The 10 Most Famous Actors Who Never Won Oscars

It's hard to believe that some of Hollywood's most talented artists never won Oscars. Sometimes it had to do with bad timing, other times the actor was too big a movie star. And then there are the cases when the Academy seemed to be snoozing.



With the seven feature films she made under legendary director Josef von Sternberg--_The Blue Angel, Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress_ and The Devil Is a Woman--Marlene Dietrich became Hollywood's highest paid star of the early 1930s. Her brand of appeal blended heady allure, ambivalent sexuality, mocking attitude, eroticism, tenderness and cruelty. In the play of light and shadow maniacally conceived and executed by the obsessive von Sternberg, Dietrich became an extraordinary creature of contradictions, virtues and dangers.

Whether one considers Dietrich's stardom a triumph of manufacturing, one of the greatest smoke-and-mirror effects in the history of the movies, or credits her for being a screen personality of the first order, she made an indelible mark on movie history. To get a sense of what a wonder Dietrich was, one has only to watch her strike sparks with the French legionnaire played by Gary Cooper in Morocco, see the glory she makes out of singing "See What The Boys In The Back Room Will Have" in the famous saloon scene in Destry Rides Again with James Stewart, take in the iconic voltage she brings to her trial scenes in Judgment at Nuremberg or witness the incredible pathos and scathing self-mockery she brings to her scenes with Orson Welles in Touch of Evil Maybe Hemingway put it best when he said of her, "If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it."

Though she was considered an icon first, there clearly is evidence that she could in fact act. Dietrich was only once nominated for an Oscar, for Morocco, the first American film she made. She was deserving of a nod, if not a win, though, for more films than that, probably most notably Destry Rides Again, which she starred in after a series of critical failures in the late '30s. In what turned out to be an important comeback vehicle for the siren, Dietrich reminded audiences that she was the most electric and attractively complex performer the silver screen had.


Indelible moments and images from Marilyn Monroe's movies almost make one wonder whether she and the camera weren't invented for each other. She was a successor to such earlier comic sexpots as Jean Harlow and, like Harlow, was considered by some to be a joke as an actress. Detractors believe Monroe was crippled by her own immaturity, terrible insecurities and emotional disarray.

For those on the fence, may we submit some rebuttals for your consideration? Watch her scintillate and wriggle her way through "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Or, in the same movie, watch the zest and sly eroticism she brings to her role as a gold-digger with a hilariously single-minded obsession of obtaining such baubles as Lady Beekman's diamond tiara. How about her turn as the deluded show business hopeful croaking "That Old Black Magic" to a saloon full of hooting rednecks in Bus Stop? In the classic Some Like It Hot, what about the rueful heartbreak she puts into "I'm Through With Love," let alone the comic zeal with which she attacks her role as the erotic epicenter of an all-girl band? What about the tragedy and loss with which she infuses every line and movement in the cruel and melancholy The Misfits?. Now, name a contemporary actress who could touch Monroe for sexuality and comic timing.

Monroe was never once nominated for an Oscar, and she attended a ceremony only once in her life, as a Sound Award presenter in 1951. The event must have traumatized the budding star because just prior to going onstage her dress ripped slightly and she broke down in tears. Even though it was repaired in time, she never recovered emotionally and when finally in front of the audience, she hardly lifted her head to the cameras. Her lack of paying dues to the Academy by way of showing up as a pretty guest in subsequent years may have been another reason she was snubbed. Or perhaps Oscar voters were just waiting for her to deliver a more mature dramatic performance later in life. After all, she was only 36 when she died; certainly more must have been expected of her. But then again, she drove her directors and fellow actors crazy, so crazy they might not have voted for her no matter how brilliant she was. The thing is, she already had been brilliant but some were too dazzled by her body, allure, charisma and harrowing personal life to want to recognize it.


During his nearly 40 years of international stardom, Cary Grant looked so effortlessly handsome, debonair, buoyant, urbane and flip that it was easy for audiences and critics to mistake him for someone who was simply playing himself. He repeatedly turned out sophisticated, burnished, supremely confident gentlemen on-screen, most notably in Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest and That Touch of Mink. Women lusted after him and men wanted to be him. But in real life, Grant was an almost entirely different animal than the characters he played and, ironically, nobody wanted to be "Cary Grant" more man Grant himself.

Whether Grant's charming ways were natural or concocted for the screen seemed to be of little concern to the studio selling his personality--Grant was a classy movie star who was making loads of money for them in hit after hit. And Grant's personal life only increased his celebrity. During his tenure as a top Hollywood star he squired nearly every great leading lady, including Mae West, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren. So it was just too easy to overlook the talent behind that magnetic screen presence. But talent there was. He was simultaneously coolly caddish and unfailingly attractive as an ambivalent newlywed in Suspicion, a spy in Notorious and a man of mystery in Charade. Similarly, he was resolutely heroic while satirizing machismo in Gunga Din and Only Angels Have Wings.

Grant was twice nominated for an Oscar, for 1941's Penny Serenade and for 1944's None But the Lonely Heart. That means his performances in His Girl Friday, An Affair to Remember and four of Alfred Hitchcock's best films--_Suspicion_, Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest--were ignored, which seems quite ludicrous today. He was so superb so often that in 1969 those in the Industry, realizing the absurdity of his never having won an Oscar, gave him an honorary statuette "with the respect and affection of his colleagues." Too little, too late.


Although James Dean starred in only three films (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant) before a car crash claimed his life at age 24, his searing presence and performances in at least two of those movies captivated a generation. He was brilliant and plumbing all sorts of depths in East of Eden as a bruised boy caught between a ramrod of a father and a slatternly, wayward mother. But it was in Rebel Without a Cause that he electrified audiences as an alienated teenager. His tragic, haunted gaze suggested wisdom beyond his years; his moods were quicksilver, his sexuality was alive and fluid. It was as if he had come into the world expecting great things and had already wised up to the nightmare that was the American Dream. By looking, talking, acting and moving like no one who had come before him, he instantly developed a cult following. It wasn't that teens merely identified with Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. That would have made him a movie star. It was as if he was them. That made him a legend.

Dean was long gone before the 1955 Academy Awards, when he was nominated for his work in East of Eden (not, interestingly, for his heralded turn in Rebel Without a Cause, which was released the same year). Influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was such a fan of Dean's she campaigned for him to receive an honorary award, but the Academy didn't want to give a special prize to an actor who was already nominated for a performance. The following year Dean was nominated again, for costarring with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in Giant. Though he was yet again riveting, it was popularly believed he didn't have a chance of landing the Oscar because me Academy preferred to hand out awards to the living.

It fascinates and breaks the heart to speculate on what Dean might have done if he had lived longer. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Psycho? The Hustler? Days of Wine and Roses? The Last Picture Show? Last Tango in Paris? The Godfather? And like his role model, Marlon Brando, one would imagine that he'd have picked up much gold if only he had not crashed that silver Porsche.


Make no mistake about it--Irene Dunne was easily one of the two or three most versatile stars in the entirety of American film. She was an accomplished comedienne, singer and dramatic actress. That's perhaps why she received a whopping five Oscar nominations. Why she never won, especially for the tearjerker I Remember Mama, is somewhat of a mystery, however.

Dunne won her first nomination for the second film she made--the 1931 Western Cimarron, in which she played a strong, dauntless heroine. Some 70-odd years later, she's the sole reason to watch that Oscar winner for Best Picture. In 1936 she was nominated for her combination of wit, sexiness, buoyancy, whip-smartness and wicked timing as a best-selling author who falls for an illustrator in Theodora Goes Wild. When she was incomparable opposite Cary Grant in the much-imitated classic romantic comedy The Awful Truth, she was nominated for the third time (Dunne and Grant had legendary chemistry together, which is why they went on to costar in two more films--My Favorite Wife and Penny Serenade). She was given a fourth nod for wringing tears effortlessly as the gallant, funny, unsentimental heroine in Love Affair. And her last nomination was for making graciousness seem heroic in I Remember Mama, in which she played a selfless, loving Norwegian mother.

Perhaps winning wasn't everything to Dunne, which is why she never went overboard in her more mature years to try to get her mitts on Oscar gold. More than any other actress, Dunne treated acting as part of her life, not her life. All along, she made some of the smartest moves any Hollywood actress ever has. On-screen she never stopped setting out to prove her range. Offscreen, she didn't much mix business with her private life, and managed to keep her marriage to a dentist intact for over 30 years, until his death in 1965. She also knew when to quit--at age 59 she gave up acting to volunteer for the United Nations.

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