Friday, May 20, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #7


The #7 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age


Bette Davis fails to win Best Actress, 1950.

I originally titled this entry "Judy Holliday wins Best Actress, 1950", but I love Judy Holliday and her turn as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday is delightful; she was never better. It's probably the only reason this travesty isn't higher on the list. Why? Because I have this prejudice against actors who play a role forever on stage and then cop an Oscar for the same performance in a film. Yes, stage and screen are different mediums blah blah blah, but it almost always ends up costing a once-in-a-lifetime film performance the Oscar I feel it richly deserves.


Bette Davis-as-Margo Channing. Lost Best Actress. Aaargh! Even though I'm not a huge fan of Bette Davis movies, I absolutely love her charisma, screen presence, and her sheer Bette Davisness. She's the definite movie actress and the greatest of all Grand Dames. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, often chooses to honor the right actors for the wrong roles. Bette should've been the first three-time Best Actress winner (sorry, Kate!) but being the indomitable spirit and strong-willed woman she was, she most likely made scads of enemies during her long and storied career. However, in 1950 she was also painted in the proverbial corner because the Best Actress competition was as strong as it ever was:

Anne Baxter in All About Eve
Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday
Eleanor Parker in Caged
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard


Bette had votes pulled away from her by her All About Eve co-star, Anne Baxter; she was also up against a career-defining role with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Bette losing among such fine competition and the fact that All About Eve was just too good for its own good; an abundance of riches in a year that was among the very best roles for women. Still, Davis-as-Margo Channing is among her top three Oscar-nominated performances and it's a shame she didn't bring home the prize a third time.

10 comments:

  1. Judy deserved the Oscar! :-) (for me, at least)

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  2. i will agree that Bette Davis should have won for All About Eve but i think Gloria Swanson was the strongest out of all the contenders that year. as you said the compition was really strong. Swanson turned in one of the best film performances ever which is an even bigger Oscar Tragedy than Davis not winning. the 1950 Oscars is just one of many example where many actresses that year put out great performances and they all had a gave great performances where they should have won.

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  3. While I acknowledge Swanson'r role being career defining, I personally found it silly and over the top in a cartoonish way. I know Billy Wilder is a master of dark humor and cynicsm, but Swanson just didn't do it for me. You may ready your tar and feathers.

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  4. This race was an embarrassment of riches. Davis, Swanson and Holliday all are deserving. It would have been a travesty if Parker had won.

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  5. What with Judy's short career, I'm happy she won here. Bette is certainly Bette, but she could afford to lose one now and then, in the end she still got to play Margo right? In a cold-blooded way Oscar may have gotten this one wrong, but Oscar has always been a little more sentimental than cold-blooded.

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  6. Some years are, as Editor Bill put it, an embarrassment of riches so that it seems like someone's getting gypped no matter who you pick. 1940 also comes to mind. And then you get other years where a comparatively weak performance gets an Oscar because there just wasn't anything great that year.

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  7. I sure agree that Davis should have won. This is a performance for the ages. As others have observed, it's odd that one year a field like best actress will have several Oscar-worthy nominees, as was the case in 1950, and another year it's lucky to have one. I guess that's the peril of basing the awards on a calendar year. Personally, I would not have nominated Anne Baxter, whose performance looked pretty pallid next to Davis's. Instead I would have nominated Katharine Hepburn for "Adam's Rib" (a 1949 release but eligible for the 1950 Oscars because of its release date in Hollywood). Of course, today the problem would be solved by nominating Baxter for best supporting actress, where she probably would have won. I've read that Baxter rejected this strategy because she'd already won once in the supporting category and wanted to go for the bigger prize. I would say her presence was the biggest single reason Davis didn't win. Also the fact that nobody had ever won three times in the lead category, and we all know how Oscar dislikes setting new precedents.

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  8. Great article. I am a huge Bette Davis fan and this is the first performance I saw of her. I don't follow the Oscars anymore since it raises my blood pressure and this travesty is one of the reasons why.

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  9. Anne Baxter should've won that year for best supporting actress, I'd say.

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  10. Eleanor Parker was GREAT in "Caged." Bette Davis was... well, again, she was Bette Davis. Again, I didn't see a whole lot of acting in that role. Gloria Swanson filled the screen so well in "Sunset Boulevard," and was such a GREAT delight to watch, this should have been a runaway win for her. THAT was the travesty, in my opinion.

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