Oscar Actors: Wayne, John–True Grit or Career Achievement Award

When the Oscars honor veteran film artists who have been nominated several times before, it is impossible to tell whether the award is given for a specific accomplishment in a particular movie, or for an entire career of achievements.

This is yet another corrective device, known as the “Career Oscar.”  In such cases, the official reason and particular performance for which artists win serves as an excuse to reward them for careers full of contributions. The career Oscar is not wellrespected, as recipients can never be sure if their win was based on sentimental or meritorious considerations. As one critic observed, the gesture has been dismissed as “more of a back’scratching symptom of the film capital” love of saying thanks for past services than a genuine tribute for current achievements.”


John Wayne

The 1969 Oscar vote for John Wayne’s performance in True Grit was based on sentimental as well as on career-long achievements, though his work in this film was acclaimed by most critics. Wayne had been making films for over forty years, and had been a top star for twenty. With this Oscar, Wayne’s colleagues essentially admitted that they had underestimated his acting skills. Wayne had been nominated once before, for his heroic role in Sands of Iwo Jima, which he lost to Broderick Crawford. Winning the Oscar at the age of sixty’two had no pragmatic affect on Wayne’s career. But it was of great symbolic and prestige value to him.