Maggie Smith mystery: Why won’t beloved ‘Downton Abbey’ star come to the Emmys?

At Sunday’s Emmy Awards host Jimmy Kimmel introduced the Maggie Smith rule: winners who fail to attend awards shows don’t get their statues. He later got laughs enforcing the rule when Smith won her third Emmy for her role as the Dowager Countess for the final season of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” This marks Smith’s fourth Emmy overall after previously winning for a TV movie called “My House in Umbria” in 2003 and, no, she has never accepted any of them in person.

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Unlike infamous awards show non-believers such as Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, Smith doesn’t have disdain for competitions but instead just seems to prefer her home base in England. She has been a frequent participant and attendee at British kudos such as the BAFTAS. And Smith took to the stage at the 1990 Tony Awards in New York when she won Best Actress for her role in “Lettuce and Lovage,” a play that Peter Shaffer wrote especially for her, that was running on the rialto at that time.

While she has always declined to make the trans-Atlantic trips to Los Angeles when Emmy called, she has attended the Oscars twice after missing the ceremonies the first three times she was nominated (“Othello” in 1965, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” in 1969, and “Travels With My Aunt” in 1972.)

She won Best Actress for “Miss Brodie” but due to stage commitments in London had her friend Alice Ghostley (“Bewitched,” “Designing Women”) with whom she had made her Broadway debut in the revue “New Faces of 1956,” speak on her behalf. This was back in the days when winners were allowed to appoint anyone they wanted to accept an award for them. This practice would end three years later when Marlon Brando sent an actress Sacheen Littlefeather to the stage to decline his Oscar for “The Godfather” and protest the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood westerns.

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Smith received three more Oscar nominations in the Supporting Actress category. She attended and won in 1978 for “California Suite” (watch her acceptance speech above), stayed home and lost in 1986 for “A Room with a View,” and attended but lost in 2001 for “Gosford Park.”

Her role in Neil Simon‘s “California Suite” may give us insight into why Smith and other stars have not appeared at awards shows. She plays Diana Barry, a successful British stage actress who flies from London to LA after she is nominated for an Oscar for her part in a frivolous romantic comedy. Barry is beset with one humiliation and frustration after another on her trip including a philandering husband (Michael Caine) and a strange hump that appears on her dress which she thinks makes her look like she is ready to take the stage as Richard III.

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One has to wonder if the indignities Diana Barry suffered in “California Suite” have happened also to Smith and thus explains her proclivity to stay home on Emmy nights. Or perhaps her thinking is more along the line of her “Downton Abbey” character who can easily be imagined saying, “Why should I attend? When I don’t, I still win anyway. Why mess with success?” Dame Maggie is quite tight-lipped about her reasons so I guess we’ll never really know her motivations, but hey, London to Los Angeles is a really long flight!

15 thoughts on “Maggie Smith mystery: Why won’t beloved ‘Downton Abbey’ star come to the Emmys?

  1. The Kimmel rant was bad enough (Smith was a class act for responding as she did when frankly all that supposed joke deserved was an expletive accompanied by the word off), but now we have articles like this, questioning why she doesn’t attend. The sense of entitlement here, the ageism, and frankly the sheer lack of common sense is staggering. As this article finally concedes in the last line, it’s a very long flight between London and LA. That alone should be reason enough as to why she doesn’t come, a cumulative 20+ hours flying there and back for a three hour ceremony is not a good payoff. And Kimmel’s examples of her attending the Oscars and Tonys were from over three decades ago. She hasn’t been to a US award ceremony since 2002. I doubt it’s a snub and more a case of it being a long way to go for a weekend avoiding E! people on the red carpet.

    1. Sorry you found the article so offensive. It was just meant as fun retrospective of her award history. I’m a big a fan of Dame Maggie as anyone and had no intention of disparaging her in anyway.

  2. I think she attended the Oscars because maybe she thought she had a better chance of winning an award than she would an Emmy and she didn’t want to come to the US for nothing and also she’s a little bit older now too.It’s not rocket science and it won’t change the world if she’s here or not.

    1. Dame Maggie is always a winner in my book. She is an amazing actress on stage and on screen. I love her in Downton Abbey and loved her in Fried Green Tomatoes. At her age, I think she earned the right not to attend the award shows and this shouldn’t be viewed as a snub to Hollywood. I think it is too long a trip for her and worst if she doesn’t win.

  3. Maggie Smith has to be in her early 80’s by now. Flying from London to LA for an American award show in which she MIGHT win would be hard on anyone. Why risk a blood clot in a leg for some stupid trophy?
    Leave it to Jimmy Kimmel to poke fun at a grand old lady.

    1. Thank you Margaret. Why in the world people think she MUST show up is beyond me. I hated kimmel and his sarcastic NOT funny rants. Not really rants. But. Jeez.
      JUDGEMENTAL on his part. Was JESUS hiring ? I will not watch again if he’s host.

      1. Unlike the rest of my fellow Americans, I don’t find Jimmy Kimmel the least bit entertaining! Now Dame Maggie, OMG! Only Love for her!

  4. People still accepted Oscars on behalf of others following the Sacheen Littlefeather incident. When Peggy Ashcroft won for A Passage To India, Angela Lansbury accepted on her behalf.

    1. It doesn’t say that no one was allowed to accept on behalf of others after the Sacheen Littlefeather incident, It says that the winners were no longer allowed to choose the person who done the accepting.

  5. Who cares? She deserves the win for ANYTHING she acts in. She is THE ultimate actress. Doesn’t make any difference to me if she chooses to show up for it or not. Her not putting in an appearance dies not negate her talent.

  6. Dear god, I hate this things. She is just to busy running Hogwarts! No, but for real, Maggie is old now, and she is indeed grateful for receiving the award, but it’s a long trip. Like i really don’t know why is this a topic when is literally as simple as that. Live her alone, she did respond whit a lot of gratitude to Jimmy

  7. You all need to calm down. The entire bit at the Emmys was very tongue-in-cheek and her response was in that spirit.

    As for this article, create your own blog/website and write about something else.

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