An Affair to Remember

Weekend Roundtable: Screen Legends Who Never Won Oscars

Earlier this week, Glenn Close was denied the Academy Award that everybody thought she’d win. The actress can take comfort that this puts her in good company with plenty of other veteran actors and filmmakers who also somehow went without ever winning an Oscar in competition.

Maybe Close will get an honorary or lifetime achievement consolation prize at some point, as some of our choices eventually did. Sadly, that’s nowhere near as satisfying as beating out your peers.

David Krauss

There are too many to count… Greta Garbo, Peter O’Toole, Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Burton, Cary Grant, Judy Garland (who absolutely, without question, should have won Best Actress for her version of A Star Is Born), Kirk Douglas, Irene Dunne, the list goes on…

For me, the actress that immediately springs to mind – and the only one who could be considered “the Glenn Close of her day” – is Deborah Kerr. Nominated six times for Best Actress before finally winning that so-much-less-satisfying Honorary Oscar in 1994, Kerr was versatile, warm, natural, intuitive, and very accessible. She wasn’t a showy actress like Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn (and maybe that’s why she was so often – and so criminally – overlooked by the Academy), yet she possessed a quiet intensity and inner strength that belied her refined, ladylike, somewhat fragile appearance. Who could forget her ringing that church bell on the Himalayan cliff at the climax of Black Narcissus; protecting two frightened children from supernatural forces in The Innocents; rushing to meet Cary Grant at the top of the Empire State Building in An Affair to Remember; and famously telling a sexually insecure teenager, “Years from now, when you talk about this – and you will – be kind, as she tenderly seduces him in Tea and Sympathy? And those were the roles she WASN’T nominated for!

Kerr did nab Oscar nods for portraying Spencer Tracy’s neglected alcoholic wife in Edward, My Son; the iconic Anna opposite Yul Brynner’s more iconic Siamese king in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I; a prim nun who’s stranded on a deserted Pacific island with Marine Robert Mitchum during World War II in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison; a repressed spinster dominated by an overbearing mother in Separate Tables; and the wife of a nomadic rancher in early 20th century Australia in The Sundowners.

The film for which Kerr should have won the Oscar is without a doubt From Here to Eternity, the 1953 Best Picture winner that did yield supporting Oscars for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed. As Karen Holmes, the bitter, neglected wife of a philandering Army captain on a Hawaiian military base in the days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Kerr at last broke free from years of typecasting as a regal, strait-laced heroine of historical epics and swashbucklers. Her Karen is cynical, wounded, promiscuous, yet yearning for love, respect, and protection. She engages in a torrid affair with staff sergeant Burt Lancaster – remember the immortal scene of them lying on the beach in a passionate embrace as the surf crashes over them? – but a cloud hangs over their relationship. Who does he love more, the Army or her? Kerr files the kind of captivating, nuanced, change-of-pace portrayal the Academy usually loves and rewards, but that year the voters preferred Audrey Hepburn’s enchanting yet far less challenging performance as an AWOL princess who craves simple pleasures in Roman Holiday. The good news for Kerr is that From Here to Eternity catapulted her to the top tier of Hollywood’s A-List, where she would remain for several years to come. Oscar recognition may have eluded this gifted actress, but thankfully her superior work is there for us to admire for all time.

Deirdre Crimmins

Can you believe that Gene Kelly never received an Oscar? Neither can I! He did get an honorary award in 1952 for his career and his contributions to choreography, but it’s a shame that he was never recognized beyond a single nod for Anchors Aweigh. Not only was he one of the most talented performers to ever grace the silver screen, he directed many of those musical numbers himself and even some full feature films.

Whenever I think of the glitz and glamour of classic Hollywood, Kelly is always the first guy who comes to mind. His charisma wafts from every film he performs in and it’s utterly baffling that he never got his due attention from the Academy. What about Don Lockwood in Singin’ in the Rain? Or directing Hello, Dolly? Even though An American in Paris won Best Picture in its year, Kelly didn’t even get a chance to go up for the top acting prize in that same film. His legacy speaks for itself, but it would have been nice for Kelly to know precisely how much his peers appreciated him back when he was alive.

Jason Gorber

The list of those who haven’t won an Oscar is huge, of course, but as there are few finer performers working today, taking greater risks than almost any, it’s pretty preposterous that Amy Adams has yet to take home a trophy given her six nominations. Any woman who in the span of 12 months can be in The Master and The Muppets is deserving of an Oscar, if not a Nobel.

Shannon Nutt

Early in his career, it seemed inevitable that Harrison Ford would win at least one acting Oscar. He was fantastic in 1985’s Witness (his only nomination) and gave an equally impressive turn the next year in The Mosquito Coast (which got him a Golden Globe nomination, but nothing from the Academy).

As the years went on, Ford was hit-or-miss with his roles, but even his best performances saw no recognition from the Academy. A fantastic role in Frantic; nothing. Six Oscar nominations for Working Girl, but none for Ford. Seven nominations for The Fugitive (including Best Picture); still nothing for Ford. Then he gave perhaps his best performance in the Jackie Robinson bio-pic, 42, and the Academy ignored the film completely.

It’s a shame, because – as they say – Ford has sold a lot of popcorn for the industry during his career. I suspect someday he may get an honorary award from the Academy, but it looks like that elusive acting Oscar is never going to happen.

Brian Hoss

It’s still staggering to think that such an irreplaceable and enjoyable talent as Peter Sellers went without an Academy Award. I’m sure if he’d lived longer, he would at least have received a lifetime achievement trophy. Among his actual Oscar nominations, of which there are few, the 1965 Best Actor nod for Dr. Strangelove is the one I would want him to have won. It appears that he was eclipsed by a runaway success, as the winner that year was Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady. Of course, it’s not as though Sellers finished second place; Becket was also there to garner the Academy’s attention for Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole.

M. Enois Duarte

Although the name David Cronenberg is often, and rightly so, associated with the sci-fi horror genre, he has more than enough proven himself a talented director deserving of at least a nomination, especially in the last few years. Granted, his films spanning over five decades are not the sort of material AMPAS and most mainstream audiences might consider Oscar-worthy, but his body-horror pictures, most of which are considered influential classics, explore themes of technology and the body, where the two seemingly opposing realities intertwine and infect one another.

However, since his impressive turn in M. Butterfly, the director has shifted his gaze into the psychology of the human condition, expounding on similar themes in complex, challenging and personal stories. I genuinely believe that Cronenberg should have been recognized for his work in A History of Violence instead of the ridiculously stupid Crash and later for Eastern Promises in place of Juno. Frankly, I was surprised that Maps to the Stars was completely ignored. David Cronenberg should, at least, be nominated at some point in his career.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

It’s surreal to think that an actor as versatile, prolific, and universally beloved as Cary Grant never took home an Oscar in competition. The two nominations he received were for films that haven’t exactly resounded in the public consciousness (Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart) and Grant left empty-handed both times. As many acting nominations as The Philadelphia Story garnered, Grant’s performance inexplicably wasn’t among them. His enduring, incandescently brilliant turns in His Girl Friday, Notorious, Only Angels Have Wings, and An Affair To Remember, to name but a few, went wholly unacknowledged by the Academy. Grant did, at long last, receive an honorary Oscar in 1970, but he should’ve amassed an armful of statuettes in the decades leading up to that.

Josh Zyber

On the directing side of things, it seems appalling that Alfred Hitchcock never once won an Oscar in competition. Although his Rebecca claimed Best Picture and four other awards in 1941, Hitchcock was not a producer on the film and lost Best Director to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath. He later went on to be nominated four additional times, winning none. To be fair, he lost them all to other major filmmakers: Leo McCarey, Elia Kazan, and Billy Wilder (twice). That makes it difficult to say that he was snubbed. Still, the man directed over 60 feature films, and the majority of them range from “Very Good” to “Masterpiece,” with damn few duds in the mix.

How is it even possible that the Master of Suspense wasn’t so much as nominated for such classics as Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, or North by Northwest? The Academy attempted to placate Hitchcock with an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968, but that hardly makes up for failing him so badly time and again.

Your Turn

In addition to the talent of yesteryear, what stars and filmmakers of today deserve to have won a damn Oscar by now?


  1. Bolo

    PT Anderson is the obvious choice for me. This guy is amazingly talented and makes movies in the tradition of all the greats of cinema, so his work is right in line with the Academy’s tastes. He does regularly get nominated, but he’s been cranking out masterpieces since the 90’s without a win.

  2. I’m gonna go out on a limb here, so bear with me…
    This guy already has an Oscar for producing, but he’s never won for acting.
    I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I really think he deserves one…
    He’s been nominated a few times, but always loses. I would argue he has been great in pretty much every movie he’s made, other than a few stinkers toward the middle of his “I’m a huge star” phase that included 7 Years In Tibet and Meet Joe Black.
    He chooses interesting roles and pops up randomly in things, always elevating the material.
    As he’s aged his career has only become more interesting and I think it’s time we all took a long, hard look at why this guy hasn’t won yet.

    • Funny you should call ‘Meet Joe Black’ a stinker. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and it’s my favorite Brad Pitt performance. If anything, he should have won an Oscar for that one 🙂

          • Shannon Nutt

            If anyone stuck around to see it. If memory serves “Meet Joe Black” carried the trailer for The Phantom Menace and people bought tickets, watched the trailer, and promptly left the theater.

          • True. Some (not all) showings of ‘Meet Joe Black’ carried the trailer for The Phantom Menace and some (most, probably) Star Wars fans in the audience left the auditorium after said trailer had finished.

        • My favorite part is where Anthony Hopkins tastes the cake and shows he does care, or when he talks about his late wife in a blue dress and tears up, but I get it, you wanted to laugh at the questionable special effects in the beginning of the movie 🙂

    • I’m glad he’s been able to showcase his talents on tv shows and get some awards there. Without Parkinson’s he may have been able to go on to win an Oscar later in life. He was great in The American President and obviously the first couple BTTF films.

  3. Charles Contreras

    In my opinion George A. Romero should have received an honorary Oscar for his influence on the horror genre. Where would today’s zombie films/television shows be if it wasn’t for that man’s genius? He truly was a pioneer who should’ve been recognized for his work.

  4. David Krauss

    Was just scrolling through YouTube and found the clip of Deborah Kerr receiving her Honorary Oscar in 1994. I had forgotten that GLENN CLOSE presented the Oscar to Kerr! I’m sure the choice of Close to be the presenter was not coincidental. At the time, Close had been nominated for five Oscars, just one shy of Kerr’s six. But today, the impact of that moment – as well as its irony – is much stronger. Here’s the link if anyone is interested:

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