Oscar Actors: Straight, Beatrice–Supporting Actress, Network

Beatrice Straight won the 1976 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as William Holden’s dejected wife in Sidney Lumet’s brilliant satire, “Network,” written by Paddy Chayefsky.

There are some misconceptions about her Oscar performance.  First, she has not one but two scenes.

In her first scene, which lasts only one minute, she is walking silently through her apartment early in the morning, moving from one room to another. When she realizes that Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is gone, she rushes to her husband (William Holden), who is asleep on the living room sofa and sighs with relief.

Straight’s second scene, about five minutes, is the one that won her the attention of the Academy voters.  In that scene, Holden tells her that he is obsessed and infatuated with Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), finally admitting, under pressure from his wife, that he is in love with her.  At that point, Straight gives a long speech about his duties as a husband, respect, allegiance, and responsibility.

She screams at her husband, claiming “I am hurting badly,” begging him to “say something.”  It doesn’t help much when Holden keeps staring at her before saying, rather helplessly, “I’ve got nothing to say.”

Admitting that Diana is “incapable of any real feelings,” because all she knows about reality derives from TV shows, he ends the scene on a quietly humorous note, when he says that as a couple, he and Diana are playing a scene from Anna Karenina, with one major exception, that Diana plays Count Vronsky and he plays Anna.

Holden and Straight embrace, after she touches his face, and the last shot of this scene is a close-up of Straight.

In the course of five minutes, Straight demonstrates a wide range of emotions, from deep anger (screaming) to humiliation (as a typical dejected wife) to empathy for and understanding of her husband’s position, as a an aging man who has fallen for the wrong woman, half his age.