One Hit Wonders of the Academy Awards
While there have been quite a number of budding actors and actresses that have received Academy recognition – e.g. a nomination or even an Oscar – for their very first movie roles some non-actors have also been rewarded similarly. Although it doesn’t happen very often over the years there have been persons with unique talents and/or attributes that have been chosen – for their excellence in another (artistic) field or even plucked from obscurity – to play a needed part in a given film. Additionally there have been others whose sole contribution to moviemaking has been recognized or was unforgettable in some way.
- Opera singer Miliza Korjus who was signed to a film contract by MGM’s Irving G. Thalberg shortly before his death was finally cast in her first movie – opposite Fernand Gravet as Johann Strauss II (and with top billed two time Best Actress winner Luise Rainer) – in a fictionalized biography of the Austrian composer titled The Great Waltz (1938) and earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for what turned out to be her only role in an American production. Korjus was seriously injured in a car accident that crushed her left leg shortly before she was to begin work on her next picture (featuring Robert Taylor as Sandor Rozsa) and though she eventually recovered later made just one more movie in Mexico.
- Army instructor and double amputee Harold Russell whose hands had been replaced with hooks after he’d lost them in an accidental explosion while working on an army training film for paratroopers won two Oscars for his role as a disabled returning World War II veteran in producer Samuel Goldwyn’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) directed by William Wyler and also starring MovieMorlocks’ heartthrobs Fredric March (who won his second Best Actor Oscar) and Dana Andrews. Russell took home the gold for Best Supporting Actor and received another Honorary Award “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance”; it’s the only time that anyone has ever won two Academy Awards for the same performance.
- Although nine year old Czech Ivan Jandl’s performance opposite Best Actor nominee Montgomery Clift’s acting debut in The Search (1948) wasn’t nominated for an Oscar he did receive the infrequently given (and no longer awarded) Juvenile Award from the Academy.
- Tahitian native Jocelyne LaGarde received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her first and only film role as the likeable Queen Alii Nui of Maui in MGM’s version of James Michener’s Hawaii (1966) .
- Cambodian physician Haing S. Ngor was chosen to portray photographer Dith Pran in The Killing Fields (1984) opposite lead actor Sam Waterston (who received his only Oscar nomination to date) and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. Though Ngor then began a career in acting with modest success it was cut short by his murder in 1996.
Similarly diminutive Japanese vocalist-nightclub artist Miyoshi Umeki (who earned a Best Supporting Oscar alongside veteran actor Red Buttons in Michener’s Sayonara (1957)) and New York playwright Jason Miller (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for his performance as Father Karras in The Exorcist (1973)) continued acting after their auspicious debuts though Umeki is best remembered for playing little Brandon Cruz’s surrogate mother-housekeeper Mrs. Livingston in TV’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father featuring Bill Bixby as the titled character.
Others who have been recognized by the Academy for their first and only contribution to filmmaking include Paul Wing who won a Best Assistant Director Oscar for his work on Henry Hathaway’s adventure drama The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) RCA sound recordist Watson Jones was nominated for Stanley Kramer’s doctor drama Not as a Stranger (1955) producer Michael Todd (who also helped to develop the short-lived widescreen technique dubbed Todd-AO) won the Best Picture Oscar for his only production Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) and choreographer Jerome Robbins who shared the Best Director Oscar with Robert Wise for West Side Story (1961) – the only time that’s been done.
Some other significant one-time contributors that weren’t recognized by the Academy include Maria Falconetti who gave one of the best silent film performances ever in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) aka La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc before the awards were established child Edmund Meschke (aka Moeschke) who made an indelible impression in Roberto Rossellini’s post WW II drama Germania anno zero (1948) and Anton Karas whose zither music were among the many elements that made The Third Man (1949) a classic. I also wanted to mention ballerinas Moira Shearer and Tamara Toumanova who gave such memorable performances to enrich less than a handful of films each from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) and Vincente Minnelli’s The Story of Three Loves (1953) to Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (1966) and Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).
© 2008 Turner Classic Movies – this article originally appeared on TCM’s official blog