Hollywood loves to mythologize itself. An obvious statement given that since the movie industry has carefully controlled its public image so meticulously that that control naturally extended to movies about the movie business. And that’s what made 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful such an unusual film, in that its tale of an ambitious movie producer played by Kirk Douglas who alienates friends and loved ones is not a flattering portrait of the business in the least. Despite that, the film was embraced by the industry to such a point that it won five of the six Academy Awards it was nominated for.
Nothing was controversial about five of those six nomination the film received. But then there was the one the film received for Best Supporting Actress for Gloria Graham. As the wife of a best-selling author (Dick Powell) lured to Hollywood to pen the big screen adaption of his novel, Graham had only nine and a half minutes of screen time. And when her nomination was announced, it got her into the Oscar history books for being the shortest performance to be giving a nod. And her snaring the gold statuette that year also secured her a second place in history for having the shortest performance to win an Oscar up until that time.
But the record breaking length aside, many at the time and since, have questioned why Grahame even got the nomination at all when Lana Turner’s performance in the film was considered so much better?
In Bad And The Beautiful, Turner is a former starlet whose has risen as high as she will in Hollywood, thanks in part to a big break given to her by Douglas’s producer character, Jonathan Shields. Faced with her inevitable downward career trajectory, she has slid into alcoholism and is grasping to get her stardom. It has been reported by some that director Vincent Minnelli was unsure that Turner could handle the role, though the actress states in her autobiography The Lady, The Legend, The Truth: Lana states that Minnelli and the film’s producer John Houseman both wanted her for the part.
Turner may have been receiving top billing with Douglas for the film, but her character’s storyline is only just one of three that show Douglas’ producer destroying lives while simultaneously making those people successful. As such, Turner shares the supporting load for the film with Powell and Barry Sullivan who play the other two characters whose lives are simultaneously destroyed and enriched by Shields. It is speculated that her reputation of being a party girl and for being more than a bit of a man eater – She was on the third of her seven marriages at the time – may have informed Turner’s performance. For her part, Turner stated she felt a definite kinship with the character.
When the script reached me I knew right away I understood the character – a film star who is seen at first as a soggy mess and then is resuscitated by an unscrupulous producer. Moreover the screenplay was a much better one than those I usually received. The atmosphere of the film was totally familiar to me. The sets were the very sound stages where I had spent so much of my working life. The conferences in executive offices, the nerve-wracking sneak previews – all of them had a familiar ring. Even the Hollywood party scenes were true to life.
Contemporary reviews praised Turners’ performance, with several pointing out a scene in which her character drives through the rain after discovering that Douglas’s Johnathan had betrayed her. The scene plays out with no dialogue, just Turner sobbing. While it may seem melodramatic, or even over-the-top by today’s standards, but it packed a wallop for contemporary audiences.
This would be the second time that Turner was clearly snubbed by the Academy. The first was when her work as the icy Cora in 1946’s noir The Post Man Always Rings Twice, which many consider one of her best performances. Turner didn’t seem that much bothered by being overlooked, stating in her autobiography –
[T]hat didn’t surprise me or bother me. The studio had never regarded me as an actress, and they made no effort to “sell” me to the Academy membership.
Just like they do now, back in the golden age of Hollywood, studios campaigned hard to get their films nominated for Oscars and MGM just couldn’t be bothered to put their considerable weight and muscle behind a push to get a nomination for Turner.
But such snubs can often seem ephemeral in hindsight. While she would never win an Oscar, Turner would receive an Academy Award nomination for her role in 1957’s Peyton Place, though she would lose out to Joanne Woodward. Grahame would hold onto the record for shortest nominated performance only for a few years until Anthony Quinn received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his eight minutes of screen-time as post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin in 1956’s Lust For Life. (Ironically, that film too starred Douglas.) She held onto the record for shortest Oscar-winning performance until 1977, when Network‘s Beatrice Straight won the statuette for on-screen work that totaled just under six minutes.