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Awards only stand on a mantelpiece

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ranjib Mazumder revives memories of Hollywood legends of yore who although did not win an Oscar have nevertheless managed to stand the test of time

Academy Award has made careers of nobodies with nothing but the mention of a name on card. Some have even managed to earn the statue more than once. But there are stars that have shone without as much as a mere mention at the world’s oldest award ceremony. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has sometimes managed to save face by giving them honorary awards. But some unfortunate ones left this world before the academy could correct its past mistakes.

Here’s looking at some of the great actors who never managed to bask in the golden glory but have remained timeless nonetheless.

Marilyn Monroe
There was just the camera and Marilyn Monroe, and nothing stood in between. The blonde beauty could just have a perpetual intercourse with the camera and the audience would stand transfixed forever. Referred as the ‘dumb blonde’, filmmakers used her image to great comic effect in films like Some Like It Hot, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, and The Seven Year Itch. Unfortunately, her career was marred by illness, unpredictable professional behaviour and failed relationships. Her sexed up image could hardly help it either. But she was determined to be taken seriously as an actress, and tried her best in dramas like Bus Stop. She died young but popular imagination has kept her alive. An iconic star, one glimpse of her can still make men slave to the innermost desire.

Peter Sellers
Screen goddess Bette Davis once remarked of him, “He isn’t an actor—he’s a chameleon.” And what’s better proof than Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Probably the best political satire ever made, Sellers played three remarkably different characters: U.S. President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove, a heavily German-accented nuclear scientist, and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF. And the rest is history. Besides, he also has gems like Lolita, Being There and the entire The Pink Panther  series to his credit. An actor who can slip in and out of characters without you noticing it, his extraordinary dexterity is the stuff screen dreams are made of.

Joseph Cotten
With one of cinema history’s noteworthy partnerships, Cotten and Orson Welles gave us Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and Journey into Fear. A suave murderer in Alfred Hitchcock’s spine chiller, Shadow of a Doubt and a clumsy writer in Carol Reed’s influential thriller, The Third Man, he continued his journey with many more notable films. The former drama critic demonstrated his understanding of the medium by choosing roles with impressive versatility. Sadly, he never managed to fetch a single nomination in his entire life, winning seemed to be a distant dream. Cotten once remarked, “Orson Welles lists Citizen Kane as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man - and I’m in all of them.” We will settle for this consolation.

Richard Burton
“Martha and I are merely exercising ... that’s all, we’re merely walking what’s left of our wits. Don’t pay any attention to it.” Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s turn as a warring couple in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? famously revealed a tempestuous romance between the two Hollywood stars. For the gossip hounding public, his tumultuous relationship with Taylor created more news than his films. However, his filmography still poses great envy to any actor. Blessed with a theatrical voice, he took to the stage, became famous and soon became sought-after. With fat paycheques, his films got bigger with entries like Becket, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Cleopatra and Anne of the Thousand Days among others. He scored seven Oscar nominations but, sadly, died empty handed.

Robert Mitchum
With the words LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles, Reverend Harry Powell’s character in The Night of the Hunter  defined the actor’s existence on screen. Only a sly performer can move so swiftly between two ends of the human spectrum. Mitchum’s characters were always full of intrigue, wounded by fatal passion in films like Out of the Past. Film noir got its most obsessive protagonist in him in as film critic Roger Ebert rightly called him ‘the soul of film noir’. Many impressive films were made and Mitchum developed into a bigger, better actor, without an Oscar nod. Only one Oscar nomination under his belt, he never thought of acting as a serious job as he defined it to “show up on time, know his lines, hit his marks, and go home.” We came home too, just a little overwhelmed with his characters.

Marlene Dietrich
In 1929, the legend of an alluring femme fatale began when the actress played Lola-Lola, a cruel cabaret entertainer in The Blue Angel. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, it brought her international fame and Paramount Pictures pitched her as an answer to MGM’s Swedish sensation, Greta Garbo. With a string of noteworthy films, she went to create an astounding body of work with eminent directors Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. From a Hollywood movie star, she became a World War II frontline entertainer, and an international stage show performer; reinvention was her forte. Morocco  was her only Oscar nomination but that hardly matters now. Dietrich’s fabled life and audacious screen presence made her one of quintessential entertainers of cinematic fantasy.

Peter Lorre
If imitation is the highest possible form of flattery, then Peter Lorre is definitely one of the greatest actors. Books, films, television, etc have given countless references to the distinctive nasal voice, unsettling bulging eyes and diminutive round body. And that just shows how wonderfully Lorre’s legacy will continue. Apart from the Mr. Moto detective series, he is an essential presence in iconic Hollywood classics like The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Though Hollywood has embraced him with money and fame, his film career in Germany is highly important since he starred in Fritz Lang’s first talkie, M. The psychopathic child killer, Hans Beckert delivering a haunting speech about the overpowering devilish inner compulsions is Lorre’s seminal performance in cinema.

Thelma Ritter
In the league of such extraordinary beauties, this name might sound as an oddity. Hold your tongue. This is Thelma Ritter, probably the most prolific of all actors in supporting roles in Hollywood films. A theatre actress, she made her screen debut when she was already in her middle age. After two brief roles, Ritter appeared as Birdie in All About Eve and stole the scenes whenever she appeared, even in the presence of mighty talents like Bette Davis. And there was no looking back. She acted in many memorable films and earned five more Oscar nominations. Alas, without a single win. She once quipped, “Now I know what it feels like to be the bridesmaid and never the bride.” Casting directors always looked for ‘a Thelma Ritter type’, but she was the best Hollywood had; a matchless actress with a firm grip on her craft.

Gloria Swanson
“I am big; it’s the pictures that got small!” she announced in her comeback vehicle, Sunset Blvd. The Billy Wilder masterpiece that spotted the black hole in the shining Hollywood dream had the silent era star playing almost an autobiographical character. Swanson was the darling of the silent era with her repertoire dazzling with big hits and she was revered as a fashionista. Apart from working with celebrated filmmakers like Cecil B. DeMille, she also produced some significant films like Sadie Thompson and The Love of Sunya. Though she was nominated for the first Academy Award in the Best Actress category and consequently twice, Oscar gave her a delusional dream.  A face that spoke to the audience in the silent era, Swanson will always be remembered as Norma Desmond, arguably the greatest performance by a female actor on celluloid.

Rita Hayworth
Branded as ‘The Love Goddess’, Hayworth became a legend with her incredible screen presence heightened by her overwhelming beauty, stimulating dancing and the skill to play with audiences’ imagination. Always billed as the glamorous face, she shone with performances that moved between strength and sensitivity, standing apart from other screen sirens, thus being popular among both the sexes. From her persona, it was hard to believe that the real she was a very shy woman fighting insecurities in real life. She never received an Academy Award nomination, though Gilda remains a role of raw energy on display. The forever pin-up favourite, who can forget how she helped Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption?


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