Oscar Actors: Best Supporting Actress Winners–Youngest, Oldest

The winning of the Oscar Award is considered to be the ultimate achievement in the film world, the epitome of professional success on the big screen.

Hence, filmmakers in every branch (actors, directors, writers) strive to win the Oscar at an early phase of their careers, because they know that the award will have a vast impact on their future.

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, middle-age, and old. In practice, however, the best chances to win the Oscar are between the ages of 30 and 49: Two thirds of all winners fall into these age brackets.

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 30. 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 35 at their first win.

Within each category, however, there’s a concentration of winners in one or two age groups. Among the Best Actresses, the largest groups of winners are in their late twenties and early thirties. By contrast, the dominant groups among the Best Actors are winners in their early forties. There’s no dominant norm in the two supporting categories, in which age diversity prevails, ranging 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 roles allotted to men and women, and the kinds of roles that are considered leading or supporting.

Cultural norms continue to prescribe these roles, and these prescriptions are more rigid and confining for women and lead players. Indeed, 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 the Supporting Oscar winners.

The impact of gender on the winning age is paramount. The average age at first win is 34 for the actresses (lead and supporting) and 44 for actors (in both leagues). More specifically, the average winning age is 31 for the Best Actresses, 38 for the Supporting Actresses, 41 for the Best Actors, and 46 for the Supporting Actors.

Only three of the Supporting Actress Oscar winners have been younger than 20: Tatum O’Neal, at 10, Anna Paquin, at 11, and Patty Duke at 16.

Winners in this category appear in practically every age group, from the very young to the very old, including women in their 70s and 80s. In 1997, Gloria Stuart became the oldest nominee in this category, when she received her first nomination for James Cameron’s Titanic.  However, the greatest concentration of the Supporting winners who are in their 30s and 40s.

Youngest Winners: 3

Tatum O’Neal, 10, for Paper Moon
Anna Paquin, 11, for The Piano
Patty Duke, 16, for The Miracle Worker

Photo: Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon (1973)

Twentysomething, 20-24: 4

Teresa Wright
Anne Baxter
Goldie Hawn
Angelina Jolie

 

Twentysomething, 25-29: 13

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

Anne Hathaway

Alicia Vikander

Thirtysomething, 30-34: 14

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

Penelope Cruz

Lupita N’Yong

 

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: 19

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

Tilda Swinton

Mo’Nique

Octavia Spencer

Patricia Arequette

Fiftysomething, 50-59: 5

Eileen Heckart
Ingrid Bergman
Maureen Stapleton
Olympia Dukakis
Brenda Fricker

 

Sixtysomething, 60-69: 5

Jane Darwell
Ethel Barrymore
Josephine Hull
Beatrice Straight
Judi Dench

Seventysomething: 4

Margaret Rutherford
Ruth Gordon
Helen Hayes
Peggy Ashcroft

Oldest Winners

Right now, the two oldest winners among the Supporting Actress are the late Dame Peggy Ashcroft, 77, for “A Passage to India,” in 1984, and the late Ruth Gordon, 72,  for “Rosemary’s Baby,” in 1969.