Oscar Directors: Winners in Comedy Genre

That comedy has been overlooked by the Academy is also reflected in the underrepresentation of comedy writersdirectors. Take Charlie Chaplin, whose contribution to the genre is indisputable. Of Chaplin’s major works, only The Great Dictator was nominated for Best Picture though it did not win a single award. The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936) also failed to receive top nominations. Chaplin was nominated twice as Best Actor, for The Circus and, as noted, for The Great Dictator, but lost on both occasions.

Preston Sturges, another extraordinary filmmaker who specialized in the comedy genre, won only one Oscar, Best Original Screenplay, for his first film as a director, The Great McGinty (1940). Despite their originality, urbane sophistication, and biting humor, none of Sturges’s comedies was nominated for Best Picture, though at least three deserved serious consideration: Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). The Writers’ Branch was more appreciative of Sturges, and in 1944, he became the first scribe to have two scripts, Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, nominated for Original Screenplay; the winner was Lamar Trotti for the biopicture Wilson.

None of the “classical clowns” has ever won a legitimate Oscar or even a nomination. True, most of them did their best work in the silent era, prior to Oscar’s birth, but even those who contributed to the genre in later years were overlooked by the Academy.

Members of the “clowns triumvirate,” which included, along with Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton), were also ignored by the Academy, which later used its Honorary Oscars as corrective measures. In 1952, Lloyd was awarded a Special Oscar as “a master comedian and good citizen.” Unlike Lloyd, Buster Keaton made some excellent comedies in the sound era, when he was under contract at MGM’ Cameraman and Spite Marriage–but he never won the Academy recognition. A 1959 Special Oscar cited Keaton, the King of Comedy, for his “unique talents, which brought immortal comedies to the screen.”

The popular comedy team Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was also underestimated during its lifetime. Joining forces in 1926, Laurel and Hardy delighted audiences with their inventive acts for decades. In 1960, three years after Hardy’s death from cancer, the Academy honored his surviving partner, who had refused to perform after his colleague’s death, with an Oscar “for his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy.”