1940 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®
"REBECCA", "All This, and Heaven Too", "Foreign Correspondent", "The Grapes of Wrath", "The Great Dictator", "Kitty Foyle", "The Letter", "The Long Voyage Home", "Our Town", "The Philadelphia Story"
JAMES STEWART in "The Philadelphia Story", Charles Chaplin in "The Great Dictator", Henry Fonda in "The Grapes of Wrath", Raymond Massey in "Abe Lincoln in Illinois", Laurence Olivier in "Rebecca"
GINGER ROGERS in "Kitty Foyle", Bette Davis in "The Letter", Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca", Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story", Martha Scott in "Our Town"
WALTER BRENNAN in "The Westerner", Albert Basserman in "Foreign Correspondent", William Gargan in "They Knew What They Wanted", Jack Oakie in "The Great Dictator", James Stephenson in "The Letter"
JANE DARWELL in "The Grapes of Wrath", Judith Anderson in "Rebecca", Ruth Hussey in "The Philadelphia Story", Barbara O'Neil in "All This, and Heaven Too", Marjorie Rambeau in "Primrose Path"
JOHN FORD for "The Grapes of Wrath", George Cukor for "The Philadelphia Story", Alfred Hitchcock for "Rebecca", Sam Wood for "Kitty Foyle", William Wyler for "The Letter"
The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse was hired to count the ballots, after the fiasco of prematurely-leaked voting results in 1939 by the Los Angeles Times. Therefore, the year 1940 was the first year that sealed envelopes were used to keep secret the names of the winners. In fact, this was the first year in which the winners remained secret until the moment they won their awards. It brought about the famous phrase: "May I have the Envelope, please." A new category was added: Writing: Original Screenplay.
Independent producer David O. Selznick, who had produced the previous year's big winner Gone With The Wind (1939), also produced the Best Picture winner in 1940 - and campaigned heavily for its win. Selznick was the first to produce two consecutive winners of the Best Picture Oscar. Rebecca was based on Daphne du Maurier's popular novel about a shrinking, child-like bride (Fontaine) who lives in the shadow of her enigmatic widower husband's (Olivier) first wife at a somber estate named Manderley (run by a mad, steely-eyed and devoted housekeeper (Anderson)). Although Rebecca had eleven nominations, it only won for Best Picture.
The film's studio - United Artists - was the last of the original film studios (the others were MGM, Columbia, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal, and Paramount) to win the Best Picture Oscar. Rebecca was the first American-made film directed by British suspense master Alfred Hitchcock.
Other strong nominees for Best Picture in 1940 included the following - two of which were very deserving comedies --The Great Dictator and The Philadelphia Story:
- director Anatole Litvak's version of Rachel Field's best-selling novel, All This and Heaven Too (with three nominations and no wins) about an 1840s governess in a Parisian aristocrats home
- director Hitchcock's second-nominated film Foreign Correspondent (with six nominations and no wins), another thriller - an espionage tale set during World War II in Europe that endorsed US entrance into the war effort
- director John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (with seven nominations and two wins - Best Supporting Actress and Best Director), an adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel about migrating Okies during the Great Depression
- producer/actor/writer Charles Chaplin's first "talkie", The Great Dictator (with five nominations and no wins) - a slapstick satire on Nazism
- director Sam Wood's Kitty Foyle (with five nominations and one win - Best Actress) about a secretary whose involvement with a married, upper-class man leads to tremendous conflicts
- director William Wyler's melodramatic The Letter (with seven nominations and no wins) based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel about a woman who commits murder
- director John Ford's second nominated film - the screen adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's four one-act plays titled The Long Voyage Home (with six nominations and no wins) about merchant steamer crew members on shore leave
- director Sam Wood's second Best Picture-nominee - the film adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Our Town (with six nominations and no wins) about the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a small town in New Hampshire
- director George Cukor's classic sophisticated romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story (with six nominations and two wins - Best Actor and Best Screenplay)
John Ford received the second of his Best Director Awards for The Grapes of Wrath. The Best Picture winner - Rebecca was the first American film of British director Alfred Hitchcock, already known for earlier classics such as The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) (both unnominated), but Hitchcock failed to win the Best Director Award on his first - and on all subsequent attempts. [In his entire career, Hitchcock was nominated five times but never won a Best Director Award.]
James Stewart, after making 24 films over a five year period in Hollywood, won the Best Actor award (with his second nomination - it was his sole Oscar win in his entire career) for his performance as Mike Connor - a young Spy Magazine reporter sent to cover the marriage of a socialite (Katharine Hepburn) in The Philadelphia Story. His award was seen as compensation for his loss the previous year for his performance as Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
The other deserving nominees for Best Actor included:
- Henry Fonda (with his first nomination) as impoverished Tom Joad, part of a migrant family in The Grapes of Wrath
- Raymond Massey (with his sole career nomination) recreating his Broadway stage portrayal in the title role in director John Cromwell's film biography Abe Lincoln in Illinois (with two nominations and no wins)
- Laurence Olivier (with his second nomination) as the tortured, autocratic master of the house Max de Winter in Rebecca
- Charles Chaplin in dual roles as a Jewish ghetto barber with amnesia who is mistaken for a Hitlerian dictator (of Tomania) named Adenoid Hynkel in the political satire The Great Dictator. [Chaplin was the first to receive simultaneous nominations for producer (Best Picture), actor (Best Actor), and writer (Best Original Screenplay). This feat was duplicated, and actually topped, the next year when Orson Welles was nominated for the same honors (and also Best Director!) for Citizen Kane (1941), and co-won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar with Herman J. Mankiewicz.]
Ginger Rogers never won an award for her best-remembered dancing partnership (she had performed in nine musicals with Fred Astaire by 1939), but the dark horse did win (with her sole career nomination and Oscar win) the Best Actress award for her dramatic role in the classic 'woman's picture' Kitty Foyle as the title character/heroine. In an adaptation of Christopher Morley's novel, she starts out as a white-collar working girl who becomes a businesswoman and is forced to make a romantic choice between a rich, married Philadelphia socialite and a lower-class young doctor. After she loses a baby son, she decides to strike out alone.
The other exceptional nominees for Best Actress included:
- Bette Davis (with her fourth nomination) as the murderous plantation owner's wife Leslie Crosbie in The Letter
- Katharine Hepburn (with her third nomination) as socialite Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story
- Martha Scott (with her sole career nomination) as Emily Webb in Our Town
- Joan Fontaine (with her first nomination) as the "second Mrs. de Winter" - the confused young bride in Rebecca [Joan Fontaine's loss was compensated the following year by her Best Actress win for a similar role in Hitchcock's thriller Suspicion.]
Walter Brennan won a Best Supporting Actor award (it was his third nomination and his third award in five years) for his performance as the notorious Judge Roy Bean in love with Lily Langtry (Lilian Bond) in director William Wyler's The Westerner (with three nominations and one win). Brennan was the first performer to win three Academy Awards - an unprecedented record he held for twenty-eight years until Katharine Hepburn won her third Oscar in 1968 for The Lion in Winter (1968). The Best Supporting Actor winner was nominated only once more in the next year - for Sergeant York (1941) - but he lost the award to Donald Crisp.
The other Best Supporting Actor nominees included:
- Albert Basserman (with his sole career nomination) as kidnapped Dutch diplomat Van Meer in Foreign Correspondent
- William Gargan (with his sole career nomination) as foreman Joe who is romanced by Carole Lombard in director Garson Kanin's They Knew What They Wanted (the film's sole nomination)
- Jack Oakie (with his sole career nomination) as Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria (resembling Mussolini) in The Great Dictator
- James Stephenson (with his sole career nomination) as Howard Joyce, Bette Davis' defense lawyer in The Letter
Though the Best Supporting Actress award could have gone to Australian-born actress Dame Judith Anderson (with her sole career nomination) as the sinister, malevolent housekeeper Mrs. Danvers ("Danny") who dies within the flames of Manderley mansion in Rebecca, it was awarded to Jane Darwell (with her sole career nomination) for her outstanding, memorable portrayal of strong and understanding earth-mother and migrant farm worker Ma Joad in an adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
The other three Best Supporting Actress nominees were:
- Ruth Hussey (with her sole career nomination) as magazine photographer Elizabeth Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story
- Barbara O'Neil (with her sole career nomination) as co-star Charles Boyer's neurotically-disturbed, possessive wife Duchesse de Praslin in All This, and Heaven Too
- Marjorie Rambeau (with the first of two career nominations) as wrong-side-of-the-tracks Mamie Adams - co-star Ginger Rogers' mother in director Gregory La Cava's melodrama Primrose Path (the film's sole nomination)
Preston Sturges won the first Original Screenplay Award for the political screwball comedy spoof The Great McGinty (the film's sole nomination and award) about city hall graft, Sturges' directorial debut film. Walt Disney's animated Pinocchio won the Best Original Score and Best Song Awards (for "When You Wish Upon a Star").
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
A few of the most notable, unaccountable omissions of the awards and nominations were:
- W. C. Fields, a hapless, henpecked husband and the unemployed town drunk named Egbert Sousè in his hilarious The Bank Dick
- producer/director Howard Hawks' fast-moving, quintessential screwball comedy His Girl Friday with an un-nominated Rosalind Russell (as news reporter Hildy Johnson) and Cary Grant (as Russell's ex-husband and ex-boss, big-city newspaper editor Walter Burns) in a superior remake of the 1930/1 nominated Best Picture The Front Page
Unbelievably, Cary Grant was also snubbed and not even nominated for his role as divorced, but dashing, colorful, pompous, playboyish husband C. K. Dexter Haven in the screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story.
Although The Great Dictator, Chaplin's first all-talking, all-sound film received five nominations: Outstanding Production/Picture, Best Actor (Chaplin), Best Writing (Original Screenplay) (Chaplin), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Oakie) and Best Music (Original Score) (Meredith Willson), it went away empty-handed.
Although James Stewart was successful in the Best Actor category this year, he was not nominated for another great role in The Shop Around the Corner - co-stars Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan (as the tormented store owner) were also overlooked.