Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top Ten Oscar Travesties of the Golden Age: #3

The #3 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age

Deborah Kerr NEVER wins.

I’d love to have been a fly on the wall if Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close commiserated over their combined eleven Oscar losses. Somehow I think the talk would shift to more interesting subjects, but the point is made: these are the Best Actress bridesmaids of all time (honorable mention goes to Rosalind Russell).

Until 1958, Kerr and Susan Hayward were the two perpetual losers. Then, even Hayward got an Oscar—and beat Kerr in the process. Deborah did get another nomination in 1960, for The Sundowners, which was a prime-of-her-career capper that showed her in a vastly different light than many of her 1950s roles.

Deborah Kerr remains the quintessential Oscar bridesmaid, having failed six times to win that golden statuette. Three times she certainly could’ve and should’ve won for at least two, but Kerr’s bad luck outweighed all of the ways an Oscar is awarded. She was unable to capitalize on being from the United Kingdom, for having “paid her dues”, or for having been the beneficiary of an Oscar sweep.

Kerr’s Best Actress nominations:

Edward, My Son (1949) Lost to Olivia DeHavilland in The Heiress

From Here to Eternity (1953) Lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday
The King and I (1956) Lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) Lost to Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve
Separate Tables (1958) Lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!
The Sundowners (1960) Lost to Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8

Kerr was too versatile for her own good, as her six nominations in eleven years (1949-60) saw her playing everything from an alcoholic to a nun to an adulterous officer’s wife; Kerr was as versatile an actress as a leading actress could be, especially during the 1950s when most every performer played well within their marketability and comfort. Very few actresses of that period would allow themselves to take a role where all glamour is sacrificed for a character. Kerr in Separate Tables is a vastly different person than the super hot blonde she played in From Here to Eternity. Both characters, however, are imbued with great vulnerability that was a Deborah Kerr trademark.

If there was one year where Deborah Kerr should’ve won Best Actress, it should have been for Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Her rapport with burly Bob Mitchum (himself snubbed that year) was cinematic magic and Kerr would get no greater showcase. She also should have won against the pity party victory that was Elizabeth Taylor’s win in BUtterfield 8 in 1960.

I remember saying "It's about time!" when Deborah Kerr was finally recognized by the Academy in 1994 with an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.


  1. This is one I definitely agree with. Not sure which yeah I would have given it to her (mainly because I haven't seen all the opposing nominees to make a fair judgement) but certainly with all of Kerr's performance she deserved one some year, even if it was just a "we waited too long to give it to you Oscar" (and honorary ones do not cut it in my book).

  2. Night of the Iguana was another she should have been nominated for. While I like Hepburn, Roman Holiday wasn't her best and Kerr should have won that year.

  3. I definitely agree with this though I don't think she should have won over Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday which is my favorite film ever. Too bad she was only ever recognized with an honorary Oscar. She was very talented

  4. I so agree.

    Her first four nominations are some of favorite Oscar wins, but she definitely should have AT LEAST beat Elizabeth Taylor.

  5. C.K., another inarguable choice. Kerr had the misfortune of being nominated for wonderful performances in years when another actress gave a career-defining performance. (The exception is "Separate Tables." For me this is about her only bad performance. But she did give a nomination-worthy performance the same year in "Bonjour, Tristesse." I know some consider this a masterpiece, but for me it's an OK film that aside from Kerr doesn't have a great deal of appeal.) She definitely should have won, though, for "The Sundowners." I watched it again last week, and she is just superb. Another injustice is that she wasn't even nominated for "Black Narcissus," "The Innocents" (my own favorite Kerr performance), and "Night of the Iguana."

  6. I am prepared to get pelted with tomatoes for saying this, but Kerr never really impressed me much. It's something about her voice--it seems like she says everything with the exact same tone of voice and level of emotion. And her acting often strikes me as very fake. For example, in "Separate Tables" she played it almost as a parody. I really wished I liked her, as she is so popular among classic movie fans. Well, I will try to watch more of her films and perhaps she will grow on me. :)

  7. I don't think much of Kerr's role in Separate Tables, either, bu I stand by her other five nominations and regard them for the quality performances they are.

    Audrey: No need to worry about tomatoes; did you see what I wrote about Elizabeth Taylor? I think it's refreshing when someone qualifies their reasons for not liking a performer.

    There's always time to change one's mind about an actress; I did a turnaround on Ingrid Bergman fairly recently; used to hate her, now I adore her.

  8. She should have won for "The Innocents" (still one of the most perfect ghost movies--or is it?--ever made!
    The scene where she sees "something" across the lake made me stand up in sheer panic the first time I saw it!

  9. I'm with you on this one as well as Kirk Douglas, no arguments at all - but I blogged about Roz tonight and I want to get a word in on her behalf: four Oscar nominations and no wins against an astonishing five Golden Globe wins — three in the Best Actress Musical or Comedy and a pair for Best Motion Picture Actress. On one hand five Globe statuettes seems a nice consolation prize, but I wonder how many of them Roz would have traded for a single Oscar? It is certainly true that the Globes as a predictor of the Oscars was not always the case.

  10. Perfectly put. I just blogged about this myself in my own blog of my top 12 awards injustices. I would have given it to Kerr for The Sundowners in 1960, where again she has great rapport with Mitchum - and I would have actually tied it with Jean Simmons for Elmer Gantry (for which she was not even nominated, where her co-stars Lancaster and Shirley Jones win theirs). Kerr and Simmons were the 2 great English girls who went to hollywood and were very big stars indeed, the 50s being their key era, so a win for each in 1960 would have been the culmination of their great years. (Taylor would still have deserved her win in 1966, but certainly didn't in 1960).

  11. Mark: Roz is an actress I love, but I kept her off the list because 1)The role she should've won for, His Girl Friday, wasn't nominated in 1940, which is the true travesty of her career.

    Michael: I see from your profile that you experienced "Swinging London." It's a period that fascinates me and I love the movies (and TV) from that timeframe. In fact, when I was in London last August, I made a point to have my picture taken in front of Lord Brett Sinclair's flat! I was in Persuaders geek heaven!

  12. I think, as others mentioned, that she should have been nominated for "Black Narcissus", "The Innocents" and "Bonjour, Tristesse". I also think that in 1956 they chose the wrong film as she's simply superb in "Tea and Sympathy". However, and while I haven't yet seen "The Sundowners", in 1960 I'd have probably given the Oscar to Shirley Maclaine. If I had to give her one Oscar out of the nominations, and consider the competition, I'd choose "Heaven Knows, Mr Allison".


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