Many of us recently spent an evening enjoying the 2019 — 91st Oscars. It may seem surprising that significant firsts for women are still occurring – but they are! 2018 marked the first year that a woman was nominated for best cinematographer – Rachel Morrison. In 2019 for the first time, an African-American received the best costume design award – and she was a woman – Ruth E. Carter. Also, the first African-American won the production design award – also a woman – Hannah Beachler. In this month’s column, we focus on other significant Oscar milestones achieved in prior years.
Screenwriter Frances Marion wins her first Oscar in 1931; she is the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood for two decades. The Oscar in 1931 is for Best Writing for The Big House and she is the first woman to receive the award. In 1933, she is the first woman to receive an Oscar in the category of Best Original Story; that award is for the movie The Champ. She is the first writer to receive two Academy Awards. Marion writes many of actress Mary Pickford’s most successful films and Marion coins her nickname “America’s Sweetheart.” Hired in 1914 by director Lois Weber, Marion wants to write. She hones her skills as a journalist and war correspondent during World War I before returning to screenwriting in Hollywood. Even today, by those who follow successful writers, Marion is considered one of the most renowned screenwriters of the twentieth century.
Women have won Oscars for their work in many different arenas. The first African-American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel wins the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1940 for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Typecast due to her ethnicity, McDaniel often is relegated to secondary roles – playing the maid 74 different times. The African-American actors from Gone with the Wind are not able to attend the premiere in Atlanta due to segregation laws in effect at the time. McDaniel has to be sneaked into the 1940 Oscars – held at a “No Blacks” hotel in Los Angeles – and does not get to sit at the Gone with the Wind table. Her remarks on her award acceptance are gracious: “I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry.”
The first person to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy, Rita Moreno wins the Best Supporting Oscar in 1962 for her role as Anita in West Side Story. Still active in a career that has spanned six decades, Moreno was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City before her teens. At age eleven, she is dubbing Spanish for English-language films. At fourteen, she makes her Broadway debut. Typecast for many years with stereotypical Latina roles, in her later years in the entertainment industry many have acknowledged her talent and been kinder to her. Moreno wins a Grammy in 1972 for her singing on The Electric Company’s soundtrack album. Her Tony is in 1975 for The Ritz. Her Emmys come in 1974 for The Rockford Files and in 1976 for The Muppet Show. In 2004, Moreno receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom and, in 2009, the National Medal of Arts.
In 1973, Julia Phillips who was both an actress and a producer, becomes the first woman and also the youngest to win Best Picture as a producer for The Sting. Educated at Mount Holyoke College, Phillips is nominated again in 1977 for the Best Picture Oscar for Taxi Driver. Phillips also co-produces Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Phillips was the only female winter for the Best Picture Oscar until 1989, when Lili Fini Zanuck won for Driving Miss Daisy. Phillips wrote her autobiography, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, which was published in 1991, and became a best seller.
To date, Halle Berry is the only African-American woman to have won the Best Actress Oscar. This significant event occurred in 2002 and is for her work in Monster’s Ball. Berry was a model and beauty pageant contestant before finding success in her acting career. Her breakout movie was Boomerang in 1992. Berry was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood during the 2000s; she has also been involved in the production aspect of several of the films in which she performed. Berry has won an Emmy, in addition to her Oscar and she has been nominated for or received numerous other awards for her movie and television work.
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow becomes the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar (The Hurt Locker – which also won Best Picture) and the fourth nominated. To date, only five women have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar and, in addition to Bigelow, they include: Lina Wertmuller (1977, Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (1994 – The Piano), Sofia Coppola (2004 – Lost in Translation), and Greta Gerwig (2018 – Lady Bird). Bigelow received another Oscar nomination in 2013 for Best Picture, for Zero Dark Thirty. A director, producer and screenwriter, Bigelow studied art before enrolling in graduate film school at Columbia University.
Women participate and contribute to every area of our lives including in the entertainment industry. These women and many others, almost all of whom we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.