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.

James Dean: The People’s Choice

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

Tonight is the kick-off to awards show season with the broadcast of the 39th People’s Choice Awards. Soon to follow are the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Writers Guild of America Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and finally the Academy Awards. Did I miss any?

The thing with all of these awards and accolades is that they are a tally of the judgment of industry insiders. But the People’s Choice Awards is different, in that it’s a reflection of the tastes of the general public. It is more a fan celebration of pop culture celebrity than recognition for professional accomplishment. But the People’s Choice Awards have only been around since 1975. Prior to that, what about the opinion of the people who actually go to see the movies? What about the fans?

East of Eden poster

East of Eden poster

In 1955, an audience award poll, conceived of by the Motion Picture Theater Owners’ Organization, took place in more than 8,000 theaters across the country. Over 14 million ticket buyers participated to vote for what they thought were the best performances of 1955 for films released before Sept. 30. For his performance in East of Eden, James Dean was voted the Audience Award for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor. Other winners included Jennifer Jones for Best Performance by an actress and Mr. Roberts for Best Picture. At a banquet on Dec. 6, 1955, Dean’s costar Natalie Wood accepted the statuette, the “Audie,” on his behalf.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

Now, this award is pretty significant because fans chose him over other well-known Hollywood actors with starring roles that year including Marlon Brando, Jimmy Steward, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra. One of the other categories that fans were able to vote on was Most Promising New Actor. That went to Tab Hunter for his performance in Battle Cry. Dean could have been considered for that since East of Eden was his first starring role in a motion picture but fans instead chose him for best overall.

One could argue that the tragedy of his death on Sept. 30 and the release of Rebel Without a Cause in October elevated his star and influenced public opinion of him. However, his subsequent Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for best actor seem to validate the public’s opinion: James Dean, for a short time, was considered by many to be the best.

To see Dean’s Audience Award trophy and other film-related artifacts, visit Eternal James Dean now through June 2, 2013.