It’s no mean feat – winning an an Oscar first time out of the blocks. And an exclusive club in the classic era – six women and one man made such an impression on their film debut ; nobody cared that they’d never appeared before a film camera before.
First up, Gale Sondergaard (1899-1985) Best Supporting Actress for ANTHONY ADVERSE (1936). Gale as the scheming housekeeper who blackmails Claude Rains into marriage.
Tall and angular and generally playing older than she was, Gale was pretty much typecast in character roles ,generally foreign, villainess. But a very good actress (THE LETTER stands out). She made over 30 films in the 30s and 40s and had a contract with Universal from 1941 till 1947.
Her husband, director Herbert J. Biberman was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and Gale suffered too after refusing to testify. A career cut short. She did not film again till the late 60s. What a waste.
Gale with Claude Rains.
Katina Paxinou (1900-1973) made her screen debut in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and won the Best Supporting Oscar in 1944. So memorable as the rebel fighter Pilar.
Greek born Katina made a few Hollywood films then returned to her homeland where she was a distinguished stage actress.
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews,Fredric March.
Harold Russell (1914-2002) pulled off a unique double, with a Best Supporting Oscar as ‘Homer’, for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and a special Honorary Oscar for being an inspiration to all returning veterans. (Harold lost both hands during service in the Pacific.)
For someone who had never acted before, Harold gave a touching and memorable performance as the young sailor trying to adjust to life after the war with his severe handicap.
He chose to go to university after filming and became an advocate for military veterans.
According to IMDB, Harold sold his Best Supporting Oscar in 1992 for $60,000 to pay for his wife’s medical bills.
Mercedes McCambridge, John Ireland, Broderick Crawford
Another actress whom Hollywood did not serve well was Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2000) who took home a Best Supporting Oscar for ALL THE KING’S MEN in 1950.
A stage and radio actress, Mercedes had a powerful presence on screen, as the woman who is as ruthless as the corrupt politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford.)
Mercedes’ film career was short but she received a further Oscar nomination for GIANT. And of course she locked horns with Joan Crawford in JOHNNY GUITAR.
I’d like to see this short lived television series ( only 13 episodes.) Not sure why there is a photo of George Brent with Ann Sheridan.
With James Dean. GIANT.
Shirley Booth (1898-1992) had done COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA on Broadway in 1950 and repeated the role in the film version, winning the Best Actress Oscar.
Shirley and Burt Lancaster play a middle aged couple who take in a young boarder, Terry Moore. ( ‘Sheba’ is their dog who goes missing). Personally I couldn’t take to the characters and Lancaster,at 38, seemed wrong casting – Sidney Blackmer originated the role on stage.)
Shirley only made a handful of films including THE MATCHMAKER ( which was turned into “Hello Dolly). She had a very successful television comedy show called HAZEL (1961-1966) in which she played Don De Fore’s housekeeper .
She did three Broadway roles but lost out on the film versions – ‘Liz Imrie’ in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY; ‘Ruth’ in MY SISTER EILEEN; and THE DESK SET .
And she starred in the musical version of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in 1951.
Shirley Booth, Burt Lancaster. COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA.
Whitney Blake, Don De Fore, Shirley Booth.HAZEL.
Eva Marie Saint, Marlon Brando.ON THE WATERFRONT.
Eva Marie Saint burst onto the film screen, winning the Best Supporting Oscar for ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Fellow nominees that year were Jan Sterling, Nina Foch, Katy Jurado,Claire Trevor .)
Like some of the other first time winners, Eva’s film career was short – she only made 4 more films in the 50s and 6 in the 1960’s. She had been on television from the 1940s and won several Emmies.
Eva was pregnant when she received her Oscar. Born In 1924, Eva was married for 65 years.
Jo Van Fleet (1915-1996) won her Best Supporting Oscar for EAST OF EDEN(1955). Jo ,as James Dean’s estranged mother, had very little screen time but ,like Mercedes McCambridge, she commanded every scene she was in.
Jo Van Fleet.
Jo was another Oscar winner who made only a few movies, acting on stage and on television for most of her career. She is remembered too for Gunfight at the O.k.Corral.