I was recently thinking about Mary Steenburgen.
Not in the way Ted Danson does. I was thinking about how she belongs to an interesting club.
In 1980, Steenburgen won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Melvin And Howard. It was her first nomination. And her only win.
So I started to list in my head all the other actors who belong to the one-time nominee/one-time winner category. Hello, Forest Whitaker.
(Yes, one of my favorite pastimes in life is Oscar trivia. And yes, I know I’m a tool.)
It made me wonder: Does that mean these are performances where the actor was simply THAT good once in their career? Or is it simply that the Academy tends to nominate the same actors over and over, leaving out room for parity?
Anyway, here they are: The people who won their only Oscar for their only nomination (in chronological order, according to category):
Emil Jannings, The Last Command and The Way Of All Flesh (1927)
NOTE: He was the first Oscar winner — in the only year actors were nominated for more than one film.
Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul (1931)
Paul Lukas, Watch On The Rhine (1943)
Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend (1945)
Broderick Crawford, All The King’s Men (1949)
Ernest Borgnine, Marty (1955)
Yul Brynner, The King And I (1956)
David Niven, Separate Tables (1958)
Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur (1959)
Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou (1965)
Cliff Robertson, Charly (1968)
Art Carney, Harry And Tonto (1974)
F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus (1984)
Jeremy Irons, Reversal Of Fortune (1990)
NOTE: Irons falls into another category for me: People who seem like the should have a few nominations, but really only have one. I was recently shocked to see Peter Bogdanovich — long considered a great director — only has one Best Director nom: for 1971’s The Last Picture Show.
Adrien Brody, The Pianist (2002)
Forest Whitaker, The Last King Of Scotland (2006)
Mary Pickford, Coquette (1929)
Ginger Rogers, Kitty Foyle (1940)
Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday (1950)
Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Marlee Matlin, Children Of A Lesser God (1986)
Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets (1997)
Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare In Love (1998)
Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball (2001)
Reese Witherspoon, Walk The Line (2005)
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (2008)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Joseph Schildkraut, The Life Of Emile Zola (1937)
Donald Crisp, How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Van Heflin, Johnny Eager (1942)
Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way (1944)
NOTE: I’ll count him, even though he had two nominations — for the same role. It was the only time in Oscar history an actor was nominated twice for the same performance. Fitzgerald landed in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor races.
James Dunn, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945)
Harold Russell, The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)
Dean Jagger, Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
George Sanders, All About Eve (1950)
Red Buttons, Sayonara (1957)
Burl Ives, The Big Country (1958)
George Chakiris, West Side Story (1961)
Ed Begley, Sweet Bird Of Youth (1962)
Martin Balsam, A Thousand Clowns (1965)
George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses (1968)
John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show (1971)
Joel Grey, Cabaret (1972)
George Burns, The Sunshine Boys (1975)
Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People (1980)
Louis Gossett, Jr., An Officer And A Gentleman (1982)
Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields (1984)
Don Ameche, Cocoon (1985)
Sean Connery, The Untouchables (1987)
Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
James Coburn, Affliction (1998)
Jim Broadbent, Iris (2001)
Chris Cooper, Adaptation (2002)
NOTE: In 2003, Tim Robbins won Best Supporting Actor for Mystic River — his only acting nomination. But he had previously been nominated for Best Director in 1996 for Dead Man Walking. So his win doesn’t count.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Hattie McDaniel, Gone With The Wind (1939)
NOTE: She was the first black actor to win an Oscar.
Jane Darwell, The Grapes Of Wrath (1940)
Mary Astor, The Great Lie (1940)
Katina Paxinou, For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943)
Josephine Hull, Harvey (1950)
Kim Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Donna Reed, From Here To Eternity (1953)
Eva Marie Saint, On The Waterfront (1954)
Jo Van Fleet, East Of Eden (1955)
Dorothy Malone, Written On The Wind (1956)
Miyoshi Umeki, Sayonara (1957)
Shirley Jones, Elmer Gantry (1960)
Rita Moreno, West Side Story (1961)
Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker (1962)
Margaret Rutherford, The V.I.P.s (1963)
Lila Kedrova, Zorba The Greek (1964)
Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (1966)
Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show (1971)
Tatum O’Neal, Paper Moon (1973)
NOTE: She is also the youngest-ever Oscar winner, at 10 years old.
Beatrice Straight, Network (1976)
NOTE: This is also the shortest performance to garner an Oscar. She was on screen for only about five minutes.
Mary Steenburgen, Melvin And Howard (1980)
Linda Hunt, The Year Of Living Dangerously (1983)
Peggy Ashcroft, A Passage To India (1984)
Olympia Dukakis, Moonstruck (1987)
Brenda Fricker, My Left Foot (1989)
Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King (1991)
Anna Paquin, The Piano (1993)
Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential (1997)
Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago (2002)
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener (2005)
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006)
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)
An observation after thumbing through this list: The one-nomination/one-win phenomenon happens much more often in the supporting categories — which isn’t surprising. Character actors often populate those categories,and it’s less likely for them to become leading actors.
P.S. — A few people have been nominated twice and won both times:
Helen Hayes — Best Actress in 1932 for The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Best Supporting Actress in 1970 for Airport
Luis Rainer — Best Actress in 1936 for The Great Ziegfeld, Best Actress in 1937 for The Good Earth.
NOTE: She is one of two women to win Best Actress in back-to-back years. Katherine Hepburn also did it in 1967 for Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and in 1968 for The Lion In Winter.
Vivien Leigh — Best Actress in 1939 for Gone With The Wind, Best Actress in 1951 for A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sally Field — Best Actress in 1979 for Norma Rae, Best Actress in 1984 for Places In The Heart.
Michael Douglass — Best Picture in 1975 for One Flew Over The Cucko’s Nest (which he co-produced), Best Actor in 1987 for Wall Street
Kevin Spacey — Best Supporting Actor in 1995 for The Usual Suspects, Best Actor in 1999 for American Beauty.
Hillary Swank — Best Actress in 1999 for Boys Don’t Cry, Best Actress in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby.