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Errol Flynn's Lost Oscar Nomination


TomJH
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Errol Flynn was born 105 years ago today. Four of his swashbucklers, possibly as a mini celebration of that fact, are playing tonight as part of TCM's Friday Night Spotlight on Pirate Films. The four Flynn films include two of his best, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, as well as a couple of later '50s efforts also worthy of viewing.

 

But during those 105 years rarely have the words "great actor" or even, to a lesser degree, "good actor" been associated with his name. Quite the opposite, his talent as a performer was frequently disparaged or dismissed by the critics during his lifetime. And this has continued well after his death, as well.

 

As an illustration of the latter, David Shipman, in discussing the actor in his impressive 1970 book, The Great Movie Stars The Golden Years, wrote, "Errol Flynn's notoriety considerably outstripped his fame even at its height, and his fame way outstripped his talent."

 

Flynn himself would often dismiss his own ability as an actor, seeming to laugh at it along with the critics. Within him, however, the often harsh and dismissive reviews rankled and hurt. Some of those close to him knew that the actor longed to be taken seriously as an actor, that he yearned for acting opportunities other than that of screen adventurer, hoping to explore whatever range as a performer he hoped he might have.

 

Wrote stuntman and Flynn pal Buster Wiles in his book, My Days with Errol Flynn, "In later years, Eddie Albert complimented Flynn on his acting expertise. At first, Errol thought he was kidding, then when Albert made clear the sincerity of his admiration, tears came to Flynn's eyes."

 

It was at the very end of his career, just two years prior to his death, that Flynn finally did receive uniformly good reviews for his performance in The Sun Also Rises, released in 1957. The actor's career had, by then, seriously declined, and he accepted fourth billing in a role that was character support playing an alcoholic. Many see the performance, effective as it is, as a sad reflection of the real life self destructive actor by that time. Flynn was quick to say, in response to the positive reviews, that he was just playing himself.

 

The surprising critical response to Flynn's performance was strong enough, however, that for the first time in the actor's career there were serious rumours within the film community of a possible Academy Award nomination for him in the supporting actor category. That didn't happen, of course. The five actors that were nominated were Red Buttons in Sayonara (the eventual winner), Sessue Hayakawa in Bridge on the River Kwai, Vittorio de Sica in A Farewell to Arms, Arthur Kennedy in Peyton Place and Russ Tamblyn in Peyton Place.

 

However, in February, 1958, backstage of the play The Master of Thornfield in which Flynn briefly (and disasterously) appeared, he was interviewed by writer, biographer and friend Tony Thomas. The Australian-made Flynn documentary Tasmanian Devil includes a small audio clip from that interview in which the following exchange between the two men can be heard:

 

Thomas: "Errol, the last picture in which we saw you, The Sun Also Rises, and even the critics who had not liked you before said that you were wonderful."

 

Flynn: "Well, if the critics said that, you know, it's a kind word in a hard cruel world."

 

Thomas: "The news has just come through from Hollywood that you have been nominated for an Academy Award."

 

Flynn: "Yes, isn't that something? I never thought it would happen to me."

 

The narrator of the documentary, Hammer horror star and former Flynn co-worker, Christopher Lee, then said, "On the verge of recognition at last, his nomination for the Oscar was mysteriously withdrawn."

 

Over the years I have read few, very few, references to Flynn's lost nomination, the one that mysteriously disappeared.

 

We don't know the source of the information to which Thomas referred, of course. But let it be noted that Thomas was a highly meticulous man, who would later write Errol Flynn The Spy Who Never Was, refuting some outragious headline grabbing allegations made by another Flynn "biographer." Thomas was not the kind of man to be sloppy with his facts. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sounded so definitive in his comment about the nomination if it hadn't come from a reliable source, possibly even the Motion Picture Academy. From Flynn's verbal reply, too, it's apparent that he was already aware of the news and, from the sound of his voice, he was both pleased and surprised by it.

 

I have been a little exasperated that there has been so little information provided over the years over this Oscar nomination which, somehow, got lost. Most Flynn biographers don't even refer to it. Has anyone even heard of an Oscar nomination, particularly a high profile acting one, that has disappeared?

 

As famous as Errol Flynn was for years and, to a limited degree, remains, at least to those who follow the Hollywood studio system days, this is one of those little mysteries about his life to which I have never seen a satisfactory explanation.

 

Are there, by any chance, any posters here who know something about the historical facts surrounding Errol Flynn's lost Oscar nomination?

 

sunalsorises18_zpsee0a0569.jpg

 

Flynn in The Sun Also Rises: "B u n g ho, old boy!"

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Intriguing.

 

I went to my copy of Inside Oscar and it has a paragraph in the 1957 section about Flynn in The Sun Also Rises, including the bit about the critical raves and Errol's response to them; as well as including the fact that he spent a weekend in jail in Chicago in January due to a bar fight. According to the book, Twentieth Century Fox insisted on listing him in their Oscar campaign ads as a LEAD ACTOR, even though pretty much everyone insisted it was a supporting role. According to the book, the exact same thing is what completely derailed Roddy McDowell's chances to be nommed for supporting actor in Cleopatra, Fox even took out an ad to apologize to McDowell for it in 1963/4.

 

I dunno if this helps or not. Maybe they were confusing the campaign with the actual nominations.

 

in ye olde days before the internets and before so many reference books about the Oscars were published, there were a lot of innaccuracies about nominations (Shelley Winters often claimed, for example, that she was nominated for Best Actress for A Double Life. She so was not.)

 

So, in the days before the Oscarrace had gotten to be the five-star carnival armchair quarterbacked by so many that it is today, people often got the facts about who had been a nominee, for that, and how many times wrong; and egos being what egos are- no one was quick to correct them.

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according to them, Twentieth Century Fox insisted on listing him in campaigns as LEAD ACTOR, even though pretty much everyoner insisted it was a supporting role. According to the book, the same thing is what completely derailed Roddy McDowell's chances to be nommed for supporting in Cleopatra.

 

Now that's intriguing, Lorna, something I had never heard before. I wonder if Flynn's nomination was withdrawn on some kind of technicality, nominated as a supportng actor but then that nomination shot down because the film's studio insisted that he was a lead in the film (even though that's ridiculous).

 

Thanks very much for that info. It does provide interesting speculation, doesn't it?

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if you don't own a copy of Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona- get it.

 

With all due respect to Mr. Osborne, it is the best and most thorough account of the oscars ever printed.

 

One of the authors died years ago, but the final edition was edited to include everything from 1927 to (I think) 1994.

 

(There was an Inside Oscar 2 written by one of the surviving authors, but it's a lot less impartial than the first, and kind of mean-spirited (although rightly so in some cases.))

 

 

it goes beyond being a good guide to the Oscars, it's an excellent film resource guide period.

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I will also add that I like Christopher Lee and respect the hell out of the fact that he has been in 10 million films and- at the age of 150- is still at it doing big movies on occasion.

 

However, from some stuff I've seen (documentaries, DVD extras, a feature about Hammer horror and other stuff)- he is kind of a pompous windbag who gets stuff wrong. Industry-types have a strange way of "remembering" things; and it's possible this "retracted oscar nomination" was a gaffe of Lee's or someone else's they tried to artfully cover up or was some strange form of the age-old old showbiz tradition of heavy ****-kissing (in this case via historical revisionism.)

 

the only time I can recall during the entire decade of the 1950's (actually in all Oscardom pre-1960) that a nomination was rescinded was when the "original screenplay" for High Society was nominated in 1956...only to be taken back because- duh- the film was a remake of The Philadelphia Story. It caused something of an embaressment for the academy.

 

I also know there was one time they retracted the Best Song nominees (1975) because the nominations overlooked so many deserving candidates and re-cast the ballots.

 

other than that, I can think of nothing for any of the major categories (it happens from time to time in the foreign film category though.)

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the only time I can recall during the entire decade of the 1950's (actually in all Oscardom pre-1960) that a nomination was rescinded was when the "original screenplay" for High Society was nominated in 1956...only to be taken back because- duh- the film was a remake of The Philadelphia Story. It caused something of an embaressment for the academy.

 

That was not the problem. The problem was this is the film that was nominated:

 

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For the 29th Academy Awards, High Society was accidentally included on the ballot in category for the Academy Award for Best Story. The error took place because of another film with the same title – the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production of the Cole Porter musical High Society starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra – was in release. Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, the screenwriters for The Bowery Boys comedy, acknowledged their nomination was a mistake and successfully requested their removal from the Academy Award ballot.

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other than that, I can think of nothing for any of the major categories (it happens from time to time in the foreign film category though.)

I wonder if Flynn has a unique place in Academy Award history by being the only actor to lose a nomination after it has been announced.

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re: Richard Kimble

re: High Society (Bowery Boys version) nomination

 

(I hate the new reply system.)

 

Again, to source Inside Oscar, the writers of the Bowery Boys version were the ones mentioned in the nomination (which was for motion picture- story; this is back when they gave Oscars just for story ideas, as well as original and adapted screenplays); but there was speculation that it was a case of mistaken identity (although some in the writer's branch claimed they did mean to nominate the "Bowery" version ; the "nominated" writers themselves wrote to the Academy and withdrew their nomination for that reason saying "apparently our nomination was the case of mistaken identity and for that reason, we withdraw.".

 

Either way, yes, it was the writers of the Bowery High Society that technically did get it (and are credited.) but I think it was a double boo-boo on the part of the writer's branch. I really do think they thought that the MGM High Society was an original story AND ALSO attached the wrong writers to it, of course I could be wrong (it's happened before.)

 

Either way, in an ironic twist, the winner of the award that year was the "original story" for The Brave One, credited to "Robert Rich" but written in fact by Dalton Trumbo.

 

Anyway you look at it- the category was a mess.

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Interesting story about Flynn.

 

The mysteries of the Academy also work the other way.

 

For decades the official best actress race in 1930 gave Mary Pickford the award for COQUETTE over Bessie Love for THE BROADWAY MELODY, Betty Compson for THE BARKER, Jeanne Eagels for THE LETTER, and Ruth Chatterton for MADAME X.

 

Five nominess as there were for best actor that year. Then sometime in the 90s the list started to include Corinne Griffith for THE DIVINE LADY.  Somehow this addition is attached to Robert Osborne's book on the Oscars and the inclusion of Griffith (a SIXTH nomiee) started showing up in other sources.

 

The notation for those early years says "no official nominees has been announced this year" as the basis for altering the nominations.

 

This was followed by Bette Davis now being listed as a write-in nominee for OF HUMAN BONDAGE '34. There were only three official acting nominee that year.

 

I guess the awards are now open to all revisionists. Therefore, I claim Marion Davies was a nominee for PEG O' MY HEART in 1934, another year in which there were only 3 official nominees.

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Tom, I don't know if I could say that Errol Flynn ever deserved an award, or even a nomination, but he was a talented actor and I believe he worked hard at his craft. He would never have achieved the level of success that he had otherwise. His acting was so graceful and natural, maybe because he never  appeared to  be working hard or seriously, he was considered a "lightweight" by the so called experts.  But the general public certainly gave Errol their approval, and many of us still do today.

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His acting was so graceful and natural, maybe because he never  appeared to  be working hard or seriously, he was considered a "lightweight" by the so called experts. 

That's a spot on appraisal, I believe, mroberts, of Flynn's acting talent. He made it appear so easy on screen that his abilities were taken for granted and, in fact, frequently dismissed.

 

Still, it would have meant a lot to him if he had received an Oscar nomination. Based on that documentary to which I made reference in my original posting (and that audio clip), it appears that a nomination of some kind was there for him and, then, for whatever reason, just disappeared.

 

But if that is the case, Flynn's lost Oscar nomination is something that no one ever talks about. I'm quite certain that most reading this thread are, in fact, quite surprised by the news. It certainly is baffling and intriguing to me. I don't understand why there is so little information available on the topic.

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Very interesting story about Errol Flynn and I agree he was an under-rated actor whose talent made it look easy. I'm wondering if Flynn had gotten that supporting actor nomination, who would he have replaced? Whose nomination would have been cut out? Certainly not Red Buttons, the eventual winner. Maybe one of the Peyton Place noms? Thoughts, anybody?

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It's possible that I gave an incorrect date in my original posting on this thread when I stated that that Tasmanian Devil clip of Tony Thomas mentioning an Oscar nomination to Flynn was in February, 1958. Thomas did indeed interview him at that time, therefore I assumed that's where the audio clip came from.

 

However, I now believe that Thomas may well have had more than one interview with Flynn. The one in February '58 was the last time Thomas saw the actor so it's possible the audio clip came from an earlier interview with him.

 

The reason that I'm emphasizing the interview date is because it would be lovely to find an old press release, if possible, from the Motion Picture Academy providing a list of Oscar nominations for the 30th Academy Awards (representing the year 1957).

 

I have no idea exactly when the initial Oscar nominations were announced to the press for '57, but the way that Thomas and Flynn were talking, it sounded as if some kind of announcement had been made just prior to their interview (presumably in early '58).

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Very interesting story about Errol Flynn and I agree he was an under-rated actor whose talent made it look easy. I'm wondering if Flynn had gotten that supporting actor nomination, who would he have replaced? Whose nomination would have been cut out? Certainly not Red Buttons, the eventual winner. Maybe one of the Peyton Place noms? Thoughts, anybody?

 

well, yes- but you may not like them. I would actually cut Red Buttons from the list. He's fine in Sayonara, but it's no great shakes as a film and his post-Oscar career didn't really amount to much.

 

As for the Peyton Place duo, I think Arthur Kennedy is one of those actors (Like Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb) who was regarded as an actor's actor back in the day- but in retrospect, his performances nearly always involve too much showy acting! and not enough subtlety. Peyton Place is exhibit A in the case against him. 

I love Russ Tamblyn, he was smokin' hot and had so much talent I'm glad he got nommed for something in his career, but his role in Peyton Place is slight, and in spite of the confidence he projects in it, it's not Oscar material. The real Oscar-worthy performance in that film is from Lloyd Nolan- who has a big courtroom scene and has to invest some cheesy dialogue ("I assisted her in a miscarriage") with some real meaning.

 

I've never seen Vittorio de Sica in A Farewell to Arms.

 

Of the nominees, Sessue Heyakawa is head and shoulders above the rest and the most deserving of the pack.

 

I guess it was hard to single out which of the 12 Angry Men deserved recognition most as no one from the film placed in the acting categories. Ditto I guess the male ensemble from Paths of Glory- which had been a flop no one took seriously (at the time) anyway. But any number of actors from those films were more viable candidates than Kennedy, Tamblyn or (sorry) Red Buttons.

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Lorna, I respect your opinion and I agree with you about Red Buttons. He was a popular comedian back in the day and may have won because it was a "serious" role so he was stepping out of the box. As the eventual winner, he probably would not have been dropped because he had enough votes to get nominated and maybe more than the other four guys. My question was who would have been dropped to make way for Errol, not who was the best one who deserved to win the category that year.

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If Flynn had been nominated as supporting actor, Tamblyn would probably have not made the list. Then with his Peyton Place co-star not splitting votes, Arthur Kennedy would have been a very strong candidate. Likely the race would then have been between Kenndy and Flynn. Buttons likely won because Kennedy and Tamblyn split votes.

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Since Bridge on the River Kwai was such huge box office hit and prestige production, I've always been a little surprised that Sessue Hayakawa lost to Red Buttons. Admittedly, though, Buttons was playing against type - that always has an appeal for voters.

 

If Flynn had been nominated he would have had the very huge attraction doing so in a comeback performance - another big drawing card when it comes to an Oscar win. But I've read that Fox had little interest in promoting Flynn at the time because he wasn't under contract to the studio.

 

In any event, if Flynn had been nominated that year, he would have had very tough competition. I sort of wonder if a newcomer like Tamblyn might have been the one to not get a nomination if Flynn's name had been kept in the race.

 

And that's another reason why I would love to somehow find a copy of the original Supporting Actor nominations for that year - to confirm that Flynn's name is, indeed, there, and to see which of the five actors was added on after Errol's nomination disappeared.

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Since Bridge on the River Kwai was such huge box office hit and prestige production, I've always been a little surprised that Sessue Hayakawa lost to Red Buttons. Admittedly, though, Buttons was playing against type - that always has an appeal for voters.

 

If Flynn had been nominated he would have had the very huge attraction doing so in a comeback performance - another big drawing card when it comes to an Oscar win. But I've read that Fox had little interest in promoting Flynn at the time because he wasn't under contract to the studio.

 

In any event, if Flynn had been nominated that year, he would have had very tough competition. I sort of wonder if a newcomer like Tamblyn might have been the one to not get a nomination if Flynn's name had been kept in the race.

 

And that's another reason why I would love to somehow find a copy of the original Supporting Actor nominations for that year - to confirm that Flynn's name is, indeed, there, and to see which of the five actors was added on after Errol's nomination disappeared.

 

Could it also be that some voters didn't want to vote for Hayakawa due to him being Japanese?   My mom was still called names in Southern California during the early 60s due to that reason.

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Could it also be that some voters didn't want to vote for Hayakawa due to him being Japanese?   My mom was still called names in Southern California during the early 60s due to that reason.

Terrible to think that you may be right, James. Off hand, I can't think of any non-Caucasians to receive an acting Oscar prior to 1957 outside of Hattie McDaniel. And when Bridge was released the war was undoubtedly still a fresh memory for many voters.

 

Think that this, too, may have had something to do with Red Buttons' win?

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Terrible to think that you may be right, James. Off hand, I can't think of any non-Caucasians to receive an acting Oscar prior to 1957 outside of Hattie McDaniel. And when Bridge was released the war was undoubtedly still a fresh memory for many voters.

 

Think that this, too, may have had something to do with Red Buttons' win?

 

Well the 12 Year a Slave thread a while back explored the topic of why voters vote they way they do and there can be many sub-factors other than just voting for what one views as 'best'.   Some of these sub-factors may not be known to the voters but still influence how they vote.

 

How close the final votes are often determines if a sub-factor was had a direct impact on who wins or not.

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Interesting comments, fellow posters. I think Tamblyn may have been the odd man out if Flynn had been in. Regarding Hayakawa, Umeki won the supporting actress award and she was Japanese. Maybe she got the nod because her character was "nice" and his character wasn't particularly nice. He certainly deserved some sort of recognition. I guess we can speculate all we want but we may never know what happened for sure. Shame on Fox for not promoting a guy in their movie, regardless of his contract status, it's still their film.

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Terrible to think that you may be right, James. Off hand, I can't think of any non-Caucasians to receive an acting Oscar prior to 1957 outside of Hattie McDaniel.

 

Anthony Quinn was Mexican-Born; Anna Magnani was Italian; Katina Paxinou (sp?) was Greek; Jose Ferrer was Puerto Rican.

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I think it's interesting to note that just one year after the strange disappearance of Errol Flynn's Oscar nomination for Sun Also Rises, his old friend David Niven won the Academy Award as best actor for his performance in Separate Tables.

 

There's a little irony in this, as well as a lesson in a study in contrasts. Flynn and Niven had caroused together in the Hollywood community in the late '30s, even sharing accommodations in a home (rented from Rosalind Russell) which they used as a bachelor pad. During this same period Niven was featured in Flynn's The Dawn Patrol. It was the film which really helped to fully establish Niven's stardom within the film community. Whenever the film appears on TCM these days, one of the main reasons to watch it, I feel, is to enjoy the quite extraordinary chemistry between the two actors, clearly a reflection of their off screen friendship at the time.

 

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Niven would enlist in the war effort while Flynn would remain in Hollywood, his reputation taking a major hit with his infamous statutory rape trial. The two men would not see much of one another again, though they would have a chance encounter in London in 1958, reminiscing about old times. Niven would later comment about that last encounter that, while shocked by Flynn's ravaged appearance, he also noticed an inner calm that the old time hell maker then seemed to possess. In response to that, Flynn told him that he had started to read the Bible, not a book that most would assume would interest a man known for his wicked ways.

 

During the intervening years Niven had also abandoned his woman chasing days of before and cultivated friendships and relationships within the Hollywood and British film communities that had kept his career going. He never had the same superstar status as Flynn in his prime but his career was still going strongly by the time that the self destructive Flynn's career had burned out.

 

Niven, one could say, had grown up, while Flynn never had. Flynn was still the "bad boy," drinking, womanizing, getting publicity for bar fights and other shenanigans, while Niven was socializing with the likes of Larry Olivier and Vivien Leigh, for example, among many others. Niven, not a self destructive man, played the "Hollywood game" in his friendships and with those he chose to charm in a manner that the fiercely independent "I don't give a damn" Flynn never did.

 

Whether this played a role in Flynn's Oscar nomination disappearance I can't say for sure. Certainly, though, if Errol had kept his nomination, it may well have played a factor as to whether or not this still notorious "bad boy" would have actually won the Oscar. I suspect it would have been an uphill battle for him, in that respect.

 

David Niven, on the other hand, in what some may even regard as a supporting role in Separate Tables won Best Actor. In my opinion, Niven gave a compelling, touching characterization in that film, completely unlike anything he had done on the screen before or would again. However, we all know that winning an Oscar has as much to do with politics as it does artistic ability. 

 

In that respect, Niven's Academy Award win is as much of a comment, I feel, upon Niven's long time relationships within the Hollywood community. For Niven, unlike Flynn, was a survivor.

 

candid-niven_zps0bdf810d.jpg

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