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Review: On Theater: Here’s to past Oscar losers – they should have been winners

Frank Sinatra appears with wife Barbara Sinatra in 1976. Columnist Tom Titus contends the Chairman of the Board was snubbed when he didn’t win the Oscar in 1955 for “The Man with the Golden Arm.”
(Associated Press)

A week from tonight Hollywood will honor its own in the annual Academy Awards ceremony where a few nominees will go home happy and the rest will just go home.

Playgoers are also often moviegoers who pay attention to the Oscars, and every year there are disappointments, sometimes bitter ones, like in the best picture category when “The French Connection” beat out “The Last Picture Show,” “Chariots of Fire” topped “On Golden Pond” and “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan.”

But the ones that hit the hardest are those omissions among the actors. Here are a dozen, admittedly highly subjective, cases where one performer clearly should have won, but didn’t.

Orson Welles in 1941’s “Citizen Kane.” Welles’ gargantuan talents as both actor and director surfaced perhaps too early in his career, but “Kane” has since been recognized as among the top movies of all time by many Hollywood scholars.


Peter Ustinov in 1951’s “Quo Vadis.” Ustinov did go on to win two Oscars, but the performance that should be etched on his tombstone was that of the mad emperor Nero in one of the better sword-and-sandal epics.

Rod Steiger in 1964’s “The Pawnbroker.” He later won for “In the Heat of the Night,” but Steiger’s performance as a Holocaust survivor running a seamy New York pawn shop is exemplary. Adding insult to injury, he lost to Lee Marvin in “Cat Ballou.”

Peter O’Toole in 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia.” Like Welles, he peaked too early in his career, but has any one actor dominated a movie like O’Toole in this best-picture winner? He never won an Oscar.

Richard Burton in 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Burton went to his grave un-Oscared, but he certainly deserved recognition for this outstanding performance (the picture should have won too).


Elizabeth Taylor in 1959’s “Suddenly, Last Summer.” Taylor won two Oscars in her illustrious career, but surely would have traded her “Butterfield 8” award for one honoring her searing performance in the Tennessee Williams drama.

Frank Sinatra in 1955’s “The Man With the Golden Arm.” A previous winner, for “From Here to Eternity,” Sinatra topped himself as a drug addict trying desperately to kick his habit by going cold turkey.

Richard Widmark for 1961’s “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Maximilian Schell won for his passionate defense counsel, but Widmark’s penetrating prosecutor deserved a supporting Oscar. He never won in a distinguished career.

Jack Lemmon in 1962’s “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Yes, Lemmon won twice, but his struggling alcoholic was the best portrayal of his career. He also deserved a supporting Oscar for “Glengarry Glenn Ross.”

Audrey Hepburn in 1967’s “Wait Until Dark.” This was the year they honored the wrong Hepburn. Katharine won her second Oscar for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” a performance dwarfed by Audrey’s terrorized blind woman in “Dark.”

Andy Griffith in 1957’s “A Face in the Crowd.” The folksy comic turned viciously ambitious and vindictive in this riveting drama, an abrupt change of pace. Griffith stuck to lighter fare from then on.

Angela Lansbury in 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate.” Nominated in her first-ever role (“Gaslight”), Lansbury chilled the blood as the worst mother of all time, out to dismantle democracy in this superb political thriller.

These are just a few significant omissions. You probably have lists of your own. Maybe you’ll add a few next Sunday.


Tom Titus reviews local theater.