Every year the Academy of Motion Arts awards the golden Oscar statue to those with outstanding perfomances in their field. In honor of this year’s awards Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora at Once Upon a Screen... are hosting an Oscar’s blogathon. When I decided to participate I knew exactly what topic I wanted to cover.
From the time I was a child, I have adored classic films and with them many famous faces from that time period. The Oscars recognize talent, dedication and artistry, but there can only be one winner per category, per year. There are many popular and famous actors and actresses from the Golden Hollywood years who never received a competitive Oscar, even though they deserved one. Of course, a few of these received honorary Oscars at the end of their careers for a lifetime of amazing work. However, in my opinion, though an honor it may be, it feels a bit like a consolation prize.
As many know, Oscar voting is not free of bias, agenda or lobbying. So while, everyone who is nominated is certainly worthy, sometimes the winner is not always the very best of the nominees.
Today, in honor of the Oscars, I have made a list of twenty-three famous classic film stars who never won a competitive Oscar. Some of them might surprise you. I am also including the films for which they were nominated, the films for which I believe they deserved to win, as well as my personal favorites. I am not comparing their performances with the other nominees in their fields for the year that they lost. Every one nominated deserves to win, but of course that is impossible. And of course, this list is subjective, based on my personal opinion.
Any one who knows me, knows of my deep love for Cary Grant. Bringing Up Baby was the first film I watched which introduced me to the world of classic film. He is regularly listed in the top five in lists of the best actors of all time. And although he was twice nominated, he never won an Oscar. I personally believe this is because he was a freelance actor in an era where studios generally owned their talent. It helps to have the power of a studio behind you promoting you for an award. He was of course awarded an honorary Oscar towards the end of his live which he richly deserved. But it is because of his lack of a competitive Oscar that I have never fully trusted the Academy’s choices.
Nominations: None But the Lonely, Penny Serenade
Deserving Performances : Honestly, I think his best, most surprising performance is in Penny Serenade. But Notorious ranks up there as well.
My Personal Favorites: Topper, The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Charade
Myrna Loy had a very long and successful career as an actress. Her career spanned six decades, from the 1920’s through the 1980’s. She was cast in both dramas and comedies, playing both equally well. She appeared opposite many of the most famous leading men of her time, including a few other actors on this list, Cary Grant, Dana Andrews, Robert Montgomery and William Powell. With such a long and high quality body of work, it is astonishing that she was never once nominated for an Oscar. A real travesty, in my opinion.
Deserving Performances: Many critics and fans believe she deserved a nomination for her role as the matriarch in The Best Years of Our Lives. I also think her comedic turns in The Thin Man and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House are Oscar worthy, but then the Oscars rarely honor comedies.
My Personal Favorites: Pretty much all of her films with co-star William Powell, including their first Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man Series, The Rains Came, Penthouse, So Goes My Love
Many fans of classic film tend to under rate Montgomery as an actor. It is true that many, if not most of his films gave him little opportunity to prove otherwise. But I believe it is the films not his talent which are lacking. Though I find many of his movies entertaining and Montgomery rather charming in these “fluff” roles. Unlike some other more beloved entries on this list, he was nominated twice for his performances as the pleasant but creepy murderer in Night Must Fall. He also garnered a nominations as the reincarnated boxer Joe Pendleton in Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Nominations: Night Must Fall, Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Deserving Performances: I can’t argue that he deserved the nomination for Night Must Fall. I would also add his roles in The Big House and They Were Expendable.
My Personal Favorites: The Man in Possession, Private Lives, When Ladies Meet (with Myrna Loy), Hitchcock’s only comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Like another entry on this list (Loy) Stanwyck had a successful career spanning six decades. She starred in multiple genres, from dramas to comedy to film noirs and everything in between. She is my second favorite actress (behind the great Katharine Hepburn) so I may be biased, but many others agree that she was one of the best actresses of the Classic Hollywood era. Stanwyck was a working actress, beloved by everyone she worked with and was married to Robert Taylor, another actor on this list. Though she was nominated four times and was eventually awarded an honorary Oscar, she never won a competitive statue.
Nominations: Stella Dallas, Double Indemnity, Ball of Fire, Sorry, Wrong Number
Deserving Performances: I can’t argue with her nominations, although I haven’t seen Sorry, Wrong Number. But I also love her performances as the calculated gold digger in the pre-Code Baby Face and her role as a young woman in love with a German immigrant during WWI in Ever in My Heart.
My Personal Favorites: The Mad Miss Manton, Union Pacific, Christmas in Connecticut, Lady of Burlesque
Steve McQueen is not just the King of Cool, but a well respected actor. One only has to see him onscreen to understand why. Much like another screen legend, Greta Garbo. McQueen expressed his character’s inner thoughts and emotions through his eyes. His intense performances are well-known, so it is somewhat of a surprise that he was only nominated for one film and never won an Oscar.
Nominations: The Sand Pebbles
Deserving Performances: I have not seen The Sand Pebbles. Many laud his performance in the popular picture Bullitt. I also think his role in War Lover is well-done.
My Personal Favorites: The Honeymoon Machine, Soldier in the Rain, Love With the Proper Stranger.
Natalie Wood had a long and successful career, beginning as a child actress in the 1940’s and continuing unto her death in 1983. She managed what few child actors could; to transition into adult roles. This can be attributed to her talent and hard work. She was rightly nominated for three outstanding performances, although I think she could have been nominated for even more. Wood was equally adept at musicals, drama and comedy. When watching her films, it is clear she was a true professional.
Nominations: Splendor in the Grass, Love with the Proper Stranger, Rebel Without a Cause
Deserving Performances: I agree with her nominations for the films above. I might also add in her two films opposite Robert Redford, Inside Daisy Clover and This Property Is Condemned. An argument could also be made for her role in Gypsy.
My Personal Favorites: Miracle on 34th Street, Love With a Proper Stranger, Sex and the Single Girl, This Property is Condemned, Penelope
I’ll just say it, I adore Lana Turner even though she sometimes gets a bad rap among film fans. Like Robert Montgomery, another entry on this list, I believe her reputation as a light-weight actress stems more from the films she was cast in. In her later years, she began appearing in more dramatic roles, and more than held her own. In every film of hers I’ve seen I always find my attention riveted on her. I don’t believe anyone every stole a scene from her either. And, though she did enjoy aspects of her fame, she was a real working actress as well.
Nominations: Peyton Place
Deserving Performances: I agree with the nomination for Peyton Place. I would also add The Postman Rings Twice, Madame X, Imitation of Life and A Life of Her Own.
My Personal Favorites: Honky Tonk, Johnny Eager, Slightly Dangerous, Keep Your Powder Dry and Latin Lovers
Astaire was a well-known dancer long before he became an actor. It is for this prowess that he is best remembered and loved onscreen, though he could also act and sing. I’m particular about musicals. I enjoy his performances opposite Ginger Rogers and Rita Hayworth, but am not as much a fan of his later films.
Nominations: The Towering Inferno
Deserving Performances: Having never seen The Towering Inferno, I can’t comment. There are also some gaps for me in his total filmography. But it would have been nice to see him nominated in his other films. It’s rather strange that his one nomination comes from a film in which he doesn’t dance.
My Personal Favorites: Any of his films with Ginger Rogers, but I’m partial to Follow the Fleet. You’ll Never Get Rich, You Were Never Lovelier
Garbo is an actress who’s legend is almost bigger than she is. This Swedish import was arguably the queen of silent films. She most often played tragic women and had a face like a sphinx. She remained elusive and private throughout her life and retired from films early. It’s amazing that with her popularity, success and enduring image, that she never won an Oscar.
Nominations: Romance, Anna Christie, Camille, Ninotchka
Deserving Performances: Having not seen Romance or Anna Christie I can’t comment. I would add Queen Christina to this list.
My Personal Favorites: The Painted Veil, Camille
For my taste Deborah Kerr is a little too remote and bland. But this Scottish lady had a long and successful career as evidenced by her six Oscar nominations. She appeared in many famous, well-regarded films and opposite some of the biggest male stars of the time. She was finally awarded an honorary Oscar for her body of work.
Nominations: Edward My Son, From Here to Eternity, The King and I, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, Separate Tables, Sundowners
Deserving Performances: I can’t argue the films for which she is nominated.
My Personal Favorites: Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, Bonjour Tristesse
Dunne started out in “weepers” before transitioning to better films. She surprised herself and her audience with her flair for comedy, but was also very good in more serious roles. Dunne appeared to be more interested in being a working actress than a “star” and lived a private, circumspect life even while in the film profession. Of all classic film actresses, she is one whose films were often re-made, more so than many other actors/actresses. Perhaps, it’s because in their original form, Dunne made them shine.
Nominations: Cimarron, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, Love Affair, I Remember Mama
Deserving Performances: Most people are familiar with Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember. But I think Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in the original Love Affair set the bar high. I would also add Mudlark.
My Personal Favorites: Joy of Living, Love Affair, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, Mudlark.
Taylor began his career at the poshest studio, MGM, and stayed loyal long after other films stars had left. Though, MGM didn’t do him any favors in regards to his early roles there, he quickly acquired a large and enthusiastic fan base. Taylor is another actor whose talent is often overlooked, but even while still at MGM, certain performances proved he could really act. Once he left, he had the opportunity to really stretch his skills a bit more and took more rugged, varied parts.
Deserving Performances: Although Waterloo Bridge is really Vivien Leigh’s film, Taylor acquitted himself well. And who could forget his performance as a gangster in Johnny Eager? Also, I would add his performances in Bataan, Undercurrent and Westward the Women.
My Personal Favorites: Camille (though more for Garbo, than Taylor), Waterloo Bridge, Valley of the Kings, Johnny Eager, Ivanhoe and Knights of the Round Table
Seriously, people! How is it that Powell never won an Oscar, even an honorary one? He started his career as a villain in silent films, eventually transforming into a respected comedic actor with the advent of sound and his pairing with Myrna Loy. He was adept at both comedy and drama and always a pleasure to watch. You always know when you watch his films that you are watching a quality performance. And if anyone deserved an Oscar for a comedic performance it was William Powell.
Nominations: The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey, Life With Father
Deserving Performances: I would add Mr. Roberts to his other nominations.
My Personal Favorites: I could list almost his entire filmography. Definitely all his films with Loy including The Thin Man series. The Road to Singapore, Jewel Robbery, Star of Midnight, Libeled Lady, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, How to Marry a Millionaire.
He started out in films as the eye-candy male lead, a problem many handsome actors have trouble overcoming. But McCrea didn’t allow himself to be typecast. In his decades long career, he segued from shallow roles, into comedy, drama and eventually Westerns. Along the way he worked with many famous directors like Hitchcock, Sturges, George Stevens and appeared opposite strong leading ladies like Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Arthur among others. So I’m astonished that he was never nominated.
Deserving Performances: I have not seen any of his later films (including his Westerns) , so I can’t speak for them. But I suggest Palm Beach Story, Sullivan’s Travels, The More the Merrier, and Foreign Correspondent for consideration.
My Personal Favorites: The Richest Girl in the World, Union Pacific, Palm Beach Story, The More the Merrier
Though I haven’t seen many of his films and am not a true fan, I am surprised that Mitchum only ever garnered one Oscar nomination. Looking at his filmography, he appeared in many popular, successful and even well-respected films. Perhaps the foibles of his personal life kept the studios and Academy from taking him seriously? Whatever the reasons, it is a real shame that this man praised for his intense performances of ambiguous characters never won the Oscar.
Nominations: –The Story of G.I. Joe
Deserving Performances: Based on critic and fan reviews, he could have been nominated for his performance in Night of the Hunter. Some others that might have qualified him include: River of No Return, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison and The Sundowners.
My Personal Favorites: She Couldn’t Say No, Holiday Affair
Andrews is another performer whom I am shocked was never even nominated. Like Mitchum he delivered concentrated, intense performances, but his often showed a man fighting against evil or his baser instincts. He was a man fighting to hold on to his humanity among trying circumstances. The best and majority of his film work occurred in the 1940-1950’s, often for Fox Studios.
Deserving Performances: The Ox-Bow Incident, Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives
My Personal Favorites: Love his small role as a gangster in Ball of Fire, Laura, and The Best Years of Our Lives.
It took me a while to discover this lesser known film star. Hopkins early career saw her as the leading lady in many films only for her to transition to character parts in later years. A real star of the 1930’s she appeared in many popular films along side famous male co-stars like Frederic March, Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, Ray Milland, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn. But her biggest co-star may just have been Bette Davis, with whom she had a real rivalry. Hopkins held her own against Davis and even managed to upstage her once or twice. Although she like to ham it up sometimes, no matter what part she played, she was mesmerizing and a force to be recognized.
Nominations: Becky Sharp
Deserving Performances: Many say her role in The Heiress is her best. I would add Trouble in Paradise, The Stranger’s Return, These Three and The Old Maid.
My Personal Favorites: Trouble in Paradise is one of my all time favorite films. Design for Living, The Richest Girl in the World, Woman Chases Man.
One of the few classic films stars who still remains with us, Doris Day is beloved by many. While best known for her innocent virgin persona and fun romantic comedies, she was also an excellent dramatic actress. And of course, she could sing. She was actually a popular singer before moving into acting and continuing dual careers. Though she never won an Oscar she did win several other film awards, including a couple Golden Globes. And though she has never received an Honorary Oscar, she did receive a Lifetime Achievement award from the Grammy’s.
Nominations: I agree with the one nomination for Pillow Talk.
Deserving Performances: Some of her highly reviewed performances include roles in the films Love Me or Leave Me, The Man Who Knew Too Little and The Pajama Game.
My Personal Favorites: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, The Glass Bottom Boat, It Happened to Jane, That Touch of Mink. Can you tell I love comedies?
James Garner began his career in television before segueing into films. His television series Maverick and The Rockford Files are well-known and were popular shows at the time. Garner did well in comedy, sometimes playing the straight man who is reasonable and befuddled by his circumstances. But, in my opinion he excelled in dramas. He continued working in both the film and television mediums almost until his death, leaving a decades long legacy behind him.
Nominations: Murphy’s Romance
Deserving Performances: 36 Hours, Mister Buddwing, Grand Prix
My Personal Favorites: Cash McCall, Boys Night Out, Support Your Local Sheriff!, Maverick (the film), My Fellow Americans.
Dietrich had already been appearing in German films, before migrating to America with the dictatorial director Josef von Sternberg. The majority of her films were produced prior to WWII, when she took a break from acting to entertain the troop on the front. She was vehemently against the Nazi’s and to some is as well remembered for her work during the war as she is for her acting career. Originally hired to be a success like and competitor to Greta Garbo, she carved her own career path and developed her own image.
Deserving Performances: Witness for the Prosecution, hands down.
My Personal Favorites: Thought I’ve seen many of her films, there aren’t many I love enough to become favorites other than Shanghai Express and Knight Without Armor.
Lombard is still a beloved classic film actress, even decades after her death. Her appeal escaped me for a while as I found some of her comedic performances, shrill, obnoxious and over the top. But I kept working my way through her filmography and discovered her charm. Carole’s early career began in the silent era where she racked up many onscreen credits for bit parts and shorts. It was a decade before anyone knew what to make of her and she slowly built a fan base as well as a resume. She finally hit her stride in the 1930’s as a comedic actress, although she also did well in a few dramas. Sadly, her life and career were cut short. Had she lived, I believe she would have eventually won an Oscar.
Nominations: My Man Godfrey
Deserving Performances: Along with My Man Godfrey, some say her role in Twentieth Century is one of her greatest. She also does well in In Name Only (with Cary Grant).
My Personal Favorites: No More Orchids, No Man of Her Own, Hands Across the Table, Vigil in the Night.
Errol Flynn is an actor who is hard to take seriously. Partly, for his devil-may-care demeanor and partly because of his devil-may-care behavior. Towards the end of his career he was embroiled in scandals. I do think these things detract seriously from his talent. Flynn became famous for his swashbuckling roles and his many pairings with talented co-star Olivia deHavilland. But he also appeared in comedies and dramas, which even if they didn’t perform well, still showcase what he was capable of.
Deserving Performances: He played an ambiguous character perfectly in Cry Wolf. Honestly he deserves a nomination for his adeptness in swashbuckling pictures. Particularly in The Adventures of Robin Hood, a character he made his own and with which he is still identified.
My Personal Favorites: I prefer his comedies. I’m not sure why he didn’t make more, because he’s so charming in them. The Adventures of Robin Hood, Four’s a Crowd and Never Say Goodbye
Ah, Rita Hayworth. I think I know more about her life than I do her films. It grieves me that her life was so tragic. Rita deserved better. Still, through all her personal hardships, she managed to persevere and sparkle on screen. Rita’s first career was as a dancer, a skill which thankfully, she was able to use in film. Rita’s characters were sexy, yet also innocent at times. A dichotomy which is hard to portray. Her women were also often used and exploited by men, but they never could keep her down. She certainly was one of a kind.
Deserving Performances: I can’t believe she wasn’t nominated for Gilda.
My Personal Favorites: She absolutely shines in her roles opposite Fred Astaire, You’ll Never Get Rich and You Were Never Lovlier
It is said one of the reason Eleanor Parker never won an Oscar is because she disappeared into her roles so much that people didn’t recognize her. This is surprising, particularly because she is beautiful. All I know is that she was exceptionally talented, a fact which I’ve only recently discovered. Parker wasn’t afraid to challenge herself and appeared in comedies, dramas and musicals. She was a chameleon of an actress and gave some quiet, some bold, but always nuanced performances.
Nominations: Caged, Detective Story, Interrupted Melody
Deserving Performances: Of her three nominations, I’ve only seen Interrupted Melody. She also gives powerful performances in Lizzie, Above and Beyond and Home from the Hill.
My Personal Favorites: Never Say Goodbye, A Millionaire for Christy, Valley of the Kings, Sound of Music
Were you as surprised as I was by some of the names on this list? Did I get it right with my suggestions for deserving performances? What roles and which actors do you believe deserved to win?
10 Replies to “31 Days of Oscar Blogathon -Classic Film Stars Who Never Won an Oscar”
Great piece! Isn’t it CRAZY the tremendous list of talent that was passed up?? There’s still time to honor Doris Day… C’mon Academy! Thanks so much for joining our blogathon!
Yes, it is. I was shocked by how many of these stars never won. And I was also shocked by the names of those who didn’t win.
I’m surprised Deborah Kerr wasn’t nominated for The Innocents. For me, she started at the top of her game and only got better through the years.
You say you haven’t seen Joel McCrea’s later films, including his westerns. Stars in My Crown is coming up on TCM in a couple of weeks (March 6th @ 5 PM). Highly recommend this extraordinary piece of Americana.
Good to know. I’ll have to check it out as I’ve heard good things about it. Thanks for stopping by.
I did a similar thing last year and I agree with so many of these!
Also can I add, I think Dana Andrews should have been nominated for Where the Sidewalk Ends; Marlene Dietrich should have been nominated for Shanghai Express and I SO agree with you about Rita Hayworth in Gilda!
I think your nominations for Dana and Marlene are good ones. I’ll have to check out your list from last year!
Happy to see your appreciation of Natalie Wood. It makes me sad that she’s remembered now primarily for the events surrounding the night she died and not her work. She and Redford connected so well to one another in This Property Is Condemned and Inside Daisy Clover. Their roles couldn’t be more different, but the chemistry is there.
I’m also glad you included The Rains Came when writing about Myrna Loy. She was so very good and the movie was a success. What was up with that omission, Academy Voters?
Here’s my contribution to the blogathon. It’s about the night Garland lost.
This is a shocking list. I can’t believe these folks never won an Oscar between them.
Thanks so much for researching and compiling this list. An excellent read.
TRULY MIND-BOGGLING!! My blood pressure increased with each name on your list. Thanks for that and I’ll send over my meds receipt. 🙂
Ha! I’ll add it to my med bill. Maybe we can get a discount on bulk blood pressure medicine.