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StinkyLulu's Preliminary Thoughts on Supporting Actressing in '52

We are pleased to welcome StinkyLulu back to Smackdowning. Give him a warm welcome in the comments! - Editor

It has been a while since I dropped into a random year’s field of Supporting Actress nominees. Still, as I have re/screened the relevant films in preparation for Saturday afternoon's Supporting Actress Smackdown, it’s startling how familiar the 1952 roster feels. Remember that “Best Supporting Actress” was only in its 15th year or so (having been introduced in 1936, almost ten years after the Oscar game got started) but, already by 1952, the category seemed to have established some of its most enduring quirks.

1952’s nominated roles are definitely cut from Oscar’s favorite cloth: the hooker with a heart; the hale helpmeet; the full force of youth; the long (briefly) suffering wife; and the shrewish “ex.”

Oscar loves a type - you see these types still!

The field we'll be discussing Saturday definitely reminds us that, by the early 1950s, Supporting Actress had emerged as one of Oscar’s favored ways to anoint the newcomer/s with one hand, while taking care to honor the time-tested trouper/s with the other. As example, 1952's nominations honor not only breakout performances by “new stars” Jean Hagen and Terry Moore (not to mention the screen debut of Colette Marchand) but also familiar work by previously favored nominees Gloria Grahame and Thelma Ritter. And, yes, Oscar’s habit of nodding to certain troupers also stirs the faint whiff that a Supporting Actress nomination might sometimes be an apology bouquet of sorts — Oscar’s way to say “please forgive my neglecting to nominate (or award) that other performance…but do accept this as a token of the Academy’s esteem.” (Might Grace Kelly’s 1953 nomination for Mogambo and Katy Jurado’s 1954 nomination for Broken Lance been made possible, at least in part, by Oscar’s neglect of their High Noon turns this very year?)

And in a field full of what I have called “coasters” (efficient supporting actressness buoyed by being part of a heavily nominated film), Jean Hagen’s nomination looms especially large as that “single nominated performance from an ignored-in-other-major-categories picture”. That's a particularly burdensome last bit of support not infrequently borne by Supporting Actress nominees.

Katy Jurado (High Noon) and Ethel Waters (Member of the Wedding). Who would you call snubbed from '52's Supporting Actressing?

All told, 1952 stands as nearly exemplary of the idiosyncrasies of the Best Supporting Actress category, and is thus perhaps the ideal one to revive the peculiar pleasures of the Supporting Actress Smackdown. And while I might wonder what this roster might have felt like if, say, High Noon’s Katy Jurado or Member of the Wedding’s Ethel Waters (or even Viva Zapata’s Mildred Dunnock) had “coastered” into the field, the Smackdown challenges us to look closely at the work of the women who were nominated, for it is in such “actressing at the edges” that the category’s true pleasures shine.

See you on Saturday!

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Reader Comments (18)

Swoooonnnnn!!!!! Thank you, Stinky!

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzig

So looking forward to the Saturday Smacjkdown! In a burst of anticipatory foreplay this month, I've been posting pieces on some of the '52 supporting actresses (like Jurado) who just couldn't get Oscar interested. If you want to give the posts a gander they're the latest entries on my blog.

Didn't include Ethel Waters (magnificent ithough she was) because - top-billing and all - I've always considered her as a co-contender (with Julie Harris) for the '52 Best Actress nomination.

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKen

i'm more excited by the return of the smackdown than i was for the oscars this year. welcome back, stinky!

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

excited for this, and welcome back!!

(a quick recap of the previous smackdowns would be good!)

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

Ken -- fun! I have been meaning to check them out.

August 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Lulu, a fascinating writeup. I haven't seen this Thelma performance and I NEED TO (even if I have to suffer through another Susan Hayward histrionic hailstorm)! I don't think any actress got as much mileage as Ms. Ritter from a simple sigh. She really laid it down each time.

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Katy Jurado was definitely a snub! But who's place would she take? Hagen was getting in and Grahame had a really good year, and Marchand was in a best picture nominated film. Maybe she takes Moore's spot because Jurado is also new to Hollywood and young enough to take the ingenue role. Grahame probably still would have won though- she was nominated before and appeared in Greatest Show on Earth- that won the big one this year.

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertom

brookesboy -- (spoiler alert) i freaking loved Thelma Ritter in this movie even though it's a dud otherwise so expect high scores from me. She really does go above and beyond in every movie.

tom -- i wonder if Hagen really wasn't that much of a sure thing given the shrug the movie was greeted with elsewhere (and for such a perfect movie, too!). I imagine that if Jurado got it it would be Marchand left out since actors were gaga over Sheba...?

August 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

GREAT! Can't wait ;)

Though I kinda hoped you guys would choose a year for which the winner would be just a bit less obvious ;)
At this point I'm only curious on to who's in the 2nd place. :D

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex in Movieland

I love the gravity you (Stinkylu & Nathaniel) bring to a category that can often feel so frustrating (as when it is steamrolled by Jennifer Connelly or Renée Zellwegger). I was only able to get my hands on The Bad and the Beautiful, but Hagen's performance in Singin' in the Rain is one of my all-time faves, so I don't figure any of the other actresses in 1952 would convince me she shouldn't have won. Looking forward to the full smackdown!

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

Already loving this, can't wait until Saturday.

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Snubbed? Gloria Grahame for "The big heat" (a year later, I know, I'm just downplay cheating... :S).

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Alex -- well, I chose it mainly for three reasons

1) all the films were available -- it's horrifying how few years this is true of making future smackdowns a chore (since StinkyLulu already used up many of the years where all the films are available)
2) it had a nice range of types of films
3) I somehow hadn't seen 4 of them! :)

August 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

do you have any ideas for the next smackdown? i can't wait for this one let alone the next one!

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertom


Danielle Darrieux- 5 Fingers
Possibly a lead but it is a juicy role that comes alive through a great, although not as known in Hollywood, actress in an underrated Mankiewicz picture.

August 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Darrieux is really wonderful in FIVE FINGERS and today I could see her co-leading perf considered as supporting

August 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Canadian Ken!!!!!!!!! My biggest dream of the revived Smackdown has already come true. I was so hoping he'd show!

August 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

@Nck Davis
Well, thank you sir. Each of those exclamation marks went right to my heart.

August 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKen

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