Oscar Scandals: Pfeiffer, Michelle–Losing the Oscar to Jessica Tandy

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I write this column with great hesitation, for I have always admired Jessica Tandy as a stage and screen actress, and I like her work in “Driving Miss Daisy.”  I have also met Tandy a number of times through her agent, Stark Heseltein, who was a close friend of mine until he died.
And yet, looking back at the Best Actress Oscar race of 1989, I feel that Michelle Pfeiffer should have won the award for her astounding performance in “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” a romantic comedy, in which she is the center of a triangle, coming in between the two brothers, played by real brothers Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges.
Jeff and Beau play two vastly different brothers struggling to make a living as lounge pianists in Seattle. In desperation, they take on a young, attractive singer, Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), who at first seems to be just strange, sort of a loser. Yet, gradually, Susie’s presence changes entirely the siblings’ careers and their lives, causing sort of a mid-life crises, which call for reevaluation of their very bond, approach to music and to work, not to mention their love lives.
Representing the impressive screen directorial debut of Steve Kloves (later the scribe of the Harry Potter” series), the whole movie is sharply observed, technically polished, and vastly entertaining. Pauline Kael, The New Yorker critic, wrote: “It’s a romantic fantasy that has a forties-movie sultriness and an eighties movie-struck melancholy. Put them together and you have a movie in which eighties glamour is being defined.” 
In 1989, Pfeiffer had just scored a supporting actress nomination for Stephen Frears’ witty costume drama, “Dangerous Liaisons,” but she did not win. A year later, for “Fabulous Baker Boys,” Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance received the best reviews of her career to date.
Here is a sample. The New York Times called her “as unexpected a choice for this musical bombshell asJeff Bridges is for Jack, but, like him, she proves to be electrifyingly right. When Ms. Pfeiffer, draped across Jeff Bridges’s piano and setting some new standard for cinematic slinkiness, performs in the above-mentioned New Year’s Eve sequence with the camera gliding hypnotically around her, she just plain brings down the house.”
The Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn’t want her to stop.”
The New Yorker compared Pfeiffer to “the grinning infectiousness ofCarole Lombard, the radiance of the very youngLauren Bacall.” 
Time described her as “a cat with at least nine dimensions ever a flicker in her eyes.” Variety wrote, “Pfeiffer hits the nail right on the head. She also hits the spot in the film’s certain-to-be-remembered highlight–a version of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ that she sings while crawling all over a piano in a blazing red dress. She’s dynamite.”
The Washington Post depicted her as “slinky and cynical, more Bacall than Bacall. Like the sun through a magnifying glass, she burns an image on the screen.”
At the end of the year, when the various groups gathered to vote, in an almost unprecedented manner, Michelle Pfeiffer won every single award: Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Drama; the National Board of Review; the National Society of Film Critics; the New York Film Critics Circle;Chicago Film Critics Association Award; the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; and others.  It’s unusual to have such a uniformity of opinion among critics (I know, I am a member of five of these groups).
The 1989 contest, not particularly strong for female actors, boiled down to two thesps, Tandy and. Pfeiffer, and it was labeled by some journalists as “Old Hollywood Vs. Young Hollywood.”
I don’t know if the Academy’s vote for Jessica Tandy, which gives a wonderful performance, was sentimental, based on her advance age and impeccable stage credits.  But it certainly helps if your performance is contained in a movie nominated for Best Picture, as “Driving Miss Daisy” was and as “Fabulous Baker Boys” was not (it received other nominations, but didn’t win any award).
Pfeiffer’s work in that picture may not only be her best work, but also one of the sexiest performances ever committed on screen.
For the Record:
In 1989, the other Best Actress nominees were: Isabelle Adjani in “Camille Claudel,” Pauline Collins in “Shirley Valentine,” and Jessica Lange in “The Music Box.”