From the dawn of time, or at least as early as May, 1929, when the first Oscar Ceremony took place, all people from pundits to the general public have squabbled and made a general stink about the egregious omissions throughout the decades. After all, acting performances are subjective, each year is different, and so many things are going on behind the scenes. In a perfect world, everyone would be a winner but sadly we do not live in a perfect world. That goes for the Oscars too. Here are 11 Classic Hollywood stars who Never Won an Oscar.
Peter O’Toole – 8 Nominations without a win – The great Shakespearian titan of the stage and screen, O’Toole’s performance as WWI icon T.E. Lawrence will be forever emblematic of his career, although he lost the statuette to the equally revered performance of Gregory Peck as To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. Despite, a tumultuous life, O’Toole’s body of work speaks for itself.
His other nominations included nods for a diverse array of work including Beckett, Lion of Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, and finally Venus in 2006.
Richard Burton – 7 Oscar Nominations without a win – O’Toole’s contemporary, there’s no doubt the Welshman who was famously twice married to Elizabeth Taylor was a stellar performer in his own right. Like O’Toole he was a trained Shakespearian actor, in fact, they both starred together in Beckett (1964). However, he’s perhaps best remembered for the cynical spy thriller The Man Who Came in From the Cold as well as his performance opposite his wife in the blistering Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
His other nominations include My Cousin Rachel, The Robe, Anne of The Thousand Days, and Equus.
Deborah Kerr – 6 Oscar Nominations without a win – Deborah Kerr made her name in the films of Powell & Pressburger before positioning herself as one of Hollywood’s most elegant and graceful leading ladies of the 1950s. Although one of her most iconic roles had her playing against type in From Here from Eternity (1953) opposite Burt Lancaster. She was equally beloved for her roles in The King and I (1956) and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957).
Her other nominations include Edward My Son, Separate Tables, and The Sundowners.
Thelma Ritter – 6 Oscar Nominations without a win – Thelma Ritter is without a question one of the treasures of the studio age, lending life and dry wit to numerous supporting roles throughout the 50s and 60s in everything from All About Eve (1950) to Pillow Talk (1959). There’s something so satisfying about seeing her in a film because you know you’re not going to be disappointed.
Her other nominations came in The Mating Season, With a Song in My Heart, Pickup on South Street, and Birdman of Alcatraz.
Irene Dunne – 5 Oscar Nominations without a win – There’s a case to be made that Irene Dunne just might be one of Cary Grant’s best romantic partners. They made three pictures together and in their collaborations as well as her other roles Dunne showcases a surprising lassitude on screen, capable in drama, comedy, and even musical numbers being a trained singer. Her greatest turn opposite Grant came in their first pairing, the zany Leo McCary screwball The Awful Truth (1937) but perhaps her greatest performance came as the titular character in I Remember Mama (1948).
Her other nominations include Cimarron, Theodora Goes Wild, and Love Affair.
Barbara Stanwyck – 4 Oscar Nominations without a win – Without a doubt, Barbara Stanwyck stands unequivocally as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars during the Golden Age. Her career spanned from the 1930s well into the 1950s when she continued her career with a transition to television by the 1960s. Her most heart-wrenching performance came as the loving mother in Stella Dallas (1937). In 1941 she could have probably been nominated for three films although she ended up receiving it for her lively turn in Ball of Fire. Her iconic and venomous turn as Phyllis Dietrichson also earned her a nomination for Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944).
Her other nomination came for Sorry Wrong Number.
Montgomery Clift – 4 Oscar Nominations without a win – An actor of immense intensity and investment in his craft, Clift was undoubtedly one of the premier stars of the late 1940s and early 50s making the transition from the stage seamlessly in the post-war classic The Search (1948). Although his most famous roles came opposite Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) and with the all-star ensemble from From Here to Eternity (1953) including Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed, and Deborah Kerr (also on this list).
His other nomination was one of his final roles, a supporting nod for Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).
Rosalind Russell – 4 Oscar Nominations without a win – Rosalind Russell was imbued with a vitality much like Barbara Stanwyck. She could be the catty gossip or the larger than life personality and while best remembered now for comedy she could function in dramas as well. She took the stage role of Auntie Mame (1958) and turned it into a truly iconic performance that’s hard to forget.
She was also nominated for My Sister Eileen, Sister Kenny, and Mourning Becomes Electra.
Peter Sellers – 3 Oscar Nominations without a win – Another Brit, Peter Sellers was the man of a thousand voices and even more quips, donning roles like people put on clothes and playing slapstick comedy and heartfelt drama with equal skill. His tour de force will always be his multirole in Dr. Strangelove, however, he was equally compelling as the ethereal Gardner in Being There
His other nomination was for the short subject The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film.
Natalie Wood – 3 Oscar Nominations without a win – Initially remembered as a child actor in a number of 1940s classics, Natalie Wood flourished into a surprisingly compelling actress gaining recognition for such films as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Splendor in the Grass (1961), and Love with a Proper Stranger (1963) all coming before her tragic death in 1981.
Cary Grant – 2 Oscar Nominations without a win – If you were to try and pinpoint the heart and soul of Classic Hollywood romance and comedy, the epitome of suavity and charm matched with comic timing and physical chops, Cary Grant is without question the gold standard and there’s no one that even comes close to touching him. With a career ranging from the 1930s well into the 1960s, he starred opposite everyone you could possibly dream of being in a film with. Although ironically, of all the classic, iconic, masterful pictures that he lent his charm, the two that he was nominated for are relatively unknown. Not surprisingly, both are dramas and not comedies. Perhaps there’s a bit of a genre bias in the Oscars?
Cary Grant was nominated for Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart.