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Honorary Award: Women ‘Snubbed’ by the Academy Throughout the Decades

14 minutes read

Honorary Award Marlene Dietrich
Honorary Award non-recipient Marlene Dietrich.

Honorary Award: Academy ‘snubbed’ Gloria Swanson & Rita Hayworth + Marlene Dietrich & dozens of other women

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

(See previous post: “Honorary Oscars: Doris Day & Danielle Darrieux ‘Snubbed.’”) A sizable chunk of part three of this three-part article about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Honorary Award bypassing women consists of a long, long – and for the most part quite prestigious – list of deceased women who, some way or other, have left their mark on the film world. Some of the names found below are still well known; others were huge in their day, but are now all but forgotten. Yet just because most people (and the media) suffer from long-term – and even medium-term – memory loss, that doesn’t mean these women would have been any less deserving of the Academy’s Honorary Award.

Honorary Award-less Actresses

Among the distinguished female film professionals in Hollywood and elsewhere who have passed away without receiving an Honorary Oscar for their body of work – most of them without having ever won or even been nominated for a competitive Oscar – were the following actresses:

Gloria Swanson. Rita Hayworth. Marlene Dietrich. Ava Gardner. Eleanor Parker. Kay Francis. Deanna Durbin. Jean Arthur. Alida Valli. Miriam Hopkins. Jean Simmons. Ann Sheridan. Paulette Goddard.

Rosalind Russell. Irene Dunne. Dorothy McGuire. Mae West. Joan Bennett. Lana Turner. Dolores del Rio. Marion Davies. Jeanette MacDonald. Constance Bennett.

One could – or rather, should – add Thelma Ritter to the list above. Although in movies for a little over two decades, at the time of her death at age 66 in 1969, Ritter had become a – record-setting – six-time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee.

And of course, Ida Lupino, a well-regarded 1940s Warner Bros. star in films such as High Sierra and The Hard Way, and a pioneering post-World War II woman director (Hard, Fast and Beautiful; The Bigamist).

Here are a few more women performers who were never handed the Academy’s Honorary Award:[1]

Janet Leigh. Lilli Palmer. Ruth Chatterton. Ann Harding. Hedy Lamarr. Colleen Moore. Annie Girardot. Betty Grable. Gene Tierney. Merle Oberon. Joan Blondell.

Ingrid Thulin. Giulietta Masina. Pola Negri. Margaret Lockwood. Fay Wray. Lucille Ball. Maria Schell. Glenda Farrell. María Félix. Jill Clayburgh. Shirley Temple.

In addition to the following actresses who took home a single Oscar during the course of their careers:[2]

Simone Signoret. Anna Magnani. Jennifer Jones. Joan Fontaine. Greer Garson. Claudette Colbert. Norma Shearer. Ginger Rogers. Joan Crawford. Audrey Hepburn. Susan Hayward. Jane Wyman. Wendy Hiller. Patricia Neal.

Anne Baxter. Margaret Rutherford. Gloria Grahame. Claire Trevor. Mary Astor. Loretta Young. Fay Bainter. Anne Bancroft. Gale Sondergaard. Teresa Wright. Janet Gaynor, the first Best Actress Academy Award winner.

Honorary Award Gloria SwansonHonorary Award non-recipient Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.

Women behind the camera

Behind the camera, there were the following unhonored women:

  • Director and editor Dorothy Arzner, the only major female filmmaker during the studio era (e.g., The Wild Party, Christopher Strong).
  • Editor Dede Allen (Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon).
  • Composer and screenwriter Betty Comden (The Band Wagon, It’s Always Fair Weather).
  • Costume designer Irene a.k.a. Irene Lentz, whose credits include In the Good Old Summertime and Midnight Lace – and not to be confused with fellow designer and five-time Oscar winner Irene Sharaff.
  • Screenwriter-director Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima Mon Amour, India Song).
  • Screenwriters Suso Cecchi D’Amico (Rocco and His Brothers), Bess Meredyth (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ), Jane Murfin (The Women), Frances Goodrich (The Thin Man), and Lenore J. Coffee (Four Daughters).

Women movie pioneers

And finally, the now largely forgotten women film pioneers ignored by the Academy:

  • Screenwriter and frequent Cecil B. DeMille collaborator Jeanie Macpherson.
  • Screenwriter and frequent Douglas Fairbanks collaborator Anita Loos.
  • Director, screenwriter, and actress Lois Weber.
  • Director-producer Alice Guy Blaché.
  • “First movie star” Florence Lawrence, who, broke and forgotten, committed suicide in 1938 – 32 years after her first film appearance.

And Lawrence’s fellow pioneering actresses:

Asta Nielsen. Norma Talmadge. Constance Talmadge. Alice Joyce. Pauline Frederick. Theda Bara. Francesca Bertini. Clara Kimball Young.

Mae Marsh. Mae Murray. Corinne Griffith. Florence Turner. Blanche Sweet. Dorothy Gish. Viola Dana. Marguerite Clark.

And Bessie Love, whose film career spanned from the mid-1910s (the William S. Hart Western The Aryan, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance) to the early 1980s (bit parts in Milos Forman’s Ragtime, Warren Beatty’s Reds, and Ridley Scott’s The Hunger).

Florence Lawrence Woman Film PioneerFlorence Lawrence: Woman Film Pioneer and “first movie star,” reduced to working as a movie extra, committed suicide at age 48 in 1938.

Wide range of male Honorary Award winners

In the meantime, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recognized the body of work and/or “service to the motion picture industry” of numerous male actors – in some cases, multitasking actors best known for their work in front of the camera:

Alec Guinness. Robert Redford. Paul Newman. Cary Grant. Eli Wallach. Gary Cooper. James Earl Jones. Edward G. Robinson. Groucho Marx. Laurence Olivier. Henry Fonda. Ralph Bellamy. Eddie Cantor. Maurice Chevalier.

Fred Astaire. Buster Keaton. Harold Lloyd. Danny Kaye. Gene Kelly. Sidney Poitier. Bob Hope. Peter O’Toole. Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. Stan Laurel. Mickey Rooney. Steve Martin. Kirk Douglas. James Stewart.

In addition to Honorary Awards for an eclectic group of directors (at times doubling as producers and/or screenwriters):

Ernst Lubitsch. King Vidor. Satyajit Ray. Jean Renoir. Blake Edwards. Sidney Lumet. Akira Kurosawa. Stanley Donen. Robert Altman. Jean-Luc Godard.

Andrzej Wajda. Merian C. Cooper. Elia Kazan. Howard Hawks. Michelangelo Antonioni. Federico Fellini. Roger Corman. Cecil B. DeMille.

Below is a partial list of other male Honorary Award winners:

  • Multitaskers Orson Welles and Charles Chaplin.
  • Studio heads / producers Louis B. Mayer, Adolph Zukor, Mack Sennett, and Hal Roach.
  • Studio executives / producers Joseph M. Schenck and B.B. Kahane.
  • Cinematographers Gordon Willis and Jack Cardiff (who also directed a handful of films).
  • Animators Chuck Jones, Walter Lantz, and Hayao Miyazaki.
  • Inventors Lee De Forest and George Alfred Mitchell.
  • Composers Alex North and Ennio Morricone.
  • Stunt coordinators Yakima Canutt and Hal Needham (the latter also directed a handful of movies, usually starring Burt Reynolds).
  • Production designer Robert Boyle.
  • Make-up artist Dick Smith.
  • Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière.
  • Screenwriter-producer Ernest Lehman.
  • Film exhibitor Sid Grauman.
  • Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker.
  • Choreographer Michael Kidd.
  • Labor-relations leader Charles S. Boren.
  • American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr.
  • Short-film creator Pete Smith.
  • Film archivist Henri Langlois.
  • Film historian / preservationist Kevin Brownlow.
  • Costume designer Piero Tosi.
  • And even a censor: the Production Code Administration’s infamous Joseph Breen.

Most – though definitely not all – male winners of the Honorary Award for career achievement and/or pioneering film work and/or “services to the film industry” merited their statuettes because, whether or not you or I admire their acting or directing or producing or screenwriting or choreographing skills, they hold an indelible place in motion picture history.

But if gender-related prejudices haven’t played a role in the selection of Honorary Award winners, why have the members of the Academy’s various Board of Governors throughout the decades been unable to find more women deserving of that same recognition?

Women Presidents Cheryl Boone Isaacs Angelina JolieWomen presidents: Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Academy’s women presidents: Cheryl Boone Isaacs is only the third one

Wrapping up this three-part piece, let it be noted that in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 87-year history there have been only three women presidents:[3]

  • Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Bette Davis – for two months in 1941, before the Dangerous and Jezebel star was forced to resign.
  • Screenwriter Fay Kanin (1979–1983), whose best-known film credit is the 1958 Doris Day-Clark Gable comedy Teacher’s Pet.
  • Public Relations Branch member Cheryl Boone Isaacs, also a Board of Governors member for more than two decades, became the Academy’s third woman president in July 2013. Boone Isaacs, whose credits include the promotion of two eventual Best Picture Oscar winners, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994) and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995), also happens to be the Academy’s first black president.

Besides, following some top-level restructuring in April 2011, the Academy created the positions of Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, with the CEO post currently held by a woman, former Film Independent executive director and sometime bit player Dawn Hudson (Angie, In Dark Places). Initially, the COO post was held by longtime Academy insider Ric Robertson, who stepped down in Sept. 2013 and was not replaced.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors

Lastly, in the 2011-2012 period the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 43-member Board of Governors included a mere six women:[4]

  • Actress Annette Bening.
  • Director Kathryn Bigelow.
  • Editor Anne V. Coates.
  • Art director Rosemary Brandenburg.
  • Producer Gale Anne Hurd.
  • Publicist Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

Additionally, A.M.P.A.S. CEO Dawn Hudson was a Board of Governors Officer.

Annette Bening Academy Board of GovernorsAnnette Bening: Academy Board of Governors’ women members.

Oscar 2014-2015 update: There are currently 51 members in the Academy’s Board of Governors, including 14 women – in addition to Board of Governors Officer Dawn Hudson. The female members, representing various Academy branches, are the following:

  • Documentary filmmaker Kate Amend (The Queen of Versailles).
  • Actress Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right).
  • Director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker).
  • Hair stylist Kathryn Blondell (Django Unchained).
  • Publicist (and Academy president) Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
  • Producer Kathleen Kennedy (The Color Purple).
  • Casting director Lora Kennedy (Man of Steel).
  • Film editor Lynzee Klingman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).
  • Costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
  • Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark).
  • Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal.
  • Set decorator Jan Pascale (Argo).
  • Screenwriter Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
  • Fox Searchlight Pictures co-president and Public Relations Branch member Nancy Utley.
Honorary Award Rita HayworthHonorary Award non-winner Rita Hayworth.

Honorary Award article notes: Non-winners Madeleine Carroll, Anna May Wong

[1] In varying degrees of international prestige and movie-career longevity, here are some more actresses who never won the Academy’s Honorary Award:

Madeleine Carroll. Joan Greenwood. Anna Neagle. Françoise Rosay. Geraldine Fitzgerald. Anna May Wong. Nancy Carroll. Lee Remick. Ann Todd. Clara Bow. Silvana Mangano. Sylvia Sidney.

Agnes Moorehead. Karen Black. Susannah York. Arletty. Jeanne Crain. June Allyson. Dorothy Lamour. Simone Simon. Betty Hutton. Aline MacMahon. Martha Scott. Celia Johnson. Alice Faye. Ann Miller.

Ann Sothern. Maureen O’Sullivan. Valerie Hobson. Esther Williams. Elisabeth Bergner. Julie Harris. Doris Kenyon. Cyd Charisse. Margaret Leighton. Constance Cummings. Gloria Stuart. Sara Montiel.

Edwige Feuillère. Diana Dors. Phyllis Calvert. Kay Walsh. Joan Leslie. Eve Arden. Gladys Cooper. Edith Evans. ZaSu Pitts. Mary Boland. Marjorie Main. Dolores Costello. Virna Lisi. Anita Ekberg.

In the early 1960s, actress Danièle Delorme (Les Misérables) became one of the few women movie producers in France – and anywhere in the world.

Also worth remembering is French filmmaker Jacqueline Audry, France’s only major female movie director in the post-World War II years. Perhaps not coincidentally, Audry starred Delorme in three of her films – among them the original Gigi.

Honorary Award ‘snubs’: Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis left out of the list

[2] As in the previous post focusing on living Honorary Award non-winners, the lists found in this post don’t include women who won two or more Academy Awards in a particular category, e.g., actresses Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes, Shelley Winters, and Elizabeth Taylor; screenwriters Frances Marion and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; and costume designers Helen Rose and Edith Head.

Obviously, Romy Schneider, Carole Lombard, Marilyn Monroe, Martine Carol, Judy Holliday, Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, Margaret Sullavan, Kay Kendall, Natalie Wood, Dorothy Dandridge, and Jean Harlow, to name a few, were left out of the list because at the time of their death they were too young to have been honored for their body of work.

Jean Harlow, for instance, though a major star with more than 20 films to her credit, was all of 26 when she died. In fact, at their death, none of the aforementioned actresses were over age 50.

Best Actress Oscar nominee Gladys George (Valiant Is the Word for Carrie) was 54 when she died in 1954, but excluding a handful of silent film appearances in the early ’20s, George’s film career lasted less than two decades.

As for film pioneer Mabel Normand, she not only died too young (37 years old) but also too early (1930) to get the Academy’s Honorary Award for career achievement.

Mabel Normand Woman Film PioneerMabel Normand: Woman Film Pioneer died several years before the Academy’s Honorary Award for career achievement was instituted.

Past Academy presidents

[3] Besides women presidents Bette Davis and Fay Kanin, past Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presidents include the following:

  • Actor, producer, and United Artists co-founder Douglas Fairbanks.
  • Actors Conrad Nagel, Jean Hersholt, Wendell Corey, Gregory Peck, and Karl Malden.
  • Directors William C. de Mille, Frank Capra, Frank Lloyd, George Stevens, George Seaton, Robert Wise, and Arthur Hiller.
  • Screenwriters Daniel Taradash and Valentine Davies.
  • Screenwriter-director Frank Pierson.
  • Screenwriter-producer Charles Brackett.
  • Art director Gene Allen.
  • Producer and studio executive Sid Ganis.
  • Executive producer Tom Sherak.
  • Producers Walter Wanger (two separate terms), Arthur Freed, Walter Mirisch, Howard W. Koch, and Robert Rehme (two separate terms).

Academy membership: Overwhelmingly white, older (and wealthy) male residents living on Los Angeles’ Westside

[4] According to a widely discussed July 2012 Los Angeles Times piece, out of 5,100 “confirmed” members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 6,000-strong roster, 94 percent are white (admittedly, what’s labeled “white” is debatable) and 77 percent are male (a considerably less debatable label). Their median age is 62 years old.

Unfortunately, the article, which is supposed to show that the Academy’s “demographics are much less diverse than the moviegoing public,” doesn’t feature any information about one crucial detail: the median income of Academy members.

Also of note, the overwhelming majority of the tallied AMPAS members – though percentage figures were also unavailable in the paper – live on Los Angeles’ Westside. Using the term loosely, the area stretches from the western section of the Hollywood Hills to the Santa Monica Mountains and the coastal town of Malibu, in addition to the Westside proper (Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel Air, etc.).

There’s also a sizable contingent of Academy members in the eastern section of the Hollywood Hills and in adjacent Los Feliz.

Check out: Part one of this three-part post – “Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Angela Lansbury among few female Honorary Oscar winners.”

Photo of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ third woman president, standing between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the 2014 Governor’s Ball on March 2: Todd Wawrychuk / © A.M.P.A.S.

Annette Bening photo: Yoram Kahana, at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association press conference for the movie Mrs. Harris.

Photo of Honorary Award non-winner Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd.: Paramount Pictures.

Images of Honorary Award non-recipients Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich: Publicity shots for Gilda (1946) and A Foreign Affair (1948), via Doctor Macro.

Mabel Normand image via the Travalanche blog.

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cc -

I know this is for the snubbed women, but so many that I love and am sad that they’ve been snubbed for too long are the many of the same women that have been leading ladies of a greatly snubbed actor. William Powell. His most well known leading lady received an honorary finally a year or so before her death. He was magnificent alongside the mentioned Kay Francis, Ruth Chatterton, Irene Dunne, Mary Astor, Marion Davies, and, of course, Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow.

Francine -

Academy Awars / The Oscars a vast joke! I was seldom pleased and most of the time disappointed….

claroscureaux -

My picks for honorary lifetime achievement Oscars (in no particular order:)

Mabel Normand

Gladys George always turned in memorable supporting performances. Her DuBarry in ‘Marie Antoinette’ (1938) is just wonderful, flip and acid, she steals all Barrymore’s thunder (as well as star Shearer’s) with her limited time on screen

Clara Bow

Norma and Constance Talmadge

Mae Murray

Corinne Griffith

Marion Davies (in fact she deserved Best Actress for ‘Blondie of the Follies,’ her performance in the first half of the film is nothing less than brilliant)

Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard — both died young with a lot of promise unfulfilled, but the fact they are still fan favorites today speaks volumes about their continuing screen presence.

Gloria Swanson

Marlene Dietrich – once she moved out from under Von Sternberg’s shadows and diffusing lenses, she was amazing.

Dolores Del Rio — did she get one? If not, move her to the top of this list.

Ditto Garbo.

Mae West – any star who single-handedly saved a studio deserves one, but she was so much more.

Irene Dunne – already almost over the hill by Hollywood standards when she made her first film, you never would have guessed it. I’ll watch her in anything, any time.

Mary Astor

Bessie Love

Ruth Chatterton

Paulette Goddard

Kay Francis

Miriam Hopkins

Ava Gardner

Lana Turner — not a favorite of mine, but she did have something to continue being a draw even after she went from being a pouty doll to looking like a Waffle House waitress in the 1950s. I tend to watch Lana movies for the same reason I watch Norma Shearer — you’re always guaranteed some heavy-handed scenery chewing.

Norma Shearer – even though she did win an early Oscar, I think she deserves another for her overall body of work. Generally terrible actress but with flashes of brilliance, if she could have left the silent mannerisms behind she could have been much more than just a personality. It’s unfair for some historians to dismiss her career as Irving Thalberg’s vanity. There’s no denying he was giving her most of the plum parts MGM had to offer, but she had a strong fan base from the late 1920s on and the fans ultimately had the the last word. She could have continued well into the 1940s and 50s if she’d had someone with a better eye choosing her material.

Laura Hope Crews

Zasu Pitts

Actually, I’m looking at your very very thorough list now and agree with every single one named, especially the lesser-knowns like Aline MacMahon who always turned in sterling performances that stayed with you. I particularly love her con woman Barrelhouse Betty in ‘One Way Passage’?

Andre -

Many thanks for the long comment @claroscureaux.

And for the Bessie Love suggestion on G+. I’ve added her name to the list of Honorary Oscar non-winners.

James de Menna -

Well, perhaps I misunderstand the article as Mr. Soares is usually “right on track”.
However Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin & Judy Garland all “took home” honorary Oscars.

Andre -

@James de Menna

Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, and Judy Garland took home miniature Juvenile Awards aka Juvenile Oscars.

Edward Copeland -

What’s worse is that they’ve stopped presented the honorary Oscars on the broadcast itself when those were usually the highlights, Several years ago — when they still did give them on the show — I got so tired of them giving honorary awards and Thalbergs to both men and women who already had won competitively (Loren, Eastwood, Zaentz, Kazan, Beatty, Poitier and Redford) while so many who had never won went unhonored, I wrote then-Academy President Frank Pierson with a list of suggested honorees, all over 65 and alive at the time, that they should consider. I’m not egotistical enough to believe they paid attention to me but since then they have honored a lot of the names that were on my list though, unfortunately, many have passed on in the interim. Here are the names who are still alive from oldest to youngest who have never won: Maureen O’Hara, Charles Durning, Glynis Johns, Doris Day, Julie Harris, Angela Lansbury, Jeanne Moreau, Christopher Plummer (of course he’ll win competitively next week), Joan Plowright, Max von Sydow, Gena Rowlands, Leslie Caron, Piper Laurie, Debbie Reynolds, Burt Reynolds and Albert Finney. Here, alphabetically, were suggestions I made who have since died without an honor: Eddie Albert, June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Hume Cronyn, Tony Curtis, Jules Dassin, Peter Falk, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Glenn Ford, John Frankenheimer, Richard Harris, Betty Hutton, Van Johnson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Arthur Penn, Jean Simmons and Richard Widmark. Here are the ones that were on my list that they have honored since: Blake Edwards, Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Lewis, Lauren Bacall, Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, James Earl Jones. The one on my list who won competitively: Morgan Freeman.

Rebecca -

Ah yes, Old Hollywood! Congratulations to all! Those were the days. I don’t think we have actresses that measure up to Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and others. Some come close but these ladies had a essence about them that just isn’t seen today.


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