Oscar Speeches: Milland, Ray–Lost Weekend

The significance of the first nomination is vividly recalled by Ray Milland, who won the 1945 Best Actor for playing an alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend.

Apparently it was the sound mixer of “Lost Weekend” who was the first to bet that Milland would be Oscar-nominated and even win. Milland drove home that night “in a very bemused state, trying not to think about it, but it kept filtering back. Could this wonderful thing possibly happen to me To be acclaimed by one’s colleagues in all the cinema crafts, for having given the best performance of the entire year No! No, stop it! Don’t even think about it. Think of the disappointment if nothing happens.”

Even before the nominations were announced, Milland sensed a change of attitude: “I had been getting smiles from people I didn’t know, a little more deference from the people in the mailroom, and an unaccountable query from the studio operations wanting to know if I’d prefer a parking lot right outside my dressing room instead of the one I now had.”

The day the nominations were disclosed was considered “judgment day,” on which “five actors would be in purgatory until the ‘Night,’ four weeks later.” Early in the morning, Milland saw his wife, son, cook, butler, and nurse all sitting in the dining room with their eyes glued to the window. He asked them, “What was going on, why they were up so early. As one they replied: ‘Same as you. Waiting for the paper.'”

Later on, “with the long-suffering look of a man forced to live with mental defectives, I went in to my breakfast. I was just lifting the cup to my lips, when I heard the scramble of the front door, and I froze. There was a moment of silence and then one big yelp of exuberance as they all came barreling through the door yelling, ‘You made it You’re nominated!'”

The nomination gives actors a measure of assurance, a standard of gauging the quality of their work. As Milland recalled, before the opening of “Lost Weekend,” I didn’t know whether what I’d done was good or bad, a subject of this kind (alcoholism) hadn’t been done before. I had no standards, and it had depressed me terribly.”

For Milland, the nomination’s most important effect was, as he puts it, “Although I had been termed a movie star in the usual magazine concept for five or six years, I was now being accepted as an actor with dramatic merit. It was a wonderful feeling.”