Thursday, February 21, 2013

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Oscar's Children

Quvenzahane Wallis

Quvenzhane Wallis was a five-year-old passing as six when she made her acting and film debut in the 2009 feature Beasts of the Southern Wild.  She is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for the 85th Academy Awards this coming Sunday, February 24th.  Also nominated in the category is 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva for her role in Amour.  She will be celebrating her birthday on Oscar night.

Justin Henry

The Academy has garnered much publicity for the age disparity in the category.  The previous record in that regard was in the 1980 Oscar ceremony in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category.  At 78 years of age, previous winner Melvyn Douglas was nominated and won for his role in Being There.  The eight-year-old Justin Henry from Kramer vs. Kramer became at that time the youngest ever nominee in a competitive category.

The first Academy Awards were presented in 1929 as a means of encouraging quality, promoting product and, in a vain hope in some studio executives, an attempt to stem the tide of unionism in the industry.  Well, two out of three ain't bad.  The Oscar has come to represent a milestone in entertainment and it certainly gets people excited about the product.  However, a shiny trophy would not dissuade those guilds from forming to protect the rights of workers.

Most little children like to play pretend and some excel at the game.  Some little children seem born for the stage and relish the chance to work and create.  Some little children are goaded into a career by ambitious family or circumstances.  Audiences love to watch children on the screen as much as stopping to admire a baby being strolled around their neighbourhood.  There has always been an "infant phenomenon" as Dicken's Vincent Crummles referred to his daughter's standing in his traveling troupe of players.  Should these children be nominated for Academy Awards?  Certainly, age should not be a barrier to recognition of accomplishment.  However, for a lot of its history it seems as if some of these nominations, however well-deserved, seem like stunt nominations.  The Academy certainly garnered much publicity for the age differences in that 1980 season as well as this year.  The issue seems to be one with which the Academy has struggled throughout its history indicated by the bestowing of honorary Oscars to juvenile performers.  If it is truly a level playing field, age-wise, than there have been some rather glaring omissions such as Freddie Bartholomew in Captains Courageous, Roddy McDowell in How Green Was My Valley, Dean Stockwell in The Secret Garden or Enzo Staiola in Bicycle Thieves.

Despite the honour of simply being nominated and the phrase "the Oscar goes to", at that night and in that moment it is all about the winner and the "non-winner".  Acknowledgement of work or stunt, the Academy has placed children in competition with adults and adults in competition with children.  Perhaps it is not a healthy situation for all.  Let's look at some of the young nominees and winners.

Jackie Cooper

In 1931 Jackie Cooper, at age nine, was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the movie Skippy.  The award was given to 52-year-old Lionel Barrymore.  While I bow to no one in my admiration for Mr. Barrymore, it pains me to say that I do not consider A Free Soul to represent anywhere near his finest work and young Master Cooper was robbed.  I am not referring to his crying scenes which were notoriously coerced by director Norman Taurog (Jackie's uncle) threatening to shoot the youngster's dog.  Jackie carried that movie on his small shoulders.  Every attitude, every stance and line made you like that boy and want to see his story through to the end.

Marcia Mae Jones, Bonita Granville

The 1936 Academy Awards featured the first of the Supporting Actor and Actress categories.  Veteran child actress Bonita Granville, at 13, was nominated for the scheming liar Mary Tilford in William Wyler's These Three based on Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour.  Equally impressive is Marcia Mae Jones as her unwilling accomplice Rosalie Wells.  It is a most worthy nominee alongside Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey, Beulah Bondi in The Gorgeous Hussy, Maria Ouspenskaya in Dodsworth and winner Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse

Brandon de Wilde

The 1954 Academy Awards saw two actors from George Stevens' Shane nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.  Jack Palace as the gunfighter Wilson and Brandon de Wilde as farmer's son Joey Starrett.  In 1950 at eight-years-old de Wilde made his Broadway debut in Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding and repeated the role in the screen version.  His Joey Starrett in Shane is one of the most real portrayals of a youngster on screen.  The Oscar went to Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity.

Patty McCormack

The Bad Seed ran on Broadway for over 300 performances beginning in 1954.  The young murderer Rhoda Penmark was portrayed by nine-year-old Patty McCormack.  The 1956 Mervyn LeRoy directed screen version featured many of the original cast including Nancy Kelly, Eileen Heckart, Henry Jones and Evelyn Varden.  Miss Kelly would be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and both Patty McCormack and Eileen Heckart were nominated in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  Herein lies another of those Academy vagaries that set fans' teeth on edge.  Supporting!  If Rhoda isn't a lead character than who is?  Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia was awarded the trophy that season.

Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, James Dean

Teenagers Natalie Wood (16) and Sal Mineo (15) were nominated in the supporting categories for 1955's Rebel Without a Cause.  Natalie had made her film debut at age five and Sal began appearing on Broadway at age 11.  Natalie would receive Best Actress in a Lead Role nominations for 1961s Splendor in the Grass and for 1963s Love With the Proper Stranger.  Sal would receive another supporting actor nomination for 1960s Exodus

Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke

The successful Broadway play, The Miracle Worker began its 700 plus performance run in 1959 starring Anne Bancroft and 12-year-old Patty Duke.  They would recreate the roles of teacher Anne Sullivan and the inspiring Helen Keller in the 1962 film directed by Arthur Penn.  Miss Bancroft would win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Miss Duke for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  Supporting, indeed.  The two actresses supported each other magnificently.  Patty would play Anne Sullivan in a 1979 made-for-TV movie with Melissa Gilbert as Helen. 

Gregory Peck, Mary Badham

Competing with Patty Duke at the 1962 Academy Awards was 10-year-old Mary Badham so memorable as Scout in Robert Mulligan's haunting To Kill a Mockingbird.  Veteran Thelma Ritter for Birdman of Alcatraz, Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth and Angela Lansbury in the chilling The Manchurian Candidate rounded out the nominees in the supporting actress category.  Quite a diverse group of ladies.

Tatum O'Neal

The 1973 awards would see another nomination of two youngsters.  Tatum O'Neal, at 10 years of age, wowed critics and audiences as Addie in Peter Bogdanovich's film of Joe David Brown's Paper Moon.  Winning in the Best Actress in a Supporting role category over 13-year-old Linda Blair in The Exorcist, co-star Madeline Kahn, Candy Clark in American Graffiti and 63-year-old Sylvia Sidney for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.  Again we see a lead character nominated in the supporting category, a move made throughout the Academy's history perhaps hoping to ensure a win.  It does belie the idea of a level playing field.

Jodie Foster

Already a veteran and fine actress, at the age of 14 Jodie Foster received her first Academy Award nomination for Martin Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver.  She was too good to be ignored although the award would go to Beatrice Straight in Network.  Jane Alexander in All the President's Men, Lee Grant in Voyage of the Damned and Piper Laurie in Carrie rounded out the nominees in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category.  Jodie's next three nominations would all be in the leading category for The Accused (win), The Silence of the Lambs (win) and Nell.

Quinn Cummings

A lovely performance from 10-year-old Quinn Cummings in 1977s The Goodbye Girl is a worthy Best Actress in a Supporting Role nominee.  Vanessa Redgrave was awarded for Julia.  Other nominees were Tuesday Weld in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Melinda Dillon in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Leslie Brown in The Turning Point.

Anna Paquin

The 1994 Oscar ceremony saw Best Actress in a Supporting Role go to 11-year-old Anna Paquin for The Piano.  Co-star Holly Hunter won Best Actress in a Lead Role.  Paquin's competition in the supporting category included Holly Hunter in The Firm, Rosie Perez in Fearless, Winona Ryder in The Age of Innocence and Emma Thompson in In the Name of the Father

Haley Joel Osment

The century turned and at the 2000 awards ceremony 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as Cole in The Sixth Sense.  Is age a a factor in some category determinations?  Competition included Tom Cruise in Magnolia, Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley and the winner Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules.

Keisha Castle-Hughes

Keisha Castle-Hughes was a 12-year-old actress when she starred in the 2002 feature Whale Rider and was 14 at the 2004 Oscar ceremony where she competed in the Best Actress in a Lead Role Category.  The award was won by Charlie Theron for Monster and the other nominees included Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give, Samantha Morton in In America and Naomi Watts in 21 Grams.  Heavy hitters indeed and heady company for a youngster.

Hailee Steinfeld

The 2011 ceremony saw 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld nominated for the role of Maddie Ross in True Grit.  Again, the nomination was for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.  Anyone who has read Charles Portis' novel or seen either film version knows that the story is all about Maddie.
Shirley Temple

Throughout the years The Academy has seen fit to bestow Honorary Oscars to various members and some of those were bestowed on young performers.  The first of these so honored was Shirley Temple.  Her award reads "In grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934."  The appealing and talented little dancer and her sunny screen personality replenished the coffers of 20th Century Fox and delighted Depression era audiences.  Shirley's films delight us to this day.

Edgar Bergen, Deanna Durbin

Canadian born soprano Deanna Durbin and the multi-talented, energetic Mickey Rooney were honored in 1938 "for their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement."  Deanna Durbin's vocal talent beyond her years and spunky, yet vulnerable screen persona reversed the fortunes of Universal Studios for the better.  Ten years later Deanna would leave show business behind for the life of a married lady in France.

Mickey Rooney

Rooney was a real workhorse for MGM.  From A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Devil is a Sissy to Captains Courageous to the Hardy films and the musicals with Garland, that studio sure got their money's worth.  Rooney would receive leading role nominations for 1940s The Human Comedy and 1944s Babes in Arms and supporting nods for 1956s The Bold and the Brave and 1979s The Black Stallion.

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney

In 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland received an Honorary Oscar "for her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year".  Why not a nomination?

Margaret O'Brien

In 1944, the year of Meet Me in St. Louis, Margaret O'Brien received an Honorary Oscar as "outstanding child actress of 1944".  Again, if others were/are nominated, why not Margaret.  Lionel Barrymore said admiringly of Margaret that if she had been born in a earlier time she'd have been burned as a witch.  She was born to act.

Peggy Ann Garner

Another performance that could not be ignored as Peggy Ann Garner as Francie Nolan in Elia Kazan's movie of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Peggy was awarded "outstanding child actress of 1945".

Harold Russell, Shirley Temple, Claude Jarmin Jr.

Claude Jarmin Jr. was awarded "outstanding child actor of 1946" as Jody in Clarence Brown's masterful film of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's The Yearling.  Both performances from Peggy and Claude are natural and moving.

Ivan Jandl

"For the outstanding juvenile performance of 1948 in The Search" the award was presented to 10-year-old Czechoslovakian Ivan Jandl.  His heartbreaking performance in the post-war story won many hearts as well as the trophy.  Apparently the Czech government would not allow him to take advantage of the Hollywood opportunities that came his way with the Academy's honour.

 Bobby Driscoll

"For outstanding juvenile actor of 1949" the honorary Oscar was given to Bobby Driscoll.  An actor since the age of 3, Bobby was seen in a number of films and was the lead in Disney's Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart prior to this win.  In 1949 the 11-year-old was the "boy who cried wolf" in The Window based on a Cornell Woolrich story.  Drisoll's character Tommy is a compelling film-noir protagonist.  Later roles include Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, the voice of Peter Pan and (a favourite of mine) "Bibi" in The Happy Time.

Vincent Winter, Jon Whiteley

The last juvenile players to receive Honorary Oscars are from across the pond.  Eight-year-old Jon Whiteley and six-year-old Vincent Winter each received awards "for his outstanding juvenile performance in The Little Kidnappers.  Well-deserved recognition for a charming and under-recognized film.

Born into a show business family and carrying the acting gene in spades Hayley Mills was a phenomenon in the 1960s and her Honorary Oscar reads "for Pollyanna, the most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960."

As a film fan I can't help but rejoice at the acknowledgement of fine work and the chance to promote the same afforded by the Academy.  However, I see throughout its history the same sort of conflict within the organization that I sense in the placing of youngsters in competition, both the competition to get the part and the one for the trophy.  As a film fan, the event may become just another bit of accumulated movie trivia, but the performance lives forever.

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon jointly sponsored by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club is full of insights, information and all around good reading.  It runs from February 1 to March 3rd.  Enjoy.


  1. **waits for Ivan to complain about She Who Must Not Be Named** >:-p

    Here's another one to add to your list: Keisha Castle-Hughes was 13 when she was nominated for Best Actress for WHALE RIDER in 2004. Was the record holder in that category before Q. Wallis this year.

  2. I already had a complaint about "she who must not be named" from the hubby. Ready to weather the storm.

    I knew I would leave someone out, that was why I qualified with "let's look at some...". Thanks. I shall amend before too long.

  3. This is interesting. I had noticed the young ones are nominated for supporting roles, but I didn't stop to think that maybe they deserved the lead nomination (probably because I haven't seen most of these roles).

    Patty M. was definitely the lead in The Bad Seed!

  4. The whole award process can be very political with executives vying for the most strategic spot to get a win.

  5. Wonderful post Caftan Woman, my favorite child actor was, Mary Badham. She was ery talented in the film, "To Kill a Mocking Bird". I will never for get the scene in front of the court house. when she calls out by name the men in the lynch mob.

  6. Wonderful post, as always and a great entry to the blogathon! A must read!


  7. Dawn, I agree that Mary Badham is unforgettable in "Mockingbird" and that scene is a standout. She was an untrained actress and her instincts were so true. I can't imagine anyone else in the role.

  8. Thanks so much, Aurora. I am so impressed with the logistics behind the blogathon and with the entries. Movie fans have so much to talk about!

  9. What talented performances here! I'm glad you were able to highlight so many child actors in one post.

    This was a really interesting post. Thanks for including it in the blogathon. :)

  10. I'm so pleased you found the post of interest. Young people have given us many memorable performances worthy of recognition.

  11. Nice post! TCM once had a special on kids in Hollywood, they were already all grown up and some shared good experiences, and some very sad experiences in Hollywood.
    Can't even imagine what it must've been like for a kid to win or be nominated for a role, heck I wonder if they even cared. LOL Patty McCormack deserved that nom, but like you, I feel she should have been nominated for "best actress." She must've enjoyed playing that role! Very unnerving movie today, can't even imagine what audiences felt back then.

  12. Love this!
    Sometimes I feel like some of those younger actors are better than the older ones!
    It's a shame Virginia Weidler was never nominated for anything, she was a great talent.

  13. I have found your post to be extremely thought provoking. I always feel that a truly great children's performance is worth more praise then other roles because of how difficult it would be to get emotions out of a child. (Without threatening his pet.) I do like the idea of an honorary award that is given out because I bate to see the heartbreak on the kids faces when they lose. Of course Anna Paquin couldn't have been more elated when she won.

  14. Thanks, Bacall.

    There were bad kids in movies before "The Bad Seed", but Patty took it to a whole new level.

  15. Indeed "Comet", you hit on one of the best when you mention Virginia Weidler. She didn't fit the cute kid mold and I'm afraid that Hollywood just didn't know what to do with all that talent.

  16. Maybe we should "Lasso" the Academy into settling whether to continue to nominate children alongside adults, revive the Juvenile Performer trophy or create a new age appropriate category.

  17. That is a vey good subject for a post, for sure!
    I love many of the performances mentioned, and if there were Oscars in the early 1920s, Jackie Coogan would be nominated. I think there should be a special award for children, even with the bittersweet possibility that the child may not become a successful actor or actress.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  18. I so agree that if the Oscars had been created earlier there is no doubt that one would have to have been given to Jackie Coogan. He broke my heart in "The Kid".

  19. I just saw the original Champ for the first time this month as part of the TCM Oscar celebration. You're right, young Jackie is the glue that holds it all together. He was amazing! And I'm so glad you included Mary Badham. I only remember seeing her twice, in Mockingbird and then in the Natalie Wood/Robert Redford movie This Property Is Condemned, but she is so memorable, no natural. Great post!

  20. I couldn't even watch "The Champ" when TCM aired it when I remembered how much I cried during an earlier viewing. Cooper was tops.

    Mary Badham didn't do very much acting and I think that's a shame. The right roles for her talent seemed to be made, but her "Scout" is immortal.

  21. CW,
    I really enjoyed your tribute to child actors throughout cinema, highlighting their brilliant performances in certain films.

    I've been following Paquin's career since her amazing performance in The Piano. Tatum had so much potential. It's a shame that her life took a different path but I'm glad she's doing well.

    As Rich mentioned, Ivan is going to have a stroke upon seeing Shirley, Mickey AND Margaret in the same post and being lauded at that. lol

    My favorite as far as Oscar worthy are Jackie Coogan in The Kid then our little Husbpuppy this year. I loved The Beasts of the Southern Wild.

    Very entertaining! Gooo Shirley!

  22. What an excellent and thought-provoking post. This is quite a roster of talent, and it is marvelous that these kids were so very good in those roles. Many of them, as you point out, carried the films they were in.

    I think it was a clip on TCM that showed an interview with Jackie Cooper about his big night as an Oscar nominee. When Barrymore walked past him to accept his award, he consoled Master Jackie with the remark that the Academy was giving him the award only because they thought he was going to die soon.

    I still remember the stunned look of disbelief, and delight, on Anna Paquin's face as she clutched her Oscar, speechless for several minutes except for a nervous giggle. If only more acceptance speeches were like that.

    Great post.

  23. Thanks, Page. That's quite a spread from "The Kid" to "Beasts of the Southern Wild".

    Before the kids came along the hubby used to enjoy spaghetti night at a family restaurant where they showed movies - sometimes The Stooges and sometimes silents. One night I had too much red wine with dinner while they ran "The Kid". I was an emotional wreck. He made us change seats so I couldn't see the television.

  24. Thank you, Jacqueline.

    I hadn't heard about Barrymore's remark to young Jackie. That's delightful.

    We benefit from the great performances from child actors through the years. I'm still impressed that the Academy recognized the boys in "The Little Kidnappers" and wish that film were more widely known.

  25. Wonderful post!
    I remembered almost all of these, but I'd forgotten that Anna Paquin was the young girl in THE PIANO.

  26. Thanks so much for your kind words. There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the performance.

    I'm glad you stopped by the post because it gave me a chance to discover "Things I Want to Tell My Mother".



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