Oscar: Ties–Actors–Wallace Beery and Fredric March

Ties have been rare in the operation of the Oscar Award.

Neither the Academy nor the filmmakers like the idea of sharing the coveted award. There have never been ties in the Best Picture category, and only two in the acting awards.

The first tie was declared in 1932, when Wallace Beery (The Champ) and Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) split the Best Actor award. Beery came within one vote of March, and in those years, such a narrow margin qualified for a tie.

Beery achieved acclaim in The Champ, MGM’s box-office hit, as a broken-down boxer rejuvenated by his adoring young son. Beery’s co-star was box-office champion, Jackie Cooper, 11, who had endeared himself with audiences the year before, in Skippy. After winning the Oscar, Beery became one of MGM’s top-drawing stars.

Director Rouben Mamoulian chose Fredric March for the lead in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde based on his reputation–March had already been Oscar-nominated for his parody of John Barrymore in The Royal Family of Broadway.

The critics praised March’s dual role, even though he was more convincing as Dr. jekyll; his Hyde was not very scary by standards of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein or Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. In fact, critics believed that March won the Oscar because of his makeup–it took Wally Westmore three hours a day to apply March’s makeup. In his acceptance speech, March said: “I must thank Wally, who made my task an easy one and is responsible for the greater measure of my success.”

During the ceremony, one of the vote-checkers discovered that Beery was only one vote shy of March as Best Actor. Under the rules, this called for a tie. Fortunately, both March and Beery were present at the ceremonies. Paramount’s head, Schulberg, sent a messenger to find another statuette before calling Academy President Nagel. Nagel then called Beery to the stage and announced what became the first and only Best Actor tie. A cynical L.A. Times reporter observed the next day: “This time lapse made the second award seem more like a consolation prize.” Since the two thespians were separated by a single vote, the Beery-March tie was held in suspicion for years

The second tie occurred in the 1968 Best Actress award, which was shared by Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl). This time, however, the Academy insisted that the two actresses received exactly the same number of votes.

In other groups, too, ties have been rare. In its sixty’seven years of existence, the New York Film Critics Circle has declared a tie only a few times. In 1960, two films were cited as Best Picture, The Apartment and Sons and Lovers; both films were nominated for Oscars, but the winner was The Apartment. In 1966, Elizabeth Taylor (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and Lynn Redgrave (Georgy Girl) were singled out as Best Actresses; the Oscar winner was Taylor.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has also refrained from splitting its awards, though in 1976, Sidney Lumet’s Network and John Avildsen’s Rocky were named Best Picture; the Oscar winner was Rocky.

In 1984, the Los Angeles group honored two male performances: Albert Finney in Under the Volcano and F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus; the Oscar winner was Abraham.

The latest acting tie occurred in 1998, when Ally Sheedy (High Art) and veteran Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) were both cited. Against all odds, Montenegro received Best Actress nomination, but Sheedy wasn’t nominated–the winner that year went to Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love).