Category: Oscar Profile

Oscar Profile #414: Nicolas Cage

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.

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Oscar Profile #413: Nicholas Musuraca

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.

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Oscar Profile #412: Brandon De Wilde

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.

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Oscar Profile #411: Jackie Cooper

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.

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Oscar Profile #410: Peggy Wood

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.

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Oscar Profile #409: M.J. (Mike) Frankovich

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.

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Oscar Profile #408: George Clooney

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..

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Oscar Profile #407: Ethan Hawke

Born November 6, 1970 in Austin, Texas, Ethen Hawke has been actor since the age of 13. He is a great-grandnephew of Tennessee Williams on his father’s side. His maternal grandfather, Howard Lemuel Green, served five terms in the Texas Legislature and was a minor-league baseball commissioner.

Hawke made his stage debut in a school production of Saint Joan in 1984 and his film debut in 1985 in The Explorers. His breakthrough role was in 1989’s Dead Poets Society. Meaty roles in Dad, White Fang and A Midnight Clear followed. He made his Broadway debut in 1992 in a revival of The Seagull. Back on screen, he starred in such mid-1990s films as Rich in Love, Alive and Reality Bites. In 1995 he and costar Julie Delpy re-wrote most of director Richard Linklater’s screenplay for Before Sunrise without being given credit. They were, however, given credit for the film’s two sequels, Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight in 2013, both of which would earn the Oscar nominations for all three for their screenplays.

The actor met first wife, Uma Thurman on the set of 1997’s Gattaca. The two were married in 1998 and had two children, actress Maya Hawke, born in 1998 and son Levon born in 2002. They separated in 2003 and filed for divorce in 2004. It became final in 2005.

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Oscar Profile #406: Steve McQueen

Born March 24, 1930 in Beech Grove, Indiana, Terence Steven (Steve) McQueen was the son of a stunt pilot who left McQueen’s mother six months after meeting her. Unable to cope with raising a child on her own, she sent the future actor to live with her parents in Slater, Missouri in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression. McQueen and his grandparents then moved in with his mother’s brother Claude on his farm. At eight, his mother took him to live her and her new husband in Indianapolis. At nine, after extensive beatings from his stepfather, McQueen left home to live on the streets where he was arrested for petty crimes. His mother sent him back to live with his uncle on his farm. At twelve, she sent for him to join her and her third husband in Los Angeles. After extensive beatings from that stepfather, he was sent back to his uncle’s farm for a third and final time.

The young boy left his uncle’s farm at fourteen to join the circus, after which he drifted back to his mother and stepfather’s home. In trouble with the police again, his mother declared him incorrigible at fourteen and he was remanded to the Boys Republic in Chino where he became a model citizen. At sixteen he rejoined his mother, now living in Greenwich Village. From there he joined the Merchant Marine on a ship bound for the Dominican Republic. He then found work in a brothel and eventually moved to Texas where he drifted from job to job until joining the marines in 1947. Rebellious at first, he eventually became a hero saving other marines from certain death when a tank broke through the ice in the Artic. He was honorably discharged in 1950.

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Oscar Profile #405: Kim Hunter

Born November 12, 1922 in Detroit, Michigan to an engineer and his wife, a former concert pianist, Janet Cole was a painfully shy child who studied drama to overcome her shyness.

The actress made her stage debut as Penny in Penny Wise in Miami in 1939. She was discovered by an RKO talent agent in a 1942 Pasadena Playhouse production of Arsenic and Old Lace and given a seven-year contract by David O. Selznick where her named was changed to Kim Hunter. She made her screen debut in a starring role in 1943’s horror classic, The Seventh Victim followed by a featured role in 1944’s Tender Comrade as Ginger Rogers’ roommate and the female lead opposite Robert Mitchum in the same year’s When Strangers Marry. She was married in real life that year to marine captain William A. Baldwin. The marriage lasted just two years. Their daughter Kathryn would grow up to become a judge and mother of four.

After playing a supporting role in 1945’s You Came Along, Hunter went to England to play the female lead in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. She also filmed a scene for the U.S. release of their 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale which was released in the U.S. until 1949. In the interim, she made her Broadway debut as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire for which she won several theatre awards. She later won an Oscar for her performance in the film version, which she followed up with the female lead opposite Humphrey Bogart in 1952’s Deadline U.S.A..

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Oscar Profile #404: Brenda Blethyn

Born February 20, 1946 in Kent, England to an engineer and his wife, Brenda Anne Bottle was the youngest of nine children. Married to Alan Blethyn in 1966, she worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper for the British Rail Company until her divorce in 1973 when she enrolled in the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey, England. By the mid-1970s she was working on stage having joined the National Theatre Company in 1975 under her married name.

Blethyn made her TV debut in 1980, her best remembered role during the 1980s being one of the murder suspects in the 1983 BBC mini-series, Death of an Expert Witness based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James. Augmenting her TV career, she continued to appear on the British stage, most notably as Nora in a 1987 production of A Doll’s House and Billie Dawn in a 1988 production of Born Yesterday. She made her film debut in Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film, The Witches in support of Anjelica Huston and Mai Zetterling..

Visiting a sister in the U.S., she was cast in Robert Redford’s 1982 film, A River Runs Through It as Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt’s mother and Tom Skerritt’s wife, but a career in Hollywood films wasn’t to be. Her big screen breakthrough came in 1996 at the age of 50 when she starred in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies for which she won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for Best Actress. She was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Frances McDormand in Fargo. Two years later she received a slew of major nominations including Golden Globe and Oscar nods, but no wins, for Best Supporting Actress in Little Voice.

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Oscar Profile #403: David Niven

Born March 1, 1910 in London, English (James) David (Graham) Niven was the youngest of four children, his father being killed in World War I during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. His mother married Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt, believed to be Niven’s biological father, in 1917. Raised in private schools, Niven graduated from Royal Military College, Sandhurst and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the British Army in 1930. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1933 but was bored with the peacetime army and resigned his commission while crossing the Atlantic later that year.

Niven, who had two uncredited roles as an extra while in England in 1932 and 1933, also had uncredited roles in such Hollywood classics as 1934’s Cleopatra and 1935’s Oscar-winning Mutiny on the Bounty. He had his first role of note in 1936’s Dodsworth, followed by major roles in 1937’s The Prisoner of Zenda, 1938’s The Dawn Patrol and 1939’s Wuthering Heights as well as the lead opposite Ginger Rogers in 1939’s Bachelor Mother and the starring role in the 1939 remake of Raffles. He to returned to England to fight in World War II and was recommissioned a lieutenant in February 1940. He married Primula Rollo that year, with whom he would havde two children, and made two highly successful films in England during the war, 1942’s The First of the Few and The Way Ahead. He had his biggest role to date in 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death before returning to Hollywood where his post-war films includedMagnificent Doll, The Bishop’s Wife and Enchantment, Primula having been killed in a tragic accident falling down the stairs at a party in Tyrone Power’s house in 1946. He married second wife, Hjordis Genberg in 1948 with whom he would adopt two more children.

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Oscar Profile #402: Jim Sheridan

Born February 6, 1949 in Dublin, Ireland, Jim Sheridan was one of three sons of Anna and Peter Sheridan, Sr., owners of a lodging house. Anna also worked at a hotel and Peter as a railway clerk to support their young family. The future writer-producer-director was educated in a Christian Brothers School. In 1969, he attended University College Dublin where is studied English and History and became involved in theatre after meeting future writer-director Neil Jordan. After graduating UCD in 1972, the same year he married wife Fran, he and brother Peter, Jr. began writing and staging plays. He and Fran moved to Canada with their two young daughters in 1981 and then to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1982. The family’s immigrant experience would become the source material for Sheridan’s 2002 film, In America, written by Sheridan and his daughters.

After struggling through the 1980s in New York, Sheridan and his family moved back to Ireland in 1989 where he made his first film, My Left Foot which would catapult him to fame at the age of 40. Among the film’s many honors were five Oscar nominations Including Best Picture, and two wins. The wins were for the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker as cerebral palsy afflicted writer-painter Christy Brown and his mother. The other two went to Sheridan for both writing (shared with Shane Connaughton) and directing.

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Oscar Profile #401: Vittorio De Sica

Born July 7, 1901 in Lazio, Italy, Vittorio de Sica grew up in Sicily where his first job was as an office clerk in support of his poor family. Drawn to acting, he made his film debut as the title character as a boy in The Clemenceau Affair in 1917. He did not make another film for ten years, becoming in the interim one of Italy’s most popular matinee idols on stage.

De Sica married actress Giuditta Rissone in 1937 with whom he had a daughter. She was also his business partner with whom he produced and directed comedies for the stage in the late 1930s. He became a film director in 1940 while still acting. On the set of a film in 1942, he met Spanish actress Maria Mercader who was the sister of Trotsky’s assassin, Ramon Mercader. From then on, he kept up a double life, married to Rissone but living with Mercader with the full knowledge and approval of the two women. On Christmas and New Year’s, he would celebrate the holidays with Rissone and their daughter at Rissone’s home and then celebrate all over again with Mercader and their eventual two sons at the home he shared with her. He was not able to divorce Rissone until 1954. His marriage to Mercader in France in 1959 was not recognized in Italy.

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Oscar Profile #400: Elizabeth Patterson

Born November 22, 1974 in Savannah, Tennessee, Elizabeth Patterson was the daughter of a confederate soldier who became a judge. Educated at Martin College with postgraduate work at Columbia Institute in Tennessee, Patterson’s parents sent her to Europe hoping the experience would diminish her interest in becoming an actress, but it only intensified her determination. By the turn of the century, she was appearing in Shakespearean productions in Chicago. She made her Broadway debut in a revival of the fifteenth century morality play, Everyman in 1913 and would continue to appear on Broadway off and on through 1954.

Patterson made her film debut in The Boy Friend at the age of 51 in 1926, playing the mother of the heroine. She made her talkie debut in Words and Music in 1929 playing a college dean. She would soon become a fixture in the supporting cast of such early talkies as The Smiling Lieutenant, Daddy Long Legs, Penrod and Sam, So Big! , New Morals for Old, Miss Pinkerton, Love Me Tonight and Life Begins.

The actress had her busiest year to date in 1932, appearing in thirteen films, most notably A Bill of Divorcement in which she played John Barrymore’s sister. She slowed down a bit in 1933, appearing in only eight films that year, but one of those films happened to be Dinner at Eight in which her hilarious scene with Marie Dressler still draws howls of laughter from appreciative audiences. She would make another twenty-one films before being given one of the biggest roles of her career as the mother Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray and Donald O’Connor in 1938’s Sing You Sinners. She would reunite with MacMurray for another of her standout roles as his aunt in 1940’s Remember the Night.

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