Hoosiers and the Academy Awards®

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

When you think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards® you naturally think of Indiana, right? Well, you should. Hoosiers have been making an impact on the silver screen from the earliest days of motion pictures. Some of the most popular and celebrated films to come out of Hollywood proudly feature the mark of a Hoosier. Some you may be aware of — James Dean, Steve McQueen, Hoagy Carmichael, Sydney Pollack. While you may be less familiar with some of the others.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented their first awards at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. It was there that Louise Dresser of Evansville lost out to Janet Gaynor for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in A Ship Comes In. And I’m sure everyone has seen the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life at least once in their lifetime. If so, then you’re familiar with Valparaiso-native Beulah Bondi who played Ma Bailey. A graduate of Valparaiso University, she went on to earn nominations for Best Supporting Actress in Gorgeous Hussy (1936) and Of Human Hearts (1938).

And what about that Easter staple The Ten Commandments? Queen Nefertiti was played by Michigan City’s own Anne Baxter. A granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, she had her breakout role starring in the 1942 film adaptation of Indianapolis-native Booth Tarkington’s, The Magnificent Ambersons directed by Orson Welles. She later won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Razor’s Edge (1946), a film which also featured a Best Supporting Actor-winning performance by Indianapolis-native Clifton Webb. Baxter would again be nominated for Best Actress in All About Eve (1950), a film which also received a Best Art Direction nomination for Kokomo’s George Davis. A bit of a film legend, Mr. Davis received 19 Academy Award nominations throughout his career for his work on such classics as The Robe (winner, 1953), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (winner, 1959), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cimarron (1960).

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Now, Steve McQueen isn’t one of the lesser-known Hoosiers in Hollywood, but are you familiar with director and producer Robert Wise? The Winchester-native directed McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966), for which he also received a Best Picture nomination as the producer of the film. And the year before, he paired up with cinematographer Ted McCord of Sullivan County for the classic The Sound of Music (1965), for which Wise won Best Director and Best Picture. The double win was also a feat Wise had achieved earlier for a little picture called West Side Story (1961). Now McCord, too, was no stranger to working with fellow Hoosiers: in 1955 he teamed up with screenwriter and Evansville-native Paul Osborn and a then-unknown actor from Fairmont named James Dean for the 1955 epic East of Eden. Both Dean and Osborn received nominations for their work on that now-classic film.


On my way to work I spotted these Wild Turkeys in a neighbor’s yard. The ‘tom’ seemed oblivious as I pulled in the drive to take a picture. And the hen seemed just as oblivious of the tom. Maybe she hoped if she ignored him he would just go away.


Their breeding season begins in March, but it seemed like he wanted an extension. I’ve heard that Benjamin Franklin nominated the Wild Turkey for our national symbol, but the eagle won out. The Bald Eagle is impressive, but I imagine the turkey was more helpful in ensuring the survival of the early American settlers.

They were so important to early Hoosiers, that like the white-tailed deer, turkeys were extirpated from the state by the early 1900s. Poor planning, I guess. And perhaps proof that the ‘Good Old Days’ belong to no particular decade or century. For all the benefits of Selma Steele’s time, it’s very unlikely that she would have enjoyed the sight of Wild Turkeys in her Brown County backyard.

In the early 1930s, the Indiana Department of Conservation tried to bring Wild Turkeys back home again to Indiana — Brown County being one location. Although this attempt failed, they were later successfully reintroduced by the Indiana Department of Fish and Wildlife. Indiana Ruffed Grouse were traded for Wild turkeys from Missouri, and this time it ‘took’.

I remember the first time I saw Wild Turkeys. I was working at a construction site across the highway from Brown County State Park. I don’t know if they were disturbed by the crew’s arrival or if they were ready to leave anyway, but suddenly four or five large objects noisily took off from nearby roosts. I’m sure I was more surprised than they were.

When looked at aerodynamically, bumblebees aren’t supposed to be able to fly. When Wild Turkeys fly, they look like they’ll crash and burn — it’s almost embarrassing to watch. In 1820, Audubon observed turkeys crossing the Ohio river from the Indiana side. Several didn’t make it and were drowned. I wonder if they were just showing off.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.