First Ladies and the actresses who portrayed them on film, television and the stage

With wall-to-wall critical raves, including many citing the turn as career-best work, Natalie Portman is guaranteed to be a significant awards player this season with her leading turn as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in director Pablo Larrain‘s “Jackie.” The film, which follows the grieving Kennedy in the wake of the 1963 assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, appears destined to compete in a host of other categories as well, perhaps even Best Picture.

Portman would not be the first actress Oscar-nominated for portraying a first lady – in fact, she would be the fourth to date. But should she triumph on Oscar night, however, she would be the first to score a win. Beyond the big screen, there have been a number of accomplished actresses who have won or been nominated for awards for their first lady turns on both the small screen and stage.

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Starting with the nation’s first first lady, Patty Duke garnered a 1984 Emmy nomination – her ninth overall – for her portrayal of Martha Washington in the CBS miniseries “George Washington.” She lost to 14-year-old Roxana Zal, the youngest performer to ever win a Primetime Emmy, in “Something About Amelia.” Duke marks the only performer to earn recognition for portraying Washington.

2008’s HBO miniseries “John Adams” brought Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award victories to Laura Linney for her portrayal of the nation’s second first lady, Abigail Adams. Long before that, however, Virginia Vestoff received a 1969 Best Featured Actress in a Musical Tony nomination for playing Adams in the Best Musical-winning “1776.” Vestoff lost to Marian Mercer in “Promises, Promises.”

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The nation’s 16th first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, has been portrayed by and garnered recognition for three legendary actresses. The 1973 play “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln” delivered Julie Harris her fourth of five career Tonys. For the 1988 NBC miniseries “Lincoln,” Mary Tyler Moore earned her 14th Emmy nomination to date. She was defeated by Jessica Tandy, picking up her first and only Emmy for “Firefox.” Finally, Sally Field received heaps of awards attention, including Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Steven Spielberg‘s 2012 motion picture “Lincoln.” Field fell short to Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables.”

For her role as Florence Harding, the 29th first lady of the United States, Oscar-winner Celeste Holm garnered an Emmy bid for the 1979 NBC miniseries “Backstairs at the White House.” She was defeated by Esther Rolle, picking up her only career Emmy for another NBC program, “Summer of My German Soldier.”

The first lady to have garnered the most awards love for her portrayers over the years is the nation’s 32nd, Eleanor Roosevelt. The 1958 Best Play Tony-winning “Sunrise at Campobello” garnered a nomination for Mary Fickett, who ultimately fell short to Anne Bancroft, picking up her first of two careers Tonys for “Two for the Seesaw.” In 1960, “Sunrise” was adapted to the big screen, with Oscar-winner Greer Garson taking on the role of the former first lady. Garson was the first actress to be Oscar-nominated for portraying a first lady and, to date, is the only one to be recognized in Best Actress. Though she won the Golden Globe and triumphed at National Board of Review to boot, Garson lost on Oscar night to Elizabeth Taylor, winning her first of two career Oscars for “BUtterfield 8.” Over the decades to follow, the likes of Oscar-nominee Jane Alexander (in 1976’s “Eleanor and Franklin” and 1977’s “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years”), Oscar-winner Eileen Heckart (in 1979’s “Backstairs at the White House”), Emmy-winner Jean Stapleton (in 1982’s “Eleanor: First Lady of the World”) and Emmy-winner Cynthia Nixon (in 2005’s “Warm Springs”) picked up Emmy nominations for their work but no wins. Stapleton also received a Golden Globe nod and Nixon garnered Globe and SAG nominations.

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The acclaimed 1995 HBO TV movie “Truman” delivered an Emmy nomination for Diana Scarwid‘s turn as the 33rd first lady, Bess Truman. The Oscar-nominee lost to Greta Scacchi‘s work in another HBO production, “Rasputin.”

Portman would be the fourth actress to receive awards recognition for portraying the 35th first lady. In 1981 and 1983, respectively, Jaclyn Smith and Blair Brown garnered Golden Globe nominations for their turns as Kennedy in ABC’s “Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” and NBC’s “Kennedy” respectively. For HBO’s 2009 TV movie “Grey Gardens,” Jeanne Tripplehorn received an Emmy nomination for her brief turn as the former first lady. None of these actresses scored wins.

Just this year, Oscar-winner Melissa Leo garnered an Emmy nomination for her turn as the nation’s 36th first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, in HBO’s LBJ TV movie “All the Way.” While she lost to Regina King in “American Crime,” it is possible Leo could receive Golden Globe and/or SAG Award nominations for her work.

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Joan Allen received her first Oscar nomination for portraying the long-suffering 37th first lady, Pat Nixon, in Oliver Stone‘s 1995 film “Nixon.” This marked the first Best Supporting Actress Oscar bid for a turn as a first lady. Allen also garnered a SAG Award nomination (in Lead) for her work, and scored Best Supporting Actress wins at the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and National Society of Film Critics awards. She lost the Oscar to Mira Sorvino in “Mighty Aphrodite.”

The 38th, 40th and 42nd first ladies of the United States also proved prime awards bait for an array of talented actresses. The 1987 ABC TV movie “The Betty Ford Story” delivered Emmy and Golden Globe victories to leading lady Gena Rowlands, while Judy Davis scored Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for taking on Nancy Reagan in Showtime’s highly controversial 2003 film “The Reagans.” Finally, Hope Davis received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of Hillary Clinton in HBO’s 2010 telefilm “The Special Relationship.”

Experts’ Oscars 2017 predictions for Best Actress:
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Portman is well-positioned to join this group of extraordinary actress who’ve been recognized for their work as the nation’s first ladies. The question remains, however, whether she can go the extra distance and pull off what no contender thus far has achieved – the Oscar win.

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