Oscar History

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The Oldest Living "Best Actress" Nominees

Let's hear it for ladies of a certain age!

Mary Tyler Moore, television icon and an Oscar nominee for a terrifically icy variation on one of Oscar's favorite archetypes 'the monster mom' in Ordinary People (1980) turns 75 years old today. The last picture I can find of her out and about is the one to your left taken at the premiere of "Follies" starring Bernadette Peters (DO NOT MISS IT IF YOU'RE IN NYC!) which is just about the most appropriate show an aging diva can be seen at since it's all about aging showgirls looking back on their lives. (It's also one of the best musicals ever written but let's not get distracted...)

Mary Tyler Moore got me to thinking about the endurance of our beloved Best Actress nominees. There have been various media Oscar mash notes over the years that have claimed that winning an Oscar helps you live longer and while I can't possibly aim to verify that it does give one pause to realize that Mary Tyler Moore and Vanessa Redgrave just barely made this list. Jane Fonda &  Liv Ullman didn't even qualify.


01 Luise Methusaleh Rainer (nearly 102 years old)
This two time Oscar winner, the first back-to-back competitive Oscar winner (The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth) is the oldest living Oscar winner or nominee from any category. She turns 102 on January 12th.
Still working? Nope... though she still holds court on occasion. She left the movies behind pretty quickly after her prime.

02 Olivia de Havilland (95 years old)
03 Joan Fontaine (94 years old)
Still working? Nope. The famously estranged Oscar-winning sisters were born to British parents in Japan and became Hollywood stars in short succession in the late 30s. Though Joan beat her older sister to the first family Oscar, Olivia triumphed by winning twice. They're both retired and rarely seen in the media. Fontaine supposedly still lives in California. De Havilland, who has lived in France for decades, did show up at the latest Cesar Awards (the French Oscars) where she received a well deserved standing ovation.

Eleanor Parker was a member of one of the most famous Best Actress shortlists of all time in 1950. The year of Bette vs. Gloria when Judy Holliday snuck in and won.

04 Eleanor Parker (89 years old)
The star of Caged (1950) won the Venice Volpi Cup but Oscar always eluded her despite three nominations. If Oscar would ever think to give actresses honorary Oscars, rather than vaguely film-related female celebrities and men from any film profession, she would certainly be worth considering. She's most famous nowadways for her Baroness role in The Sound of Music for which she was not nominated.
Still working? No. Extremely low profile since that last gasp of TV guest work in the 80s.

05 Doris Day (87 years old)
Speaking of Honorary Oscars... her fans get noisy about that all the time. One of the few people you can say "living legend" about without anyone disputing the title. 
Still working? No. Some people believe that Oscar isn't interested in an honorary because she's not likely to show up.

06 Julie Harris (newly 86 years old)
She was an awards magnet in the 1950s, winning Emmys and Tonys and being Oscar nominated for The Member of the Wedding (1952). She played James Dean's girl in the classic East of Eden. It's on the stage where her legend truly resides though. She's won five competitive Tony Awards, which means she's tied with Angela Lansbury for the most wins ever.
Still working? Every once in a while -- her last film was The Lightkeepers (2010).

06 Fernanda Montenegro (82 years old)
The Brazilian legend won a well deserved Oscar nomination for Central Station (1998) which was also up for Best Foreign Film.
Still working? Yep. Next up is a role for Manoel de Oliviera, Portugal's 103 year old prolific director!

07 Joanne Woodward (81 years old)
Mrs. Paul Newman, one of the most acclaimed actors of her generation, won her gold man for The Three Faces of Eve but have you ever seen her work in her husband's debut directorial film Rachel, Rachel? Wow!
Still working? Very very infrequently. Her last major film year was 1993 when she played Tom Hanks's mother in Philadelphia and provided the narration for Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

More powerhouse legends after the jump... Gena, Baby Doll, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and a couple of Dames that are still acting and hugely beloved for multiple generations. 

08 Gena Rowlands (81 years old)
As one of America's most influential actresses, many cinephiles think she deserved better Oscar treatment than just two nominations. Pedro Almodóvar even partially dedicated All About My Mother to her. One of her first films Faces was just inducted into the National Film Registry.
Still working? Yes. Next up is Yellow for her son Nick Cassavettes.

09 Carroll Baker (80 years old)
Baby Doll 

10 Leslie Caron (80 years old)


11 Piper Laurie (turns 80 on Jan 22nd)
They're all going to laugh at you remember you! She's got at least two bonafide immortals under her belt (The Hustler, 1961 and Carrie, 1976) and one cult classic TV series (Twin Peaks) so history will be kind. She also just released her memoirs "Learning to Live Out Loud" More on that soon... I have a copy I keep forgetting to give away.
Still working? Yes. Last seen in Hesher with Joseph Gordon-Levitt 

12 Debbie Reynolds (79 years old)
Carrie Fisher's Unsinkable mom just had a big auction of her Hollywood memorabilia and made a lot of press rounds in the wake of Elizabeth Taylor's death (a peer, enemy, friend and fellow star who her legend is inextricably tied to thanks to the Eddie Fisher years) 
Still working? She pops up on TV on occassion and has her own stage act. 
OF NOTE: They're developing a Broadway show around The Unsinkable Molly Brown using some of the songs from her movie musical. The always energetic Sutton Foster may star.

13 Ellen Burstyn (newly 79 years old) "Sara Goldfarb" herself and obviously one of the favorite actresses of Film Experience readers if our "memorable character polls" this past summer were any indication.
Still working? Yep. Get that second Oscar Ellen! C'mon Darren Aronofsky, give her a plum unexpected part again.

14 Anouk Aimée (78 years old) Still working regularly in French cinema. They don't toss their legends out like Hollywood, thank god.

Cicely Tyson and Emma Stone in "The Help"

15 Cicely Tyson (newly 78 years old) Just seen in The Help but one kept hoping she'd get more screentime given her emotional weight in Emma Stone's narrative.

16 Shirley Maclaine (77 years old)
Warren Beatty's big sister has been a star since time began and possibly before that too. Still working? Yes. According to the IMDb, though they're not always reliable on such matters, she's got four films in the works.

17 Louise Fletcher (77 years old)
Nurse Ratched!

18 Sophia Loren (77 years old)
She's got a real Oscar and a Honorary one... and while you have to honor Sophia's place in movie history we've always kind of been baffled by the practice of giving Honorary Oscars to previous winners when so many other people deserving people never won competitively? Any theories? Or is just the idea of habitual pleasures? Still working? Every once in a while... though I'm still baffled as to why they cut her character's song in Nine. Perhaps it's not best to ask questions of that movie these days.

19 Dame Maggie Smith (turned 77 a few days ago!)
Another beloved icon. Still working? Like a trouper. She finished the last Harry Potter film despite health trouble and now she's proving her comic worth all over again in Downton Abbey... winning yet more prizes and inspiring hilarious tweets like this one from Patton Oswalt.

Nathaniel's Favorite Single Tweet of December 2011

20 Dame Judi Dench (newly 77 years old)
Still working? Duh! Just last month she terrorized Leo DiCaprio with floral stories in J. Edgar and comforted Michelle Williams nervous star in My Week With Marilyn. We're still waiting for her to sink her teeth into another role as good as the one she devoured in Notes on a Scandal though.

Diahann Carroll will star with Kerry Washington in "We The Peeples".

21 Diahann Carroll (76 years old)
Claudine ... "Dominique Devereaux" ... Still working? Pretty steadily for decades. Next up is the matriarch role in We the Peeples with Kerry Washington. 

22 Julie Andrews (76 years old)
Words cannot express but here's our embellished "a history of"! A global treasure. Still working? Yes. Hey, Oscar... wouldn't she be a great choice to give Best Picture away instead of one of those boring men you let do it every other year? She's done it once before but given that you're so stuck on repeats... if you must stay stuck on repeats why not a global icon who hasn't had the honor in 40+ years?

23 Glenda Jackson (75 years old)
The two time winner was a staple of the late 60s and early 70s cinema. Still working? Not in showbiz, no. She left for politics long ago. 

24 Mary Tyler Moore ....Happy 75th!

25 Vanessa Redgrave (She's turning 75 on January 22nd)
We've been talking about her a lot recently on account of her Coriolanus firepower

If I made an error you'll surely let me know though I think that's accurate. I do have spreadsheets, don'cha know.

This topic might well relate to the upcoming Best Actress race. We'll find out in under a month who the next five additions to the history books will be but if Academy voters follow the precursor favorites and goes with Close, Streep, Swinton and Davis, we'll have one of our oldest skewing lineups ever in a category that regularly prefers the 20 and 30somethings. Does that give Michelle Williams the edge being in Oscar's sweet spot Best Actress years? We shall see.

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Reader Comments (46)

Great list! I have to add: Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren and Maggie Smith.
Wouldn't it be something if they got Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland to present the Best Picture Oscar? I am allowed to dream, after all...

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

Great post :) Don't forget the other great Dame- Dame Maggie Smith, who is 77.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeehee

Yeah, Maggie, Sophia and Shirley should be on the list... :)

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdinasztie

Maggie Smith is clearly the more successful one (compared to Dench) when it comes to OSCAR, so I truly don't understand why she's not included.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Thanks for the list! It combines my love for actresses with my love for my grandma.

But yeah, you remembered Judi Dench (btw I just named my new kitten Judi as I can't stop telling people :p) but forgot Maggie Smith? They're BFFs! :)

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

lovely post Nate! May we enjoy them on this earth for many years to come!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLola

EVERYONE -- crap. i don't know how i did that. Just rechecked the spreadsheet and there all three of them are side by side staring me in the face.


December 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Amazing how many others come right after the Vanessa cutoff point. I don't think of Ali MacGraw and Vanessa as being so close to the same age, but obviously they are!

This was a fun read. Sad that we just missed being able to include Jean Simmons, Patricia Neal, and Elizabeth Taylor in this list.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Yes, yes, it's time for an Oscar for Gena Rowlands.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTan

God, Fernanda Montenegro was so good in Central Station. I actually thought Paltrow was great that year, too, but was hoping Montenegro would win it.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Gena Rowlands, Cicely Tyson, and Liv Ullmann have been my WHAT THE F@#% IS GOING ON?? picks for overdue Honorary Oscars for a while now. This article only further stokes my convictions in these areas.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Are you telling me that Eleanor Parker is still alive?! I figured she must have passed on years ago because they NEVER mention her at any of the Sound of Music reunions, sing-a-longs etc. I've long thought that someone really needs to do a full on homage to The Baroness someday (even a drag tribute, why not?).

I'm one of the cheerleaders for an Oscar for Doris Day. Does it matter if she won't show up? Do they even televise those things anymore? Just go up to Carmel and film her receiving the damn thing and make a donation to her favorite pet charity (probably her own?). She was the biggest box office star for years (male or female) and let's face it, Hollywood is all about money. Pay tribute!

And anyone who can get Joan & Olivia on the same stage together deserves a promotion.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Angela Lansbury anyone? I get noisy when it comes to Honorary Oscar. Where is hers?

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCengiz

Feel free to write about Follies and Bernadette Peters anytime!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Love this post. And I love me some Mary Tyler Moore. I remember that scened from Unzipped when the interviewer asks Isaac Mizrahi why he likes Mary Tyler Moore so much, and he looks a little annoyed by the question. He says, "Because I'm an American. Because I'm a human being." Exactly. Happy Birthday!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertimothy

Great post .... I loved the updates.

just to let you know for sure.... I live in Monterey,Ca and Joan Fontaine lives in the Carmel Highlands near friends of mine.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

LOVE LOVE LOVE Olivia de Havilland. Pretty iconic for her supporting work in Gone with the Wind but not necessarily known for being one of the greatest dramatic actresses of her time. Please revisit her work if you will! My Cousin Rachel, Light in the Piazza, The Snake Pitt and her Academy Award winning performance in The Heiress are just a few you should rewatch in the upcoming new year.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I know Barbra, Diana, Bette and Cher are immortal, but doesn't it make you feel so...old when you think about those 4 musical icons and their Oscar moments?

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Forget Julie Andrews-if they can get Olivia and Joan to present Best Picture, I will never say one bad thing about the Oscars again.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Nathaniel, I love it that you always do this around this time of the year ( in one form or another ). IF only AMPAS would do the same thing - but no, instead they move the honorary Oscars outside the main event. So it's sites like this that need to keep this going. Good job!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

Don't shoot me when I say this, but ... I first knew Carroll Baker from "Kindergarten Cop" and that's kind of how I think of her. *exhales*

Thanks for the great round-up!

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench have a movie coming out soon. Something about a Hotel Marigold in India. I saw previews at the theater just this week. And somebody mentioned Angela Lansbury and I don't see her on your list. She was Oscar nominated and is easily in her mid-to-late 80s. Great post, Nathaniel.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

I didn't realize Ellen Burstyn was that old, she looks amazing.

Maggie Smith filming the last of the Harry Potter films while going through chemo, especially the last being rather physically demanding, is one of the many reasons I will always lover her.

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterK

fantastic post. this is why I come here every day, you will not find this awesomeness anywhere else

December 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMurtada

@Brandz: Lansbury's nominations were all in the Supporting division, and this article is only about Best Actress nominees.

Ellen Burstyn was really good, I thought, in Another Happy Day, that Sundance movie that everyone tried to talk up as a comeback vehicle for Ellen Barkin for approximately six minutes. Five and a half.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Hey Nathaniel - great list!

Now, I know you've got a particular penchant for doing this kind of list for Oscar Actresses, but maybe do one for Actors, too? Would love to know who the oldest living Best Actor winner is!

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Gow

I love the post for all the obvious reasons, but I also want to brag a little: FOLLIES is closing on my birthday and for Chrismukkah, my man got me tickets to the closing performance, knowing that I've been dying to see it but haven't been able to for reasons for too numerous to mention.

Needless to say, he was amply rewarded that night.

I know this is a film blog and all, but if you want any theater writers I am SO willing - it is where many of the great film actors/actresses come from! And, although it is sad to say, it is where many fondly remembered films are going to die (let us not mention Bonnie & Clyde. PLEASE).

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I'm always reading your posts but this one I had to make a comment (specially because of Fernanda Montenegro, a huge legend here in Brazil). Just to say that she's on demand and just finished a soap opera (always a hit here), it's on several tv commercials and, like you said, is filming with Manoel de Oliveira. Very proud of her =)

And I'm crossing my fingers for Burstyn second oscar! She deserves <3

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

Every mention of Dame Maggie Smith gets me more and more excited for Quartet and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I actually had no idea Anouk Aimee was still around! I'm always haunted -- HAUNTED, I say -- by her performance in 8 1/2. The first "long-suffering wife" role I'd seen that didn't need the audience's pity. She was relatable enough on her own.

IF I am to make a correction, though....Debbie Reynolds is set to appear in January or February or something in One for the Money! Or was that purposely left out, in order to preserve her honor? ;)

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

Looking at your list I was surprised at first – it seemed to be a rather too young to me. Then I realized. This list should have been populated with actresses who were born in the '20s, alas, this particular group of nominees, for some strange reason, or rather through sheer coincidence, consists a large amount of people who died tragically young: the Judys – Holiday and Garland, Dandridge, Kelly, McNamara, Audrey, Signoret, Bergman. The average age at death of nominees born in that decade and are already gone is a miserable 65. And even if all the remaining four living ones should all live to be 100, still the average will be 69, an extremely low one. Had this list been made 10 or 20 years ago, I'm sure we'd have a significantly older people on it.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUri

Anouck Aimee! Love her in La Dolce Vita!

I think Monica Vitti is also still around--her work with Antonioni is the best.Although, no Academy recognition for her.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbia

Sorry, Bergman was born a decade earlier, Add Geraldine Page and poor Rachel Roberts to the mix instead.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterUri

Rumor has it (from someone I knew who used to work at the Academy) that they have been trying to give Doris Day an honorary Oscar but she refuses to attend to accept it. She definitely deserves it even if she won't attend and so do Julie Harris and Eleanor Parker.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff D.

Ellen Burstyn and Joanne Woodward are definitely due for their honorary Oscars! BTW, two great but little-seen performances of Woodward's are The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (directed by Paul Newman, for which she won Best Actress at Cannes) and The Fugitive Kind (with Marlon Brando, Criterion has a nice edition).

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Joanne Woodward was Emmy-nominated for her work in the HBO miniseries "Empire Falls" a few years back, so there's that. She was excellent in that performance. I have seen "Rachel, Rachel" last year and was blown away by her in it. I just saw "The Three Faces of Eve" last month. Kinda half-baked by our standards, but for the time was probably noteworthy and worthwhile. It's sad that Woodward isn't really working anymore.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRej

Thank you for the list, Nathaniel! There are few things I love more in life than lists pertaining to actresses.
Looking back, quite a few Best Actress winners have died relatively young. Judy Holliday at 43, Grace Kelly at 52, Vivien Leigh at 53, Susan Hayward at 57, Geraldine Page at 62, Audrey Hepburn at 63, Simone Signoret at 64, Marie Dressler and Anna Magnani at 65, Ingrid Bergman at 67, Joan Crawford at 72, and Anne Bancroft at 73. A reminder that winning an Oscar isn't the be-all and end-all.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike M.

Supposedly Glenda Jackson is retiring from politics after her last term in Parliament. There's speculation that she might return to film roles.

And look as Miss Diahann Carroll! Damn, girl! I've never seen 76 look like that before!

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsley

Thats amazing about Louise Rainer!! Wow 102!! GO GIRL

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

i miss Liz... *sniffle*

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyanSt

@Keith - I believe Kirk Douglas is the oldest living Best Actor nominee (95) and Ernest Borgnine is the oldest living winner (94)

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergwynn1984

@gwynn1984 Thanks for that! :)

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Gow

I think Leslie Caron / Louis Jordan presenting Best Pic would be fun....1958.....they starred in a best pic more than 50 years ago. Pretty amazing. There are very few old time couples remaining....possibly Beatty / Dunaway.....andrews / plummer. or maybe tippi hendren and her co-star from the birds. How old is Faye Dunaway.....she must be getting up there.

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Though Lansbury has never been nominated for Best Actress, there's still time for a final Oscar nomination. The woman just signed on to do another play on Broadway-The Best Man-and could easily appear in a film version of say, A Little Night Music (come on, Zeta-Jones is right there to cast in it, Hollywood).

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

JIMMY -- if only. The Academy seeems to have no interest in their own superstars of yore... as is completely evident in the downgrading of honorary oscars to an offshow evening. I just fail to believe that the gathered audience each year wouldn't thrill to see like a warren & faye team up or a julie andrews & anne hathaway team up or SOMETHING DIFFERENT than spielberg/nicholson/hanks.... i mean even something totally modern like Brad & Angie would be far preferrable to these milquetoast repetitions each year. There are global icons taht are more exciting to look at for 60 seconds than Tom Hanks! even if they need their security blankets (but why do they?) like Jack nicholson... wo we haven't seen there in a while... pair him with someone who has NEVER done it who he is linked to cinematically like Meryl Streep.

There are more than 10 famous people in the world, after all.

December 31, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jimmy, you mention Plummer and Andrews, how about Van Dyke and Andrews

December 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteramanda

So that not reviving the original musical of THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN that starred Tammy Grimes on Broadway on which the movie was based? They're doing a new one?

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil
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