Oscar History

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10 Days Until Oscar. Stage to Screen Roles 

Paul Lukas and Bette Davis in "Watch on the Rhine"

It's ten days until Oscar and soon this post may be obsolete! To date, unless I've miscounted, ten actors have won the leading Oscar for reprising a role they won praise for first on the Broadway stage. Soon there could be 11 depending on how well Denzel Washington fares on Oscar night for Fences

They are...

• George Arliss for Disraeli (1929/30)
Arliss had played this role in the Broadway production in 1911

• Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine (1943)
He previously played this role from 1941 through early 1942 on Broadway -- the transfer to the screen was mighty quick! 

• Jose Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
He won the Tony for this iconic role in 1947. Later in 1990 Gerard Depardieu would also be nominated for playing the same role -- and Steve Martin arguably should have been for Roxanne -- but Depardieu didn't win...

• Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950)
She originated this classic not-so-dumb blonde role on stage in 1946 and then won the Oscar in one of the all time great Best Actress years, besting both Bette Davis (All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson (Sunset Blvd). From a distance to the young movie buff, this seems insane. Until you actually watch Born Yesterday and realize how genius she was in it.  Then it makes a kind of sense.

• Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
She won the Tony (her second consecutive Tony by the way) originating this  role in 1950. Her film career didn't last long but long enough to win her the Oscar. Oscar refused to give another fiftysomething actress the Best Actress statue for over half a century after her with Julianne Moore finally breaking down their resistance to 50something women

• Yul Brynner for The King and I (1956) *
He won the Tony as the King of Siam in 1952 which was his fourth Broadway production. He had only had one minor film role before making this Broadway musical. Audiences went so wild about his work that Hollywood woke right up to his appeal and he had three major Oscar-nominated productions in his first year at the movies after his broadway run (The King and I, Anastasia, and The Ten Commandments which shared a cumulative 18 nominations and 7 wins and made a ton of money, too).

• Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker (1962)
Bancroft had tried the movies in the 1950s, but disatisifed she became a stage actress instead. After her second Tony win (for this) she returned to the movies triumphant. This time the roles offered weren't disposable.

• Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady (1964) *
Another star who took his second Tony winning role to the movies, and then won the Oscar for it. His first Tony was for Anne of a Thousand Days but Richard Burton got the role when it transferred to the movies. This time he maintained ownership and won the Oscar. 

• Paul Scofield in A Man For All Seasons (1966)
He won the 1962 Tony for his first and only Broadway production.

Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968)
It's always shocking to realize that Barbra Streisand did not win the 1964 Tony for the role that made her a superstar. She lost to Carol Channing's Hello Dolly! and then sought revenge by taking Carol's role to the movies for her victory lap in 1969.

Considering how many stage plays become films still (even though the heyday of that transition is long since past) why is the number so few? Alas it's because Hollywood rarely trusts stage actors to play the roles on film and replaces them with someone perceived as more bankable. This is even true of very obviously enchanting stars like Julie Andrews. She was perceived as too risky for the transfer of My Fair Lady in the mid 60s even though she had already become famous as a musical star in the late 50s via a live broadcast of Cinderella which was then the most watched TV broadcast of all time. She had name and face recognition but not enough for Hollywood. Julie famously got the last laugh, immediately getting a competing lead role in another musical, Mary Poppins, and winning both the Oscar and the higher grossers in that same year. 

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Reader Comments (23)

Steve Martin was fantastic in Roxanne. That 20 Nose Jokes scene alone was absolute Oscar worthy.

Is Helen Mirren the first actress to win a Tony for her Oscar role?
(even though The Audience is not The Queen at all)

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Timely post Nathaniel. Remember yesterday when we were discussing Denzel, and I mentioned that he spoke of doing Broadway next year. Just read an interview with The Stage where Denzel confirms his Broadway plans again, and says that King Lear is a serious possibility

You gotta admit, Denzel has balls. Hamlet and King Lear are like the Mount Everest of Shakespeare roles. Doing Lear (if that's what he goes with) on stage will either be a trimuph or disaster for Denzel. Can't see much middle ground.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobbie

I will defend Judy's win forever and ever.

And don't forget Patty Duke who also played her part on Broadway and won an Oscar for it.

Eileen Heckard had also Player her Oscar-winning role on Broadway before. Josephine Hull had also done Harvey on Broadway.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterFritz

What about Joel Grey?

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

Oh, and then there are Karl Malden and Kim Hunter for Streetcar, Jack Albertson for the subject was Roses and Joel Grey for Cabaret. Or maybe you just meant leading roles?

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterFritz

Lila Kedrova deserves a mention here. Won the Tony for the musical version of the movie that gave her an Oscar: Mademe Hortense in Zorba the Greek.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNadir

Hello, i would like to know your opinion on which clips should the Academy play for each actor and actress nominated?

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Sonja - Lila Kedrova won the Tony a decade or so after winning The Oscar for Zorba The Greek.

Also Joel Grey in Cabaret (first Tony, then Oscar).

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

er... sorry people i meant to say "leading roles" which is why i didn't include the supporting people. updated the post with this being a lead acting specific trivia.

Fritz -- yes, that.

February 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

To date, unless I've miscounted, ten actors have won the leading Oscar for reprising a role they won praise for first on the Broadway stage. Soon there will be 11 or 12 depending on how well Viola Davis and Denzel Washington fare on Oscar night for Fences.

Nat, it would only be eleven on Sunday, no matter what happens, because Viola is nominated in Supporting...

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Tell it to Cherry Jones!

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Anne Bancroft's win is one of my favorites. Penn insisted on her being cast, against all studio protests. She adds so much subtext to her portrayal. Stunning.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@Fritz - Eileen Heckart was nominated for but didn't win a Tony for Butterflies Are Free, the film version of which won her an Oscar. Is that what you meant?

But yes, all of Nat's examples are LEADING roles. There are literally dozens of SUPPORTING roles that originated on Broadway and later caught Oscar's eye.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

This is the type of articles I love! Congrats!

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Still don't understand this article. Why is Barbra in the list if she didn't win the Tony foe Funny Girl?

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNadir

@ Nadir

"...won praise for..."

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Nadir, it's just for people who originated the role (or played it I guess) on Broadway. Barbra didn't win a Tony (yikes), but then neither did Arliss or Lukas because the Tonys didn't exist back then.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

Anne Bancroft was a goddess.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames

That Eileen Heckart win feels so random--and perfect. She is ruthlessly beautiful in that role.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

It was a blessing in disguise for Julie as had she taken up Eliza Doolittle, she wld not have played Mary Poppins n she might not hav won the Oscar as thr will be no sympathy card to play. The voters are also unlikely to give the top 4 awards to just one musical.

Harrison was luckier as Cary Grant, who was Jack Warner's 1st choice to play Prof Higgins, not only turned down the offer, he flat-out told Warner tt he wld not go watch My Fair Lady unless Harrison is cast as Prof Higgins!

Audrey was the only casualty of the whole saga as she was deliberately snubbed by the Academy for stealing darlin' Mary Poppins ' signature role!

To be fair, Audrey did acquit herself quite well as Eliza Doolittle n as time passes, gain much more favourable reviews.

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Thanks Paul. 8)

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Shirley Booth in Come Back Little Sheba ... just heartbreakingly good. I shall watch it again this weekend!

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

"My white plume!"
I haven't seen Cyrano with Ferrer in many years. But when I saw it, Ferrer seemed timeless. Such a wonderful performance.

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGena

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