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1955 Oscars: A year of firsts

  • James Dean gets posthumous nominaton
  • 'Marty' becomes year's Cinderella story
  • Get the full schedule for TCM's 31 days of Oscar below
1955 Oscars: A year of firsts

The year 1955 marked an unusual change in how Academy members viewed one of the biggest threats to the film industry at that time – television. At their award ceremonies for the 1955 season, held simultaneously at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood and the NBC Century Theatre in New York City, Marty was the Cinderella story of the year. With a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, who first established himself as a writer of teledramas, the modestly produced character study received a total of eight Oscar nominations and won four of them in the major categories: Best Picture, Best Director (Delbert Mann), Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine) and Best Screenplay (Chayefsky).

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It was not only the first Hollywood production to be based on a television play but it proved that TV was a viable new source of ideas and fresh talent for the film industry. Nobody could have been more surprised than the producers of Marty, Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, who fully expected that it would be ignored in favor of bigger budgeted contenders and little more than a tax write-off in the end. 

Another first for the Academy Awards was the nomination of James Dean for Best Actor in East of Eden; it marked the first time an actor had been posthumously nominated for the statuette (he died six months before in a car accident). Although East of Eden did not receive a Best Picture nod, it did garner additional nominations for Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Jo Van Fleet), who won the Oscar.

There were other surprising omissions from the Best Picture category that year, movies which seem much more enduring and iconic today than competing nominees such as The Rose Tattoo and Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. Among those overlooked were The Night of the Hunter, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Seven Year Itch, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. The latter Cary Grant-Grace Kelly mystery-romance, however, did receive nominations for Best Cinematography by Robert Burks (which won), Best Costume Design by Edith Head and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.

Ms. Head would later state, “I think I am prouder of the clothes in that film than those in any other picture on which I have worked.”

One other intriguing fact: French comedian Jacques Tati received his only Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for Mr. Hulot’s Holiday that year. It didn’t get nominated for Best Foreign Language Film because that category had not officially been created yet. Instead, the Japanese film Samurai, the Legend of Musashi received a honorary award as the sole Best Foreign Language Film selection.


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