Tuesday, February 05, 2013

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Spotlight on Anne & Kate

I think I love Oscar so much because awards season hits when I'm jonesing the hardest for baseball,* and like the MLB, the AMPAS is all about stats. Which Best Picture won the most Oscars ... which made the most money (adjusted for inflation)... which director has the most Oscars ... Oscar aficionados can answer to all those questions and more.†

While looking through Oscar trivia, I found an interesting factoid:

With her unprecedented four Best Actress Oscars and eight additional nominations 
in the lead category, Katharine Hepburn is the Queen of the Spring Classic. 
And there's only one actress who both beat and lost to The Great Kate at Oscar time.  
That lady is the estimable Anne Bancroft.

Anne Bancroft had five Best Actress nominations in all, including:
•  1964 for The Pumpkin Eater
•  1977 for The Turning Point
•  1985 for Agnes of God

But for this post, we're concentrating on the two other years ...

1962. The thirty-fifth Oscar ceremony was held April 8, 1963, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Five actresses were nominated for Best Actress that night -- including Bette Davis, Geraldine Page and Lee Remick -- but neither of the two we're focused on were in attendance. Anne Bancroft was in New York, performing onstage in Mother Courage. And Hepburn, well, she wasn't there because, as she frequently said, awards shows gave her "dyspepsia."

Born Anna Italiano in the Bronx, Anne Bancroft always retained deep roots in New York. She loved Broadway, originating the role of Gittel in Two for the Seasaw (to be replaced by Shirley MacLaine in the movie). She was an early choice to play Fanny Brice onstage in Funny Girl (I think you know who ultimately won that role). And, most famously, she played the role of Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, performing it for over a year at The Playhouse Theater.

Both Broadway's Annie and Helen (Patty Duke) made their way to the big screen and the results are breathtaking. Viewed today, even half a century later, their performances remain fresh and moving. The Miracle Worker cemented Anne Bancroft's status in the public's mind as a dramatic actress, but over her long career she proved herself deft at comedy, too. No surprise, when you consider she was married to and appeared with Mel Brooks.

Then there was Kate, with her 9th nomination for Long Day's Journey into Night. She was Mary, one of O'Neill's "haunted Tyrones." As the drug addled matriarch, she struggled with her past-his-prime husband and a pair of talented yet tormented sons (the tubucular writer and the alcoholic actor), and gave one of her own favorite performances. In her memoirs, Hepburn wrote that she was pleased the film stayed so close to the original text because, "I felt entirely supported by the words. What an experience! I'll never forget it."

When Oscar night rolled around, Ms. Bancroft unwittingly played a role in one of Hollywood's great feuds. Anne let the Academy know very early on that she wouldn't be able to attend the ceremony because of her Broadway commitment. Joan Crawford offered to accept on her behalf, and Bancroft agreed. Why not? After all, she was a relative newcomer and Crawford was a screen legend. What she didn't know was how upset Crawford was about not being nominated for that year's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, or how much Bette Davis was reveling in the fact that she was nominated when Crawford wasn't. It gave Crawford tremendous pleasure that it was she -- not Davis -- who got to breeze onto the stage, looking every inch the glamorous star, and accept the The Best Actress Award on behalf of ABD (Anyone But Davis).

1967. The fortieth Academy Awards ceremony was held on April 10, 1968. It had been postponed that year out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been laid to rest just the day before.

The film that brought Kate to Oscar's attention yet again was a highly personal one, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. She envisioned it as a launching vehicle for her niece, Katherine Houghton (her onscreen daughter), and an opportunity to get her long-time lover, Spencer Tracy, before the cameras one more time. The studio initially balked at the casting of the sickly Mr. Tracy because they were afraid he wouldn't be able to complete the picture. But Hepburn was not to be denied. Both she and producer/director Stanley Kramer agreed to put their salaries in escrow for Columbia if the movie had to be shelved.

Tracy did a fine job in his last role, and the scene where his Matt Drayton describes his memories of love and passion for Hepburn's teary-eyed Christina gets me every time. Naturally Hepburn wasn't in attendance on Oscar night, but when notified of her win she said she liked to think the Academy had awarded it to "both of us."

Anne Bancroft was nominated for the role that made her a pop culture icon, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. It was a part she wanted badly. She was a big fan of director Mike Nichols and told Roger Ebert that Mrs. Robinson was the most interesting character in the piece. Still, it was a daring career choice for her to make. Hollywood is not always kind to aging actresses, here she was, pleading to play "the older woman" to Dustin Hoffman, an actor just six years her junior in real life.

1967 is remembered as the year that New Hollywood burst forth. Many pundits thought performances like Bancroft's and Faye Dunaway's (nominated for Bonnie and Clyde) made older, established Hollywood types uncomfortable, thereby opening the door for Kate to win her second Oscar.

Also nominated that year were Dame Edith Evans for The Whisperers, that other Hepburn, Audrey, in Wait Until Dark.

PS Yes, Meryl Streep has more nominations than Hepburn, but two of them (Kramer vs. Kramer and The Deer Hunter) were in the Best Supporting Category. Kate still dominates in the lead category. And they were nominated together once: 1981. Streep was nominated for The French Lieutenant's Woman and Hepburn won for On Golden Pond.

About the Blogathon:
"Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula of Paula's Cinema Club and Kellee  of Outspoken and Freckled are hosting a new, mammoth blogathon event that coincides with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar, February 1 to March 3, 2013. It’ll be a month filled with fabulous tales and screen wonders." I encourage you to check out other entries.

*Rabid Cub fan here

†SPOILER: Remember, other Blogathon participants may be tackling these topics ... Most Oscars: Three-way tie (Ben Hur, Titanic, LOTR); Biggest Box Office: adjusted for inflation, it's still GWTW; John Ford has three Oscars


  1. The Miracle Worker is a favorite of mine, although I think Patty Duke was closer to the "real" Annie that I imagine.

    Of course, I'm glad to learn anything new about Kate. :)

  2. Wonderful stuff, fabulous trivia and a great read! So glad you decided to post as part of our blogathon, Gal! THANKS!


  3. Anonymous5:22 PM

    Wow! I didn't know any of that, great post. I'm ashamed to say I still have not seen "The Miracle Worker."

  4. Ha ha - I love that story about Crawford accepting an ABD award. Thanks for a great read!