“I’ve wondered for 26 years what this would feel like. Thank you for ending the suspense.” Shirley MacLaine made that declaration 35 years ago upon finally winning her well-deserved Academy Award for 1983’s “Terms of Endearment” (watch the video above with Rock Hudson and Liza Minnelli presenting). She finished up with a saucy admission of, “I deserve this!” And now, all these years later, not one but two actresses can relate to the anticipation captured in that acceptance speech.
There is much ado about Glenn Close’s seventh acting nomination this month, but Amy Adams is also attempting a victory on her sixth bid, placing her only one notch behind Close. Will this finally be the triumphant year for either close as Best Actress for “The Wife” or Adams in Best Supporting Actress for “Vice”? Why does it sometimes take Oscar voters so long to recognize some of its most talented members? Sometimes, it’s just someone else’s year; sometimes, the Academy votes with emotion; and other times, someone else makes a bigger impact.
MacLaine began her Hollywood career in 1955, with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry.” She accumulated three Oscar nominations within a span of five years, two of which were collaborations with director Billy Wilder and co-star Jack Lemmon, and one of these movies — “The Apartment” — won Best Picture. How did she miss out three times in such a short period?
Her first nom was in 1958 for “Some Came Running.” That same year, fellow redhead Susan Hayward was up for her fifth nomination (ironically, as MacLaine eventually won on her fifth), and it was seemingly her turn to win for “I Want to Live!”, and deservedly so. She portrayed real-life convicted murderer Barbara Graham, whose 1955 execution in the California gas chamber was controversial. Hayward was known for her dramatic roles and gritty depictions of real-life women (four of her five nominations were at least loosely based on real people), and ingenue MacLaine could not cause an upset that year.
In 1960 her quirky elevator girl in “The Apartment” lost out to Elizabeth Taylor’s call girl in “BUtterfield 8”. Oscar history buffs generally agree the statue probably should have gone to anyone BUT Taylor. Even Taylor herself hated the film, and said she shouldn’t have won. However, a few weeks before the ceremony, Taylor suffered an illness that nearly killed her. This was her fourth nomination, and most concur that it was a pity prize. Whatever the reason, MacLaine lost out again.
With her next two losses, there were simply stronger contenders. The 1963 film “Irma la Douce” was not her best work, and MacLaine herself was surprised to earn a nomination that year. She lost to Patricia Neal’s powerful performance in “Hud.” And in 1978, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” was the movie darling, and Diane Keaton’s portrayal of the title character took home the prize over MacLaine’s former ballerina in “The Turning Point”.
By the time “Terms of Endearment” came around from director and writer James L. Brooks, MacLaine had perfected the quirky and sometimes difficult type of character much as Hayward had perfected the tragic figure years before. Many of her characters would be too brash played by someone else, but she brings out a softness in these women. As Aurora Greenway, she plays a mother who is too critical of her daughter’s life, purposefully belligerent with her son-in-law (Jeff Daniels), and generally difficult. But she loves that daughter (opposing nominee Debra Winger), and when that daughter is dying, she plays the mama bear to the hilt. She is lonely, and her reluctant attraction to the cocky former astronaut played by supporting winner Jack Nicholson brings a marvelous touch of humor to this tearjerker. MacLaine was not only overdue for a statue, but she surely deserved it for this Best Picture winner regardless of how many times she had been nominated.
That same night in 1984, Close was up for her second of three consecutive nominations in the Best Supporting Actress category. If you study the list of her nominated movies, including “The Big Chill”, “The Natural”, “Fatal Attraction”, “Dangerous Liaisons”, it’s hard to believe she’s never won. These movies were hits in their day, as well as movies still respected today. Her four lead nominations span two decades, and her career spans four decades. Adams is already on her sixth nomination, five of which are in the Supporting Actress category, in a career that is less than two decades along.
Will Close or Adams join the ranks of actresses such as MacLaine and Hayward that waited many years for their Oscars, or the ranks of such actresses as Irene Dunne, Deborah Kerr, Barbara Stanwyck, and Marsha Mason — all of whom have at least four nominations but have never won.
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