There are a lot of Academy Award trivia lists and most of them deal with “The first …” or “The only …”. This list has some of those, and a few you probably already knew, but I picked these because they either had an interesting story about the win or winner. Basically, I hope each entry makes you say, “I didn’t know that.” If you have other interesting Oscar stories, tell us about them in the comments.
George Bernard Shaw
Two Top Awards
Won: Writing (Screenplay) 1938 for Pygmalion
It is, indeed, interesting to achieve the top honor in two widely disparate fields. As of now, only one person has won an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize, George Bernard Shaw (he became a literature laureate in 1925). Before you flood the comments with how I’m wrong, I would advise you to read the rest of this list.
Won: Writing (Screenplay) 1935 for The Informer
Famously, Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his Oscar for The Godfather, in protest of the treatment of Native Americans, and George C. Scott refused his for Patton since he did not like the idea of competing with other actors calling it a meat-parade. However, the first time a person refused the highest cinematic honor was when Dudley Nichols refused to accept his Academy Award, due to the treatment of the writer’s guild. Later, he rescinded his refusal and accepted the Oscar, sometime before 1949.
Winners that Didn’t Win
Pierre Boulle (First Faked Winner): Writing (adapted) 1957, for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Nathan E. Douglas (First Pseudonym to Win): Writing (original) 1958, for The Defiant One, Writing (adapted) 1960, for Inherit the Wind
One often assumes that the winner of the Academy Award actually exists. However, during the Blacklist Era in Hollywood, many had to hide their work behind other credits, in order to perform their craft.
Peter Boulle actually exists, and is a French writer that is said not to write English, although he did write “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”. His name was used by Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman as an open secret when they adapted his book. When it was revealed, after the blacklists, Peter Boulle refused to return the Oscar but Wilson and Foreman got theirs in 1984.
Nathan E. Douglas was the name used by Nedrick Young during the blacklist era and, under that name, he won two Academy Awards. In 1993, his real name was restored to the nominee and awards list and his son received his Oscars.
It’s a pity Donald Kaufman didn’t win for his writing of Adaptation. He was the first nominee to never exist in any form.
First Posthumous Winner
Won: Writing (screenplay) 1939 for Gone With the Wind
This Oscar was Howard’s third but, unfortunately, he never got to accept it. He died in a bizarre gardening accident (must . . . resist . . . Spinal Tap . . . joke) when his tractor crushed him. Incidentally, Howard is also a Pulitzer winner, but it will take more research (or someone in comments) to see if he was the first to win both awards. I suspect he was, considering he won his first Oscar in the award’s fifth year.
First Double Winner
Won: Best Actress 1936, for The Great Ziegfield, Winner Best Actress 1937, for The Good Earth
Luise Rainer was the first back-to-back winner in Oscar history, in only her second and third English-speaking films, beating out the notable performances of Janet Gaynor, in A Star is Born, and Greta Garbo, in Camille, to win, in 1937. In fact, she was such an underdog that year, she did not even attend the awards presentation.
Since her career went downhill after winning, mostly due to her own poor decisions, the superstition started about the Oscar Jinx (ask Cuba Gooding about that). So poorly was she though of late in her career that, according, to legend, when Raymond Chandler was stressing over the ceremony where his Double Indemnity was nominated, his wife told him the award was no big deal since “After all, Luise Rainer won it twice.”
Sunrise: Best Picture (most artistic quality of production) 1927/8
Roy Pomeroy: Best Engineering Effects 1927/8 for Wings
Joseph Farnham: Best Title Writing 1927/8 (no specific film)
How would you like to be the only person to have won a certain award? These three are the only winners in their categories. Originally there were two Best Picture awards. The one that Wings won that year was Best Picture (outstanding production), and it is that award that the Academy decided was the one that evolved into today’s Best Picture award. The award for Engineering Effects was given to Wings, for the air cinematography and beat out Nugent Slaughter, for The Jazz Singer (but Warner Brothers did win a special award for it). The Jazz Singer would also make the Best Title Writing (the blurbs in silent movies to say what is going on) obsolete by the next year. The nominee for best title writing Gerald Duffy (The Private Life of Helen of Troy) could have been #11 on this list, but he lost and became merely the first posthumous nominee.
There are other awards that appear to be one-time only awards, such as, at the fourth Oscar ceremony, the awards for art direction and sound recording. These sort of awards just reflect the name changes throughout the history of the Oscar, and are part of the legacy of continuing awards. These three categories are the only ones to officially have only one winner.
Three 6 Mafia: Best Song (original) 2005 for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”
Martin Scorsese: Best Director 2006 for The Departed
Martin Scorsese was in that pantheon of highly respected and brilliant purveyors of their cinematic craft that receive numerous nominations (seven of them for writing and directing between 1980 and 2004) but never win. When Three 6 Mafia won, for Best Original Song, host Jon Stewart simply said, “Three 6 Mafia, one Oscar. Martin Scorsese, no Oscars.” and let the audience laugh at that.
Martin Scorsese won the next year.
Won: Best Short Subject (cartoon) 1940, for The Milky Way
This was the thirteenth time the award had been given, but only the first time Disney wasn’t the winner. In fact, Disney was not even nominated (did they put one out that year?) Disney won the next two awards, then M.G.M. the next four, and then, in the 20th year of the award, the hegemony was broken by Warner Brothers and “Tweety Pie”, the first cartoon featuring Sylvester and Tweety.
Who doesn’t have a Nobel Prize but he does have an Oscar
Won: Best Documentary (feature) 2006, for An Inconvenient Truth
Yes, he wrote the book.
Yes, he narrated the film.
Yes, he took the statuette from the presenter.
Yes, he gave the acceptance speech everyone remembers.
No, he did not win the Oscar.
The winner of the Academy Award for “An Inconvenient Truth” was the producer/director Davis Guggenheim, not Albert Gore, Jnr.
Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin
Orson Wells : 1941 Best Screenplay (original) 1941, for Citizen Kane
Charlie Chaplin: Best Original Dramatic Score 1972, for Limelight
It is always pointed out how some movie geniuses are never recognized for their work, and are never given Oscars, or, at best, they get honorary Oscars. Two of the most common examples are Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin. Unfortunately, both of them do have Oscars.
Charlie Chaplin was given an honorary Oscar, at the first Academy Award dinner, for The Circus. Some interpret the award as showing that his work was so far superior that it would be a one-person night if it was allowed to compete, while others, accurately, point out that it was not, in fact, an earned award. I favor the former, considering the Academy sent Chaplin a letter stating
“The Academy Board of Judges on merit awards for individual achievements in motion picture arts during the year ending August 1, 1928, unanimously decided that your name should be removed from the competitive classes, and that a special first award be conferred upon you for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus. The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself.”
The point was made moot in 1972, when he won for Best Original Score, for Limelight, that, due to the rules (since changed) made it eligible 20 years after it was first released. At the time, eligibility was based on the first time a movie was released in Los Angeles, and Chaplin kept the movie out of the L.A. market until 1972.
With Orson Wells, the Oscar is a little more straightforward. While it is true that he never won as a director or actor, he did win for his screenplay for Citizen Kane, sharing the award with Herman J. Mankiewitz.