Oscar Scandals: Shearer, Garbo, Rainer

It is doubtful that Norma Shearer would have received five nominations and one Oscar had she not been married to Wunderkind Irving G. Thalberg, MGM's head of production. There were always rumor that MGM's employees were sent memos or got informal phone calls “encouraging” them to vote for Shearer.

Despite respect for her talent, Garbo might have been a victim of MGM's inner politics. On her first nomination, for Anna Christie, advertised as “Garbo Talks!” she lost out to Norma Shearer, who won for The Divorcee, also an MGM movie. At her second nomination, for Camille, Garbo lost out to another lesser actress, Luise Rainer, in The Good Earth. Rainer was then supported by Louis B. Mayer, though three years later he would drop her and her career would terminate. Then in 1939, when Garbo received her third nomination for Ninotchka, she lost because Gone With the Wind swept all the major awards, including Best Actress which went to Vivien Leigh. Unlike Garbo's previous competitors, Leigh at least gave a good performance.

Studio politics also deprived Bette Davis of a nomination, and possibly an award, for her performance in Of Human Bondage. Davis was then under contract to Warner, which loaned her out to RKO for that film. Conceivably, neither Warner's nor RKO's members voted for Davis, whose name could be added to the nominees' list as a write-in. RKO knew that if she won, the rewards would be reaped by Warner, and Davis was not very popular at Warner. davis later accused Jack Warner of asking his employees to vote against her.

Clark Gable believed that he was outvoted for what he considered to be the best work of his career, Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, because of strained relations with producer David O. Selznick, and because MGM's publicity machine was not behind him; the winner was Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which was also produced by MGM.