Oscar: Award as Compensation to Losers–Bette Davis, Dangerous

Artists who have failed to win the award are not forgotten and are not lost cases.   The Academy tends to compensate the losers (or non-winners), usually in the near future, with belated Oscar Awards.

The consolatory awards serve as sort of a corrective mechanisms to the imperfections of the Oscar as a functional reward system.

Bette Davis

Bette Davis’ first Best Actress award for Dangerous in 1935 is considered to be the first consolation, or as known in the industry a “hold-over” award, given to her for missing out on the previous year’s Best Actress nominations.

The attempt to introduce new selection procedures, the write-ins, failed to get Davis a much deserved Best Actress nomination for Of Human Bondage.

In 1935, upon being nominated for the first time for the melodrama Dangerous, Davis herself cited Katharine Hepburn’s work in Alice Adams, directed by George Stevens, as the best performance of the year.

Robert Donat

Robert Donat’s first Best Actor nomination was for MGM’s literary adaptation, The Citadel, lating the lead role of the struggling doctor.  But he lost out to Spencer Tracy, who won for Boys Town.

In the following year, this was “corrected” and Donat received the Best Actor award for a nobler, but no better, performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

However, But by correcting this error, the Academy created a new omission and a new “victim,” Jimmy Stewart, who gave the best performance of 1939 in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, for which he was cited by the New York Film Critics Circle.

Once again this was corrected, in 1940, when Stewart himself got the Best Actor award for Cukor’s savvy comedy, The Philadelphia Story.

The fact that Stewart was already enlisted in the military, thus becoming Hollywood’s first major star to join the war effort, was probably an additional relevant factor for his win; in fact, Stewart accepted the Oscar in uniform.

My Fair Lady

In 1964, George Cukor’s film musical My Fair Lady was nominated in every major category except for Best Actress, despite an elegant performance by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle.

Production of this film was marked by resentment over Jack Warners’s refusal to cast Julie Andrews in a role she that she had originated and  played to great acclaim on stage.

Under other circumstances, Hepburn would have been nominated, but the Acting Branch expressed its indignation by denying Hepburn a nomination and by conferring on Julie Andrews the award for Mary Poppins, released the same year. Insiders felt as if Andrews got the award for the wrong film–had she played Eliza, she would have won an Oscar.

Mary Poppins served as sort of an excuse to compensate Andrews for the injustice done to her by Jack Warner, though it didn’t hurt that Andrews was good and that the film was a huge commercial hit.