931 before discovering that his parents were going into debt to pay for his education at which time he quit school and rode the freight trains seeking work, but eventually returned to Philadelphia where he found work as a newspaper reporter. It was while working as a reporter that he changed his name, legally changing it in 1943.

Brooks wrote and directed plays for the theatre in the late 1930s and early 1940s, marrying actress Jeanne Kelly in 1941. She became known professionally as Jean Brooks and became a star in Val Lewton’s 1943 film The 7th Victim by which time the marriage had broken up. He joined the marines during the war, but never served overseas. Instead he worked for the film units in Quantico, VA and Camp Pendleton, CA. where he honed his craft and wrote the novel The Brick Foxhole which became the 1947 film, Crossfire. He married second wife Harriette Levin in 1946.

Working for Universal, and then independent producer Mark Hellinger after the war, he wrote the scripts for The Killers and Brute Force, both starring Burt Lancaster. He then went to work for Warner Bros. where he co-wrote 1948’s Key Largo with John Huston. A chance meeting with Cary Grant at a racetrack resulted in Brooks’ first directorial job on 1950’s Crisis starring Grant and José Ferrer.

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Oscar Profile #346: Sydney Pollack

Born July 1, 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana to homemaker Rebecca and professional boxer turned pharmacist David Pollack, Sydney Pollack grew up in South Bend, Indiana. His parents divorced when he was very young. His mother, who suffered from alcoholism and depression, died at the age of 37 when he was still in high school. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City where he studied acting with Sanford Meisner. After army service, he returned to Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse in 1958 as his assistant.

Pollack appeared as an actor in numerous live TV productions in the late 1950s. He was asked to come to Los Angeles by friend John Frankenheimer to coach the young actors in Frankenheimer’s film, The Young Savages. The film’s star, Burt Lancaster, suggested he direct. Although he would continue to act for the remainder of his life, he began directing for TV in 1961. His first feature film as an actor was 1962’s War Hunt which was also the feature film debut of Robert Redford. His first film as a feature director was 1965’s The Slender Thread starring recent Oscar winners Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. He followed that with This Property Is Condemned with Natalie Wood and Redford and three starring Lancaster, The Scalphunters, The Swimmer (uncredited) and Castle Keep.

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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.

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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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