1937 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
Introduction, 1927/8-39, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s
Academy Awards Summaries
"Best Picture" Oscar®, "Best Director" Oscar®, "Best Actor" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar®,
"Best Actress" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar®, "Best Screenplay/Writer" Oscar®
THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA, "The Awful Truth", "Captains Courageous", "Dead End", "The Good Earth", "In Old Chicago", "Lost Horizon", "One Hundred Men and a Girl", "Stage Door", "A Star is Born"
SPENCER TRACY in "Captains Courageous", Charles Boyer in "Conquest", Fredric March in "A Star is Born", Robert Montgomery in "Night Must Fall", Paul Muni in "The Life of Emile Zola"
LUISE RAINER in "The Good Earth", Irene Dunne in "The Awful Truth", Greta Garbo in "Camille", Janet Gaynor in "A Star is Born", Barbara Stanwyck in "Stella Dallas"
JOSEPH SCHILDKRAUT in "The Life of Emile Zola", Ralph Bellamy in "The Awful Truth", Thomas Mitchell in "The Hurricane", H. B. Warner in "Lost Horizon", Roland Young in "Topper"
ALICE BRADY in "In Old Chicago", Andrea Leeds in "Stage Door", Anne Shirley in "Stella Dallas", Claire Trevor in "Dead End", May Whitty in "Night Must Fall"
LEO MCCAREY for "The Awful Truth", William Dieterle for "The Life of Emile Zola", Sidney Franklin for "The Good Earth", Gregory La Cava for "Stage Door", William Wellmann for "A Star is Born"
Held in March of 1938, the ceremony was delayed a week because of flooding in Los Angeles. This was the first time that the ceremony was postponed. Two other ceremonies were also delayed - in the years 1968 and 1981.
This was the last year for the short-lived awards category of Best Assistant Director (won by Robert D. Webb for In Old Chicago), and also the last year for the three-year long category of Best Dance Direction (won by Hermes Pan for "Fun House" in George Stevens' A Damsel in Distress). This year was the only one in which a Marx Brothers film received a competitive Oscar nomination -- for Dave Gould's Best Dance Direction for the song/dance number "All God's Children Got Rhythm," in A Day at the Races.
Following the Best Picture success a year earlier with the film biography The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), Warner Bros. studio, director William Dieterle, and actor Paul Muni teamed up for the 'prestige picture' The Life of Emile Zola and succeeded - it was the studio's first Best Picture award - the studio was already well-known for its trademark, socially-conscious biopic films. Dieterle earned his first (and only) nomination as Best Director for the picture.
The Best Picture winner was a well-crafted screen biography about Emile Zola, the brilliant, crusading 19th century French literary novelist who fought to defend army officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus from an unjust, anti-Semitic accusation of treason (and exile to the infamous French penal colony Devil's Island) in the late 1800s. The film won three awards from its ten nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay.
Another excellent Best Picture nominee for 1937 was a film with six nominations and only one win - Best Director for Leo McCarey. The film was the classic screwball tale based on Arthur Richman's play, The Awful Truth - a sophisticated comedy about a married couple (the first on-screen pairing of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) that separates in a courtroom but then discovers they are made for each other at the last minute.
Other Best Picture nominees for 1937 included both serious and entertaining choices:
- Victor Fleming's telling of Rudyard Kipling's 1897 novel, Captains Courageous (with four nominations and one win - Best Actor) about the filial bond between a rich brat and a Portuguese fisherman
- director William Wyler's social drama film Dead End (with four nominations and no wins) - an adaptation by Lillian Hellman of a Sidney Kingsley play about life in the slums of New York's Lower East Side
- director Sidney Franklin's re-creation of Pearl S. Buck's timeless classic The Good Earth (with five nominations and two wins - Best Actress and Best Cinematography (Karl Freund)), about a poor Chinese farm couple
- director Henry King's story of the O'Leary family and its sibling rivalry in the romantic adventure In Old Chicago (with six nominations and two wins - Best Supporting Actress and Best Assistant Director)
- director Frank Capra's classic Utopian romantic/fantasy film taken from James Hilton's classic novel Lost Horizon (with seven nominations and two wins - Best Interior Decoration and Best Film Editing)
- director Henry Koster's musical 100 Men and a Girl (with five nominations and one win - Best Score) - another charming Deanna Durbin musical vehicle and featuring conductor Leopold Stokowski as himself
- director Gregory La Cava's film based on the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, Stage Door (with four nominations and no wins), an early situation comedy about the aspirations of potential Broadway actresses in a theatrical boarding house
- director William A. Wellman's earliest version of A Star is Born (with six nominations and one win - Best Original Story (for co-writer/director Wellman), and with a Special Award for Color Photography), about a shy hopeful actress who becomes a star through the help of a declining, alcoholic actor
In the Best Actor category, Spencer Tracy (with his second consecutive nomination and first Oscar) won for his performance as Manuel, a simple Portuguese fisherman who befriends and tames a spoiled and bratty English boy (Freddie Bartholomew) by teaching him lessons in hard-work and honesty in Captains Courageous - it would be Tracy's first of two consecutive Best Actor Oscars. [In retrospect, Tracy should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role.]
Many other fine performers were nominated as Best Actor:
- Paul Muni (with his fourth nomination and his attempted second Best Actor award in a row) in the title role as French writer Emile Zola who exposed anti-Semitism in the French government in The Life of Emile Zola with a lengthy courtroom defense as its high point
- Robert Montgomery (with his first nomination) as psychotic serial killer Danny in director Richard Thorpe's tense drama Night Must Fall (with two nominations and no wins)
- Fredric March (with his third nomination) as drunken, has-been actor Norman Maine in A Star is Born
- Charles Boyer (with his first of four unsuccessful nominations) as Napoleon in director Clarence Brown's Conquest (with two nominations and no wins)
Luise Rainer (with her second nomination and her second Oscar) won the second of her back-to-back Best Actress Oscars for her performance as the strong and silent O-Lan, a self-sacrificing Chinese peasant farm wife (married to husband Paul Muni) in The Good Earth. She became the first multiple Oscar winner, and was the first to win an award two years in a row. Her win (in her third film) was very controversial, because her rivals were exceptional actresses in more deserving roles, especially Garbo's performance!:
- Greta Garbo (with her third of four unsuccessful nominations) as dying, tragic courtesan Marguerite Gautier in Camille (the film's sole nomination)
- Barbara Stanwyck (with her first of four unsuccessful nominations) as the self-sacrificing, working-class mother in the title role of Stella Dallas (with two nominations and no wins) - a classic tearjerker and 'woman's picture' by director King Vidor
- Irene Dunne (with her third of five unsuccessful nominations) as witty divorcee Lucy Warriner in The Awful Truth
- Janet Gaynor - the first Best Actress award winner (with her second (or third) and final nomination) - for her role as rising star Vicki Lester in A Star is Born
[Only a handful of actors/actresses have won two consecutive acting awards: Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937); Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938); Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Lion in Winter (1968); Jason Robards for Best Supporting Actor for All the President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977); and Tom Hanks for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).] With her two wins, Luise Rainer beat out talented Irene Dunne who was nominated for two of her most memorable comedic roles, Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and The Awful Truth.
The Best Supporting Actor award was won by Vienna-born Joseph Schildkraut (with his sole nomination and Oscar) as the tragic, disgraced Jewish army officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was falsely accused of espionage in 1894 in Third Republic France and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island in The Life of Emile Zola. The other nominees were:
- Ralph Bellamy (with his sole nomination) as dim-witted Oklahoman Daniel Leeson (Irene Dunne's boyfriend) in The Awful Truth
- Thomas Mitchell (with his first nomination) as Dr. Kersaint in director John Ford's and Sam Goldwyn's South Seas spectacular blockbuster The Hurricane (with four nominations and one win - Best Sound Recording)
- H. B. Warner (with his sole nomination) as Chang in Lost Horizon
- Roland Young (with his sole nomination) as ghost-haunted banker Cosmo Topper in director Norman McLeod's screwball fantasy comedy Topper (with two nominations and no wins)
And the Best Supporting Actress award was won by comedienne Alice Brady (with her second consecutive nomination and her first Oscar) as Mrs. O'Leary - the mother of Tyrone Power and Don Ameche and the owner of the lantern-kicking cow on the eve of the Great Fire of 1871 in In Old Chicago. The four other nominees in the category were:
- Andrea Leeds (with her sole nomination) as tragically-suicidal actress-hopeful Kaye Hamilton in Stage Door
- Anne Shirley (with her sole nomination) as co-star Barbara Stanwyck's young daughter Laurel Dallas in Stella Dallas
- Claire Trevor (with her first nomination) as slum streetwalker Francie (and co-star Bogart's old girlfriend) in Dead End
- May Whitty (with her first nomination) as psychopath-threatened elderly Mrs. Bramson in Night Must Fall
Silent film entrepreneur and Keystone Kops originator Mack Sennett was honored with a Special Award for "his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen...that master of fun, discoverer of stars, sympathetic, kindly, understanding comedy genius." A second Special Award was presented to Edgar Bergen for his outstanding comedy creation, puppet Charlie McCarthy.
Disney won another Short Subject: Cartoon Oscar for The Old Mill - his sixth (consecutive) win in the category.
Paul Muni starred not only in the Best Picture winner, but also in The Good Earth as Rainer's husband - the last film supervised by legendary producer Irving Thalberg of MGM Studios. Thalberg's death prompted the establishment of a new category beginning in 1937: the Thalberg Award was first given to 20th Century Fox's Darryl Zanuck.
If the Academy had instituted the Special Effects Oscar in 1937 (it didn't exist until 1939), The Good Earth would have won for its spectacular swarm of locusts plague, or In Old Chicago would have been honored for its spectacular 20-minute re-creation of the 1871 Chicago fire, or the destructive hurricane in The Hurricane would have been recognized as worthy of an award.
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Strangely, director Victor Fleming of Captains Courageous was passed over for a Best Director nomination. One of Laurel and Hardy's classic comedies, Way Out West, was nominated for only one category: Best Score, and lost.
Every major contributor to Best Picture nominee The Awful Truth was recognized (Irene Dunne for Best Actress, Ralph Bellamy for Best Supporting Actor, and Leo McCarey for Best Director and Screenplay) but the comedy film's male lead, Cary Grant, was not nominated for Best Actor - a significant example of the Academy's shunning of comic performances. [Grant was twice nominated for his dramatic performances for Penny Serenade (1941) and None But the Lonely Heart (1944).] When presented the award, McCarey remarked: "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture" - he was referring to the Academy's complete neglect of his other 1937 film Make Way For Tomorrow.
The last year for the Best Dance Direction Award (established in 1935) was again given to someone other than nominee Busby Berkeley (for "The Finale Number" in WB's Varsity Show). Instead, it was presented to Hermes Pan for the "Fun House" number in RKO's A Damsel in Distress.
One of the year's worst awards was in the Best Song category - the award was presented to Harry Owens' song "Sweet Leilani" from Paramount's Bing Crosby musical Waikiki Wedding over the superior and more sophisticated "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (sung by Fred Astaire), written by George and Ira Gershwin in RKO's Shall We Dance.
And one of Walt Disney's masterpieces, the first full-length feature cartoon Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was nominated for only one award, Best Score - and it lost! It would have been a great choice for Best Picture.
Both Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn were overlooked for their performances in Stage Door, and Carole Lombard was not nominated for her role as small-town girl Hazel Flagg, who faked that she was dying of radium poisoning and became the toast of the town in Manhattan, in director William Wellman's screwball comedy Nothing Sacred.
Looking back, it is also remarkable to note that MGM's classic Camille, directed by George Cukor, one of the greatest romantic tearjerkers in all film history, received only one nomination - Best Actress which Garbo lost - and was not nominated for Best Picture, when the film easily surpassed two other Best Picture nominees: In Old Chicago and One Hundred Men and a Girl.