Oscar Roles: Bates, Kathy in Misery

Changes in the women's Oscar roles became more evident in the last decade. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress for playing an obsessed fan in Rob Reiner's horror film, Misery, a genre that has not done much for women.

In her acceptance speech, Bates thanked her co-star, James Caan (who played the fiction writer she torments), apologizing for the chilling scenes in which she uses a sledgehammer to break his ankles.

Ever since Misery, Bates has been subjected to a ton of jokes about sledgehammers. Bates had an edge over the other nominees, both because of her stage credentials and her Plain Jane publicity that indicated a serious dedication to her craft. Coming out of nowhere, to use Hollywood parlor, Bates embodied the tale of ther duckling turning into a swan. Asked whether her victory might encourage directors to cast lesserknown actors in major roles, Bates noted, “I'm not sure. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Bates felt no animosity toward producers who passed her over for film roles she had earlier popularized onstage, such as Frankie and Johnny, in which the female lead was later (mis)cast with Michelle Pfeiffer. But she was proud to say, “This one is for the actors.” Referring to her father, who died in 1988, she said, “When I first decided to go to New York, he gave me the money and the encouragement. I just wish he could be here tonight.”

Bates later won Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards for her work in film (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991), and television (The Late Shift, 1996).

In 1998, Bates received a second, supporting nomination in Primary Colors, for playing a tough, openly lesbian character, based upon President Clinton's aide Betsy Drake, who was in charge of controlling what she once famously termed as “bimbo eruptions.”