Great Oscar Injustices: Cary Grant

I wanted to do something a little different this month and showcase two amazing actors who never won an Oscar for a film performance, despite their amazing talent and contributions to countless films that did win Oscars. The first star I will highlight is Cary Grant, one of Oscar’s greatest injustices.

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February 2019: Month of Oscars

No Star of the Month for February!  Instead TCM will play various films that have been nominated for or won Oscars

I wanted to do something a little different this month and showcase two amazing actors who never won an Oscar for a film performance, despite their amazing talent and contributions to countless films that did win Oscars.

The first star I will highlight is Cary Grant, one of Oscar’s greatest injustices.

Cary Grant

Academy Award trophy

Great Oscar Injustices


Cary Grant, one of Oscar’s greatest injustices

Does that surprise you the way it surprises me?  The great Cary Grant, thought by some to be one of the best and most influential actors of all time, NEVER RECEIVED AN OSCAR for a film performance.  To underscore this injustice, if I may call not winning an Oscar an injustice, here is a list of Cary Grant films that either received Oscars or were nominated:

Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated Cary Grant Films

Best Picture

  • 1932 – She Done Him Wrong
  • 1937 – The Awful Truth
  • 1940 – The Philadelphia Story
  • 1941 – Suspicion
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town
  • 1947 – The Bishop’s Wife

Best Actor

  • *1940 – James Stewart – The Philadelphia Story
  • 1941 – Cary Grant – Penny Serenade
  • 1944 – Cary Grant – None but the Lonely Heart

Best Actress

  • 1937 – Irene Dunne – The Awful Truth
  • 1940 – Katharine Hepburn – The Philadelphia Story
  • *1941 – Joan Fontaine – Suspicion

Best Supporting Actor

  • 1937 – Ralph Bellamy – The Awful Truth
  • 1937 – Roland Young – Topper
  • 1946 – Claude Rains – Notorious

Best Supporting Actress

  • 1940 – Ruth Hussey – The Philadelphia Story
  • *1944 – Ethel Barrymore – None But The Lonely Heart

Best Director

  • *1937 – Leo McCarey – The Awful Truth
  • 1940 – George Cukor – The Philadelphia Story
  • 1947 – Henry Koser – The Bishop’s Wife

Best Special Effects

  • 1939 – Only Angels Have Wings

Best Sound Recording

  • 1937 – Topper
  • 1940 – The Howards of Virginia
  • 1942 – Once Upon a Honeymoon
  • *1947 – The Bishop’s Wife
  • 1962 – That Touch of Mink
  • 1964 – Father Goose

Best Original Score

  • 1940 – The Howards of Virginia
  • 1940 – My Favorite Wife
  • 1941 – Suspicion
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town
  • 1944 – None but the Lonely Heart
  • 1946 – Night and Day
  • 1947 – The Bishop’s Wife
  • 1957 – An Affair to Remember

Best Cinematography

  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town
  • *1955 – To Catch a Thief
  • 1957 – An Affair to Remember

Best Art Direction

  • 1938 – Holiday
  • 1940 – My Favorite Wife
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town
  • 1955 – To Catch a Thief
  • 1959 – North by Northwest
  • 1962 – That Touch of Mink

Best Film Editing

  • 1937 – The Awful Truth
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town
  • 1944 – None but the Lonely Heart
  • 1947 – The Bishop’s Wife
  • 1959 – North by Northwest
  • 1964 – Father Goose

Best Costume Design

  • 1953 – Dream Wife
  • 1955 – To Catch a Thief
  • 1957 – An Affair to Remember

Best Song

  • 1936 – Suzy
  • 1957 – An Affair to Remember
  • 1958 – Houseboat
  • 1963 – Charade

Best Writing for the Screen

  • 1937 – The Awful Truth
  • 1940 – My Favorite Wife
  • *1940 – The Phildelphia Story
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town (Original Writing)
  • 1942 – The Talk of the Town (Screen play)
  • 1943 – Destination Tokyo
  • 1946 – Notorious
  • *1947 – The Bachelor and the Bobbby-Soxer
  • 1958 – Houseboat
  • 1959 – North by Northwest
  • 1962 – That Touch of Mink
  • 1964 – Father Goose

* Won

Thank you to “The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages” for this awesome list!

Pretty extensive right?  No doubt Cary Grant’s talents added to the success and Oscar worthiness of these films.  Maybe Grant’s considerable contributions to these pictures didn’t influence Oscar wins or nominations in such categories as Best Song or Best Art Direction, but he definitely influenced the wins and nominations in categories like Best Picture; Best Actor/Actress, Supporting or Lead; Best Writing (Hello! He made those lines WORK!); Best Costume (have you seen him in a SUIT?!!  The man was a fashion plate); and I would even argue he influenced Best Director and Best Cinematography wins and nominations. 

Grant himself was nominated merely twice during his career for the Best Actor award, in 1942 for Penny Serenade, and again in 1945 for None but the Lonely Heart.  He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970, which was inscribed, “To Cary Grant, for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with respect and affection of his colleagues.”   Well, to me, after decades of amazing performances that went unrecognized by the academy, it was the absolute least they could do!

From Rubber Legs to C.G.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol.  To say he had a difficult childhood would be putting it lightly.  His parents were largely absentee, and young Archie ran away from home a few times before doing so permanently in 1920 at age 16.  And get this, he ran away from home to join “The Bob Pender Stage Troupe,” a group of traveling acrobatic dancers.  Hard to believe that the suave Cary Grant, the man who would be Ian Flemming’s inspiration for the debonair James Bond character, got his start in show business as an acrobatic dancer.  In fact, Grant trained as a stilt walker, and after coming to America with the Penders, eventually became a superb juggler and even a unicycle rider, known as “Rubber Legs.”  Though this part of Grant’s life seems completely at odds with his later screen persona, his natural athleticism and acrobatic training of this time no doubt contributed to Grant’s ability to do the majority of his own stunts in his Hollywood years, and his unparalleled ability for physical comedy.  (Anyone seen Monkey Business?  I am sure we are seeing elements of Grant’s early acrobatic years in that delightful film.)

By 1931, young Archie made his way to Hollywood after some years of stage work in New York.  His name was quickly changed to “Cary Grant,” and he soon found success as a romantic lead in films.  Fun fact: the name “Cary Grant” was chosen by his studio because it sounded “more American,” and because the initials of “CG” and “GC” had proved so successful for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, respectively.  The studio thought they were lucky initials I guess!

Cary Grant in 1936


In 1936, Grant confidently decided not to renew his studio contract with Paramount Pictures, and went freelance, meaning he was not contractually bound to any one studio, and could choose his roles as he pleased, as well as set his own fees.  As a result, he went from making $750/week at Paramount as a contract player to earning $300,000 per film in 1936!  According to Grant, he was the first actor to go freelance.  (That is debatable, but he was definitely one of the first, if not the first.)

Grant’s first try as a freelance actor did not last long: after his first film bombed at the box office, he became a contract actor once more, but he did not strike just any old, run of the mill, seven year exclusive studio contract.  He was somehow able to negotiate a unique joint contract between RKO and Columbia.  He enjoyed more freedom than most actors with this arrangement, which gave him the ability to choose his roles and command  $50,000-$75,000 per picture.  Very unique for this time, when most contracts not only allowed studios to assign actors any film the studio wished, but also gave the studios control over just about every aspect of the actor’s life.  Not for Cary Grant!

By 1955, he was freelance again, and the rewards were great.  For 1955’s To Catch a Thief, for example, Grant as a freelance actor negotiated to receive 10% of the films gross as his payment.  The film was a huge success, and Grant walked away with earnings of $700,000 due to his freelance position.  In comparison, Alfred Hitchcock, the director of the film, earned a mere $50,000 for his work on Thief.  (Did I just call $50,000 “mere”??) 

In one of director Alfred Hitchcock's famous cameos he sits beside Cary Grant on the bus in "To Catch A Thief" (1955)

Outsider overlooked

Ok, why am I focusing so much on Cary Grant’s unique arrangements, contractual or freelance, during his career?  Because I think this uniqueness contributed to the academy overlooking him year after year when Oscar time rolled around. Grant himself admitted in his Honorary Oscar acceptance speech that “I’ve never been a joiner or a member of any particular social set.”  Grant’s status as an “outsider,” never really being part of the way the studio system worked, may not have been the complete reason why the academy never rewarded his excellent work with an Oscar, but I think it is safe to say it was at least part of the equation.  (The fact that comedies and thrillers, two film genres that Cary Grant excelled in, historically just don’t do as well at the Oscars also played a part I am sure!  But that is a post for another time, so I won’t delve into that today!)

After over three decades of film work, Cary Grant retired from the screen once Walk Don’t Run was completed in 1966.  The reason: the birth of his daughter Jennifer.  How sweet is that?!  Grant felt the void his whole life from the lack of time his own parents gave him, and he wanted to ensure his daughter never felt that way.  He wanted to be home for her.  I have to share his sweet words on fatherhood after Jennifer’s birth: “My life changed the day Jennifer was born. I’ve come to think that the reason we’re put on this earth is to procreate. To leave something behind. Not films, because you know that I don’t think my films will last very long once I’m gone. But another human being. That’s what’s important.”  Maybe it’s because I became a soft-hearted-emotional-type after my sweet daughter entered my life, but doesn’t that make you tear up??

Cary Grant holding his daughter, Jennifer

The academy may not have rewarded Cary Grant’s stellar film performances with an Oscar, but thanks to TCM and the numerous Oscar nominations his films received, you and I can tune in and see several Grant movies this month!  So celebrate the talented Cary Grant with me and don’t miss:

My Favorite Wife (1940) on February 8th at 2:30pm ET

The Philadelphia Story (1940) on February 14th at 8:00pm ET

None but the Lonely Heart (1944) on February 19th at 2:00am ET
(He was nominated for this one at least!)

Holiday (1938) on February 25th at 4:00am ET

The Awful Truth (1937) February 25th at 6:00am ET

Penny Serenade (1941) on February 28th at 6:15am ET
(His other Oscar nomination!)

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I’m Shannon, thanks for visiting!  When I’m not on an adventure with my little girl, I’m developing plant-based recipes or watching a Classic Film!

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