This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE to see more posts from Week 1: THE ACTORS.
I remember so clearly when Tatum O’Neal won Best Supporting Actress at the tender age of 10. I was around 12 years old at the time, had seen the film, LOVED it, loved her in it. (It remains one of my favorite movies and performances to this day.) My parents were very strict about sticking to my designated bed time when I was a kid, but for some reason were always lenient on Oscar night. I think they knew they were raising a budding cineaste.
I recall watching the ceremony on a little 9 inch black and white TV in my bedroom and jumping up and down on my twin bed when her name was announced.
She was a kid–like me! AND SHE WON A BIG AWARD! THE BIGGEST AWARD IN THE UNIVERSE! (I was probably not aware of the Nobel Prize at the time–or, at least, not cognizant of its importance relative to the Oscar.)
Since then, I’ve become a tad more ambivalent about the idea of children receiving nominations for and winning major awards. It’s such a life-changing event for an adult it’s a wonder that children can handle it. When Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor for Kramer vs. Kramer he took time during his acceptance speech to comfort his 8 year old co-star Justin Henry for having lost his award earlier in the evening. The kid actually looked heartbroken. It was kind of startling.
And who can forget Anna Paquin’s reaction when she won for The Piano? She stood there for several moments, giggling nervously, looking completely stunned by her win. It was charming and utterly genuine, but also a little bit disturbing.
The same year Tatum O’Neal won her Oscar was the year of the infamous streaker incident during the live Oscar telecast. And who did the camera zoom in on for a reaction shot right after it happened? Tatum’s 15 year old co-nominee, Linda Blair.
In 2011 there was the controversial tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis by the satirical web site The Onion which referred to her with a vile word, as well as questionable comments about her by host Seth MacFarlane during the telecast.
So there’s definitely a down side to the attention child actors receive when they are caught up in awards season. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to feel bowled over by a child actor who gives a superior performance. I may no longer do a happy dance when a child actor receives a nomination/win, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they deserve recognition for their amazing work.
Another memory I’ve unpacked from the vault is actress/comedienne Anne Meara appearing on a talk show after Tatum O’Neal won and complaining that she didn’t deserve it, because the credit for child performances should all go to the director. (She was supporting her friend Madeline Kahn, who was nominated for the same film.) While I agree that Kahn was unfairly overlooked by Oscar in many of her roles (in fact, I almost chose her as my subject for the “Oscar Snubs” category of this blogathon) I think it’s wrong to say that children can be shaped into giving great performances. If that were the case, there would be no such thing as a bad child performance–and there have been plenty of those.
That’s not to say that some directors don’t bring out the best in child actors–but great directors do that for adult actors, too.
While many child Oscar winners have won their awards in the competitive categories, from 1935 until 1961 there was a special honorary Oscar given at the discretion of the Board of Governors to child actors who did exceptional work during that year. It was called The Academy Juvenile Award. It was decided that children in competitive categories were at an unfair disadvantage when going up against adult actors, so the award was created to allow the Academy to honor child actors. Since there were some huge child stars during the 1930s (most notably Shirley Temple) it made sense to find a way to honor them along with their adult counterparts. Actors under the age of 18 were eligible. The first recipient was Shirley Temple, the last Hayley Mills. The winner of the award received a miniature version of the Oscar statuette.
The year after Hayley Mills received her Juvenile Award, 16 year old Patty Duke won Best Supporting Actress for The Miracle Worker. From then on, the only awards given to child actors have been in the competitive categories.
The following is as complete a list as I could gather of all the child/young adult nominees and winners. (One source forgot to include Linda Blair, so that’s why I’m not 100% certain that it’s complete.) It’s a very interesting list, especially when one considers those whose fame has endured over time and those who have been virtually forgotten.
Best Actor – Nominees
Jackie Cooper for Skippy (9 years old)
Best Actress – Nominees
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (9 years old)
Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider (13 years old)
Justin Henry for Kramer vs. Kramer (8 years old)
Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense (11 years old)
Brandon deWilde for Shane (11 years old)
Jack Wild for Oliver! (16 years old)
Sal Mineo for Rebel Without a Cause (17 years old)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Winners
Tatum O’Neal for Paper Moon (10 years old)
Anna Paquin for The Piano (11 years old)
Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker (16 years old)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Nominees
Mary Badham for To Kill a Mockingbird (10 years old)
Quinn Cummings for The Goodbye Girl (10 years old)
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine (10 years old)
Patty McCormack for The Bad Seed (11 years old)
Saoirse Ronan for Atonement (13 years old)
Bonita Granville for These Three (14 years old)
Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit (14 years old)
Jodie Foster for Taxi Driver (14 years old)
Linda Blair for The Exorcist (15 years old)
The Academy Juvenile Award (not all were for a specific film)
Shirley Temple (6 years old)
Deanna Durbin (17 years old)
Mickey Rooney (18 years old)
Judy Garland (17 years old)
Vincent Winter (7 years old) – The Little Kidnappers
Jon Whiteley (10 years old) – The Little Kidnappers
Margaret O’Brien (8 years old)
Ivan Jandl (12 years old) – The Search
Claude Jarman, Jr. (12 years old)
Bobby Driscoll (13 years old)
Peggy Ann Garner (13 years old)
Hayley Mills (14 years old) – Pollyanna