Saturday, May 21, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #6

The #6 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Barry Fitzgerald’s nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role in 1944.

“Performances by an actor or actress in any supporting role may be nominated for either the Best Acting Award or the Award for Best Supporting Player.”

~the Academy’s official rules circa 1944.

Oh, so you can be lead and second banana?

Barry Fitzgerald wasn’t a man, he was a leprechaun; a wee leprechaun who charmed and enchanted the Academy out of its then-fashionable high-waisted pants. His half-senile, Best Supporting Actor-winning performance as the "lovable" Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way notwithstanding, Barry Fitzgerald could do no wrong in 1944. He was so lucky that he beat a manslaughter rap a month before the Oscar nominations were announced.

But the real travesty lies in that the Academy’s dopey rules prevented 1944’s most deserving Supporting Actor--Clifton Webb in Laura—from taking home the Oscar. The dual nomination also aided his Going My Way co-star, Bing Crosby. Crosby was the odds on favorite, but in case that wasn't enough, voters could refrain from voting for Fitzgerald for Best Actor, knowing they could award him Best Supporting Actor instead. In a sense, the game was rigged for ol' Barry, wasn't it?

Fitzgerald later knocked the head off of his plaster Oscar while practicing his golf swing in his living room, and Paramount paid for its replacement. In a way he received two Oscars anyway. Imagine the horror if Fitzgerald had somehow won the Best Actor award, too? If that happened I doubt we would've been treated to Crosby and Fitzy’s subsequent blarney team ups throughout the rest of the ‘40s.

Not only did Fitzgerald’s unfair (but within the flawed rules) dual nomination deny the deliciously catty Webb-as-Waldo Lydecker the Oscar, but his intrusion in the Best Actor category kept some other worthy performer from receiving a nod.


  1. C.K., your choice for #6 just points out the hazy distinction between a lead and supporting performance. It also points out what has in recent years become a trend--choosing the category based on increasing the chances of a win and/or not competing with a costar. A list of Oscar winners/nominees for best lead performance who were really in supporting roles and vice versa over the years would be a huge one. Anyway, I completely endorse your choice of Clifton Webb over Fitzgerald (as charming as he was in "Going My Way") for best supporting actor of 1944. Just watched both "Laura" and "Going My Way" again recently, and it further solidified this opinion.

  2. I'm really enjoying these posts, thanks for bringing this up, you got it half right. The problem with Fitzgerald's 1944 nominations isn't the exclusion of Clifton Webb's admittedly, and absolutely delightful performance in Laura, but Edward G. Robinson's supporting performance in Double Indemnity, which for my money is the greatest supporting performance in the history of motion pictures. It's even more damning when we recognize that Robinson was never nominated for an Academy Award, and died a few weeks before the ceremony where he would have received his lifetime achievement award. I get angry just thinking about it. But if Eddie ever deserved a statuette, it was in '44. Webb was wonderful, but he wasn't the icon that Robinson was, and Laura isn't the picture that Double Indemnity is.

  3. Re: Edward G.

    While I agree completely regarding Robinson, I've chosen not to mention the snubs, instead choosing to focus on the actual nominations. Otherwise, I'd be shaking my fist at the Academy for all the times they snubbed so many deserving performers.

  4. By and large, any awards are more about politics, interests, influence peddling, etc than merits. Actually, the award system in itself is a fraud.
    Cary Grant never won the Oscar!

  5. "Barry Fitzgerald wasn’t a man, he was a leprechaun"

    Truer words have never been spoken. ;-D

    As much as I utterly and completely adore Barry Fitzgerald -- Clifton Webb deserved that award 100%. His Waldo Lydecker is one of the most fascinatingly brilliant performances ever.

  6. Clifton Webb was always a delight and fun to watch, but like so many other "great" actors and actresses from the "Golden Age," he pretty much played the same character over and over and over and over... and then again.

    His "Sitting Pretty" dude could have been the same guy in "Laura," and so on. Interesting to watch... but "acting"? I don't know. Fitzgerald, while always playing the same sort of little Irish guy, was so charming in "Going My Way" that the Academy would have nominated him for Best Actress, if they could have fit into the nun's habit.


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