Oscar: Supporting Actress–Winning Age

Last in a Series of Five Articles

If, as expected, Jennifer Hudson should win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls, she’ll become one of the ten youngest winners in her category.

Winning the Oscar Award is considered to be the ultimate achievement in the film world, the epitome of professional success. If filmmakers strive to win the Oscar at an early phase of their work, it’s because they know that the award will have a vast impact on their future careers.

Winning Age: Theory and Reality

In theory, it is possible to win the Oscar at any age, and, indeed, there have been winners in every age group, young and old. In practice, however, the best chances to win the Oscar are between the ages of thirty and fortynine, with twothirds of all winners in these age brackets.

In general, actresses are much younger than actors when they receive their first Oscar. About forty percent of the women, compared with five percent of the men, won the Oscar prior to the age of thirty. The gap in winning age is significant in the lead categories: Over fifty percent of the Best Actresses but only a minority of the Best Actors are younger than thirty five at their first win.

Within each category, there’s a concentration of winners in one or two age groups. Among the Best Actresses, the largest group of winners is in their late twenties and early thirties. By contrast, the dominant group among the Best Actors is winners in their early forties. There’s no dominant norm in the two supporting categories, in which the age range is wide, from winners in their early teens to those in their late seventies.

The likelihood of winning at a particular age is determined by the range of screen roles allotted to men and women, and the kinds of roles that are considered leading or supporting. Cultural norms have prescribed these roles, and these prescriptions are more rigid and confining for women and lead players. Compared with the lead roles, there are no specific requirements that character roles be played by young or attractive players, hence the great age variability of supporting winners.

The impact of gender on the winning age is paramount: the average age at first win is thirtyfour for the actresses (lead and supporting) and forty-four for actors (in both leagues). More specifically, the average winning age is thirty-one for the Best Actresses, thirty-eight for the Supporting Actresses, forty-one for the Best Actors, and fortysix for the Supporting Actors.

Only three of the actresses who won the Supporting Oscar have been younger than 20: Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin, each at 10, and Patty Duke at 16. Winners in this category appear in practically every age group, from the very young to the very old, namely, women in their 70s. However, the greatest concentration of winners who are in their 30s and 40s.

Like the male supporting category, this one affords a greater range of roles than
In the lead category, both male and female.

Youngest Winners: 3

Tatum O’Neal, 10, for Paper Moon
Anna Paquin, 10, for The Piano
Patty Duke, 16, for The Miracle Worker

Young Twentysomething, 20-24: 4

Teresa Wright
Anne Baxter
Goldie Hawn
Angelina Jolie

Twentysomething, 25-29: 10

Celeste Holme
Kim Hunter
Gloria Grahame
Miyoshi Umeki
Shirley Jones
Sandy Dennis
Meryl Streep
Mary Steenburgen
Marisa Tomei
Mira Sorvino

Young Thirtysomething, 30-34: 12

Mercedes McCambridge
Donna Reed
Eva Marie Saint
Dorothy Malone
Rita Moreno
Jessica Lange
Geena Davis
Juliette Binoche
Jennifer Connelly
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Renee Zellweger
Rachel Weisz

Thirtysomething, 35-39: 10

Gale Sondergaard
Mary Astor
Claire Trevor
Jo Van Fleet
Shelley Winters
Linda Hunt
Anjelica Huston
Diane Wiest
Mercedes Ruehl
Cate Blanchett

Fortysomething, 40-49: 15

Alice Brady
Fay Bainter
Hattie McDaniel
Katine Paxinou
Anne Revere
Wendy Hiller
Lila Kedrova
Estelle Parsons
Cloris Leachman
Lee Grant
Vanessa Redgrave
Maggie Smith
Whoopi Goldberg
Kim Basinger
Marcia Gay Harden

Fiftysomething, 50-59: 6

Eileen Heckart
Ingrid Bergman
Maureen Stapleton
Olympia Dukakis
Brenda Fricker

Allison Janney

Sixtysomething, 60-69: 5

Jane Darwell
Ethel Barrymore
Josephine Hull
Beatrice Straight
Judi Dench

Seventysomething: 70-79: 4

Margaret Rutherford
Ruth Gordon
Helen Hayes (second Oscar, she first won Best Actress)
Peggy Ashcroft