1955 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®
"MARTY", "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing", "Mister Roberts", "Picnic", "The Rose Tattoo"
ERNEST BORGNINE in "Marty", James Cagney in "Love Me or Leave Me", James Dean in "East of Eden", Frank Sinatra in "The Man With the Golden Arm", Spencer Tracy in "Bad Day at Black Rock"
ANNA MAGNANI in "The Rose Tattoo", Susan Hayward in "I'll Cry Tomorrow", Katharine Hepburn in "Summertime", Jennifer Jones in "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing", Eleanor Parker in "Interrupted Melody"
JACK LEMMON in "Mister Roberts", Arthur Kennedy in "Trial", Joe Mantell in "Marty", Sal Mineo in "Rebel Without a Cause", Arthur O'Connell in "Picnic"
JO VAN FLEET in "East of Eden", Betsy Blair in "Marty", Peggy Lee in "Pete Kelly's Blues", Marisa Pavan in "The Rose Tattoo", Natalie Wood in "Rebel Without a Cause"
DELBERT MANN for "Marty", Elia Kazan for "East of Eden", David Lean for "Summertime", Joshua Logan for "Picnic", John Sturges for "Bad Day at Black Rock"
This year's ceremony (on March 21, 1956) was overshadowed by the tragic death of young star James Dean about 6 months earlier on September 30, 1955. Dean had only three films to his credit - and all were honored in some way at this year's or in the next year's ceremony [Dean was the first to be nominated post-humously]:
- East of Eden - 4 nominations (Dean was nominated as Best Actor), with one win, Best Supporting Actress (Jo Van Fleet)
- Rebel Without a Cause - 3 nominations with no wins; supporting nominations for Dean's co-stars Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo
- Giant (1956) - 10 nominations (Dean was nominated as Best Actor), with one win, Best Director (George Stevens)
1955 was a major turning point and milestone in Oscar history, since United Artist's came up with an unpretentious, anti-Hollywood type of winner - a simple, touching and pedestrian film about a painfully lonely, homely butcher/common man who falls in love. Marty, an unassuming, inexpensive black and white comedy/drama film from producers Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, was a first-time feature of director Delbert Mann from a script by Paddy Chayefsky. [The first and only other time UA had won a Best Picture Oscar was in 1940 for Rebecca (1940). In the decade of the 60s, UA would win more Best Picture Oscars than any other organization.]
The "sleeper" hit in the 'year of the independents,' was nominated in eight categories and won in four major categories (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay for Paddy Chayefsky). It was the first Best Picture Oscar winner to also win the prestigious top prize honor (known as the Palme d'Or at the time) at the Cannes Film Festival (Best Picture-winner The Lost Weekend (1945) won the Grand Prix award earlier), but brought weak box-office profits. The film had originally been a small-screen TV play (with star Rod Steiger) that aired in 1953. On the bigger screen, the ninety-one minute film also had the distinction of being the shortest Best Picture winner in awards history. [The next shortest Best Picture winner was Annie Hall (1977).] It was the first Best Picture winner based on a play written for and previously produced for television, that was transferred to the big screen. It was also the first American feature film to be shown in the USSR (in Moscow) since World War II, during a 1959 cultural-exchange program.
The other nominees for Best Picture made up of one of the weakest slates of nominees for Best Picture in Academy history. Three of the five nominees were screen adaptations of Broadway stage hits:
- co-directors John Ford's and Mervyn LeRoy's military comedy Mister Roberts (with three nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actor), based on the successful Broadway hit play about the crew of Reluctant, a Navy cargo freighter in the South Pacific during WWII that is miles away from the battle zone [Note: actor Ward Bond made his 14th appearance in this Best Picture nominee - more than any other actor/actress, although he was never nominated for an Academy Award]
- the film adaptation of William Inge's play by director Joshua Logan, Picnic (with six nominations and two wins - Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Film Editing) about a wanderer who drifts into a small town and stirs up romance
- another film adaptation from Tennessee Williams' stage play by director Daniel Mann, The Rose Tattoo (with eight nominations and three wins - Best Actress, Best B/W Cinematography, and Best B/W Art Direction/Set Decoration) about a Southern, Sicilian-born widow/seamstress who falls in love with a virile, simple-minded trucker. [James Wong Howe, cinematographer for The Rose Tattoo, won the first of two Oscars - with this award, he became the first and only Chinese-American to ever win an Academy Award. His second Oscar was for Hud (1963).]
- Fox's top box-office romantic, melodramatic tear-jerker hit about a love affair between a married American war correspondent and a beautiful Eurasian doctor, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (with eight nominations and three wins - Best Song, Best Dramatic Score, and Best Color Costume Design)
Delbert Mann's win as Best Director was a remarkable achievement, since he was competing, in his first major directorial assignment, against veteran directors such as Elia Kazan (East of Eden), David Lean (Summertime), Broadway director Joshua Logan (Picnic), and John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock). [Bad Day at Black Rock, a critically-superior film, was defeated in each one of its three categories of nominations - Director, Screenplay, and Actor, by Marty.] Only two of the Best Director-nominated films, were also Best Picture candidates - Joshua Logan's Picnic and Delbert Mann's Marty.
Both the Best Actor and Actress awards in 1955 were given to Italian characters!
- Ernest Borgnine (with his sole career nomination - and Oscar win) won the Best Actor award for his a-typical performance as a soft-hearted, dull, middle-aged, mild-mannered and shy, Bronx Italian butcher-bachelor Marty Piletti with a clinging mother who finally finds romance at a dance hall with another timid, unattractive wallflower schoolteacher (Betsy Blair) in Marty. [Borgnine broke out of a stereotyped mold as a heavy (e.g., a sadistic, pug-nosed, gap-toothed Sgt. Fatso in From Here to Eternity (1953), and as a thug in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).] (Borgnine's award was presented by Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly - it would be her last public appearance before her much-publicized marriage to Monaco's Prince Rainier III two weeks after the Oscar-cast.)
Another of the Best Actor nominees was the legendary actor James Dean (with his first of two career nominations in his first starring role) for his magnetic, sensitive performance as rebellious adolescent Cal Trask searching for love and acceptance in a film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel - a melodramatic telling of the Biblical 'Cain and Abel' story in East of Eden (with four nominations and one win - Best Supporting Actress). Dean was killed in a tragic car accident six months before the awards ceremony - he was the first actor to be nominated posthumously for an Oscar. (A second posthumous award would be awarded to Dean the next year for his nomination in Giant (1956).) Therefore, Dean was the first and only actor to receive two consecutive posthumous Best Actor nominations.
James Cagney (with his third and last career nomination) was nominated for his role as Doris Day's gangster husband/manager Martin 'the Gimp' Snyder in the musical biopic of the life of singer Ruth Etting by director Charles Vidor, Love Me or Leave Me (with six nominations and one win - Best Motion Picture Story). [Cagney lost the award in 1938 for Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) but won the award four years later for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).] Spencer Tracy (with his fifth nomination) was nominated for his role as one-armed, black-clothed stranger John MacReedy who questions Japanese-American hostility in a western town in director John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock (with three nominations and no wins), also lost to supporting co-star Ernest Borgnine in the film. And Frank Sinatra (with his second and final career nomination) was nominated for his role as Frankie Machine - a crooked card dealer and ex-junkie trumpeter in Otto Preminger's gritty, pioneering film about drug use and addiction, The Man With the Golden Arm (with three nominations and no wins). [Sinatra had won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1953.]
The Best Actress award was won by Italian actress Anna Magnani (with her first of two career nominations) in an outstanding role as a widowed Italian/Sicilian seamstress and husband-obsessed Serafina Delle Rose who is courted by and enamored of a simple-minded truck driver (Burt Lancaster) with whom she has a gossip-producing affair in The Rose Tattoo. The dynamic role was Magnani's first English-language role, her first Hollywood-made film, and the first of only four American films she made in her career. She also was the first Italian (and first Italian woman) to win an Oscar for Best Actress. [Sophia Loren duplicated the feat with a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Two Women (1960).]
The other Best Actress nominees were:
- Katharine Hepburn (with her sixth nomination) as middle-aged spinster Jane Hudson experiencing her first - and maybe last romantic fling in Venice with Rossano Brazzi in David Lean's director-nominated Summertime (with two nominations and no wins)
- Susan Hayward (with her fourth nomination) as star-crossed alcoholic Broadway/Hollywood actress and singer Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow (with four nominations and one win - Best B/W Costume Design) [Hayward's earlier nominations were for Smash up - The Story of a Woman (1947), My Foolish Heart (1949), and With a Song in My Heart (1952) - she would finally win three years later for her role as a woman on death row in I Want to Live! (1958)]
- Eleanor Parker (with her third and last unsuccessful nomination) as Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence who battles polio in director Curtis Bernhardt's biopic film titled Interrupted Melody (with three nominations and one win - Best Story and Screenplay)
- Jennifer Jones (with her last of five career nominations) as Eurasian doctor Han Suyin in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. [Jones won only once in her first attempt for The Song of Bernadette (1943), followed by nominations for Since You Went Away (1944), Love Letters (1945), and Duel in the Sun (1946).] Interrupted Melody won the Story and Screenplay Award (what is now called Original Screenplay)
And there were two Italian performers among the Best Supporting nominees (Sal Mineo and Marisa Pavan).
Jack Lemmon (with his first of eight career nominations) in his fourth film won his first Best Supporting Actor award for his comic portrayal as the amiable, flighty, misfit laundry officer Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver aboard James Cagney's escort ship in the comedy/drama Mister Roberts. [Lemmon was the first actor to win Oscars as both supporting and lead actor. This win was later followed by a fifth nomination and Best Actor Oscar win, his second and final Oscar, for Save the Tiger (1973).]
Sal Mineo (with his first of two unsuccessful career nominations) was also nominated for his role as the confused and suicidal teenager Plato in director Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (with three nominations and no wins).
The other three nominees in the category were:
- Arthur O'Connell (with his first of two unsuccessful career nominations) as small-town bachelor Howard Bevans (forced into marriage by Rosalind Russell) in Picnic
- Arthur Kennedy (with his third of five unsuccessful career nominations) as Communist lawyer Barney Castle in director Mark Robson's Trial (the film's sole nomination)
- Joe Mantell (with his sole nomination) as Marty's pal, Angie who keeps asking: "What do you feel like doing tonight?" in Marty
And Jo Van Fleet (with her sole career nomination - and only Oscar win for her first film) won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Kate (love-starved James Dean's mysterious mother and madam of a brothel) who deserted her family, with tragic consequences in director Elia Kazan's film of John Steinbeck's novel titled East of Eden. [Van Fleet had also appeared in I'll Cry Tomorrow and The Rose Tattoo in the same year.]
Among the other nominees for Best Supporting Actress were:
- Marisa Pavan (with her sole nomination) as Magnani's hot-blooded, virgin daughter Rosa Delle Rose in The Rose Tatoo
- Natalie Wood (with her first of three unsuccessful career nominations) as troubled Judy (James Dean's girlfriend) in Rebel Without a Cause
- Betsy Blair (with her sole nomination) as Clara - a sensitive, unattractive schoolteacher who is dumped by her blind date at a Saturday night dance and slowly fumbles her way toward love with a physically-unattractive and inarticulate butcher in Marty
- Peggy Lee (with her sole nomination) as a gangster's girlfriend Rose Hopkins - an alcoholic jazz singer in producer/director Jack Webb's musical melodrama titled Pete Kelly's Blues (the film's sole nomination)
An Honorary Award was presented to the three-part Japanese epic film Samurai, The Legend of Musashi, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki - as the best foreign language film - first released in the US during 1955.
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Many fine pictures in 1955, which were at least as good as the Best Picture nominees - but un-nominated for Best Picture - included Rebel Without a Cause, Bad Day at Black Rock, East of Eden, the animated Lady and the Tramp (completely overlooked, especially for its potential Best Song nomination for Bella Notte ("She's a Tramp") sung by Peggy Lee), and Richard Brooks' Blackboard Jungle. The troubled teen-James Dean film, a tale of youthful defiance, Rebel Without a Cause also lacked a Best Director nomination for Nicholas Ray.
Actor Charles Laughton's only directorial effort, the brilliant thriller The Night of the Hunter was totally ignored by the Academy and although it bombed at the box-office, the film was eventually considered a critical masterpiece. The un-nominated film provided one of Robert Mitchum's greatest performances as crazed and perverse preacher Harry Powell (with finger tattoos on each hand who reenacted the struggle between H-A-T-E and L-O-V-E in a memorable monologue), and one of the last performances of silent star Lillian Gish.
Sidney Poitier was overlooked as Gregory Miller, a disaffected, inner city young black student, in the urban drama Blackboard Jungle, as was Vic Morrow - portraying the insolent, delinquent gang leader Artie West. Tom Ewell was also missing from the acting nominees for his role as neighborly Richard Sherman opposite Marilyn Monroe as The Girl in The Seven Year Itch.
Director Robert Aldrich's greatest film - the brutal crime film Kiss Me Deadly, did not receive a single nomination. And Douglas Sirk's radical, soap-operish melodrama All That Heaven Allows with performances by Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, was completely ignored by the Academy. Picnic, one of the Best Picture nominees and a film with a total of six nominations, featured three un-nominated stars - William Holden, Rosalind Russell, and Kim Novak.
Henry Fonda, as Lt. Doug Roberts, the first officer of the cargo ship - the major title-role star in the comedy Mister Roberts, didn't receive an acting nomination (although he was recreating his character from the Broadway stage version). And although Cagney was nominated for Best Actor, it wasn't for his better role in Mister Roberts as the power-mad and despotic Captain Morion.
Raymond Massey as James Dean's strict father in East of Eden wasn't nominated for his Supporting Role. [Massey had been nominated - and lost - only once in his film career, for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940).] Although James Dean was Best Actor-nominated for East of Eden, he was NOT nominated for his more memorable, electrifying performance as Jim - a restless, brooding juvenile and new-kid-on-the-block in Rebel Without a Cause. Julie Harris, who played opposite James Dean as Abra in East of Eden, wasn't nominated.
Love Me or Leave Me, with six nominations (and one Oscar win for Best Story), neglected to have its star Doris Day nominated for her role as 1930s torch-singer Ruth Etting. Bette Davis was neglected for her reprised role as Queen Elizabeth I in The Virgin Queen.
The Honorary Award for the best foreign language film, awarded to Samurai, The Legend of Musashi, should have been given to Henri-Georges Clouzot's psychological thriller Les Diaboliques (Fr.) instead.