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OSCARS THEORY: Does the sole Yankee always beat 4 foreigners?

November 29, 2007 |  6:56 am

With so many foreigners competing in the Oscars race for best actress this year — Helena Bonham Carter ("Sweeney Todd"), Julie Christie ("Away from Her"), Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), Keira Knightley ("Atonement") and Ellen Page ("Juno"), among others — it's possible that we may again see a sole Yankee in the race. Perhaps only Angelina Jolie ("A Might Heart") or Laura Linney ("The Savages")?

If so, we'll hear lots of chatter among Oscarologists about that ole chestnut that a sole Yankee always prevails against a foreign invasion. But is the theory really true?


Believers use this theory to explain the seemingly unexplainable, including Marisa Tomei's 1992 supporting-actress win for "My Cousin Vinny." While Helen Hunt ("As Good As It Gets") beat four foreign lasses, she had won several awards leading up to the Oscars. Tomei had not. On Oscar night, the frontrunner in that supporting race figured to be Aussie Judy Davis who had picked up several critics prizes for her work in Woody Allen's domestic drama "Husbands and Wives." Nipping at her heels were thought to be the three Brits — Dame Joan Plowright, Laurence Olivier's widow, who had won the Globe for "Enchanted April", New York critics choice Miranda Richardson ("Damage"), and Vanessa Redgrave ("Howards End").

But just how parochial are the Academy Awards? Before 1997, the last time a lone American actress prevailed over four foreigners in the lead-actress race was back in 1971 when Jane Fonda won for "Klute." Her competition? South African Janet Suzman ("Nicholas and Alexandra"), and three Brits - Vanessa Redgrave ("Mary, Queen of Scots"), the previous year's winner Glenda Jackson ("Sunday Bloody Sunday"), and one Julie Christie ("McCabe and Mrs. Miller").

Interestingly, when Christie won in 1965, she beat two other Brits — the previous year's winner Julie Andrews ("The Sound of Music") and Samantha Eggar ("The Collector") as well as France's only best actress winner Simone Signoret ("Ship of Fools") and the sole American nominee, newcomer Elizabeth Hartman ("A Patch of Blue").

The following year, 1966, was the only one in Oscar history that all five lead actress nominees hailed from foreign lands. British born Elizabeth Taylor won her second Oscar for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" beating out both British Redgrave sisters — Vanessa ("Morgan!") and Lynn ("Georgy Girl") as well as French beauty Anouk Aimee ("A Man and a Woman") and Ukrainian Ida Kaminska ("The Shop on Main Street").

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For those keeping score, the only all-foreign supporting actress race was in 1963 when Brit Margaret Rutherford ("The VIPs") won over Austrian Lilia Skalas ("Lillies of the Field") and a trio from best picture winner "Tom Jones" — Irish Joyce Redman, Aussie Diane Cilento and English Edith Evans.

Before 1971, you have to go all the way back to 1933 to find when the lone Yankee — in this case Katharine Hepburn taking home her first Oscar ("Morning Glory") — beat out just foreign competition — England's Diana Wynyard ("Cavalcade") and Australia's May Robson ("Lady for a Day"). By the way, Robson has the distinction of being the earliest born nominated actress ever, arriving into the world in 1858.

The previous year, 1932, and long before she was the first lady of the American theater, Helen Hayes won her first Oscar ("The Sins of Madelon Claudet") over 1931's winner Canadian Marie Dressler ("Emma") and England's Lynn Fontanne ("The Guardsman").

And since 1997, the lone American factor has certainly not helped two Oscar winners add to their collections. In 2003, Diane Keaton ("Something's Gotta Give") lost to South African Charlize Theron ("Monster") while last year Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada") could not keep Essex girl Helen Mirren from winning yet another award for "The Queen." Of course, Streep is Oscar royalty. That nod was her fourteenth. However, with two past wins (one in supporting for "Kramer vs. Kramer"), she is quick to remind us this means she has lost more than anyone else as well.