Oscar: Sondergaard, Gale–First Best Supporting Actress, Blacklisted

In 1936, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) established a separate acting category for secondary parts, the Best Supporting Actor and the Best Supporting Actress.

Gale Sondergaard became the first winner of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, receiving the award for Anthony Adverse.












Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, the film also won Oscars for Cinematography, Score, and Editing.  However, the winner of the top award was the MGM musical, The Great Siegfeld.


Oscar Role: Faith

Mervyn LeRoy’s screen version was based on the best-selling novel by Hervey Allen, which was published in 1933 and was translated into over 20 languages.

Done in an epic style, with lengthy running time (140 minutes), and lavish sets and costumes, the saga centers on Anthony Adverse (Fredric March), the love child of an unhappy Spanish young wife and the soldier who is killed by Don Luis (Claude Rains) in a duel.

After his mother’s death, the nobleman drops the baby at a girl’s convent in Leghorn, Italy, where he is raised as the school’s only male. The ensuing plot is full of twists and turns, coincidences and intrigues that must have been considered stirring by standards of the 1930s. Along the way, Anthony circumvents schemes by Bonneyfetaher and his associate Faith (Gale Sondergaard) to destroy him by revealing his true origins. Later on, in Paris, Anthony reconnects with Angela, who’s now a famous opera star—and Napoleon’s mistress.


Other Famous Roles

the_letter_1_davisSondergaard played Tylette/The Cat in “The Blue Bird.”

But she is perhaps best known for playing the sinister Mrs. Hammond in the 1940 melodrama, The Letter, starring Bette Davis.




In 1944, she essayed the title role in “Spider Woman.”

Victim of Politics

Sondergaard became one of the earliest political casualties due to her marriage to director Herbert Biberman, who was suspected of Communist leanings and later became one of the “Hollywood Ten.”

Blacklisted at the peak of her career, Sondergaard couldn’t work for decades. Her appeal to the Screen Actors Guild for protection was rejected on the grounds that “all participants in the International Communist Party conspiracy against our nation should be exposed for what they are–enemies of our country and our form of government.”

Sondergaard emerged out of forced retirement in 1965, in a one-woman show Off Broadway.  She later made several screen comebacks, none of which too successful.  She was featured in “The Return of a Man Called Horse,” in 1976, and played her last role in the 1983 “Echoes.”

In 1978, as a gesture of reconciliation, the Academy asked Sondergaard to be a presenter at the Oscar show’s fiftieth anniversary.


Oscar Record: 2 nominations, both in the supporting league

1936: Anthony Adverse (winner)

1946: Anna and the King of Siam (nominated)

In 1946, the winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Anne Baxter for “The Razor’s Edge.”