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Ten Best Female Screen Legends Who Never Won the Oscar

Who said an actress’ greatness is measured by the number of Oscar trophies she brings home? Minus the infamous curse, winning an Oscar really doesn’t matter nor it help boost a star’s wattage. As a matter of fact, some of the greatest actresses in history are not Oscar winners, as proven by these 10 screen thespians who ruled Hollywood’s Golden Years.

1. Deborrah Kerr
Best Film: From Here to Eternity(1953)

Perhaps Hollywood’s greatest actress never to scoop an Oscar, Kerr’s genteel, ladylike performances were notable in From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows Mrs. Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958), and The Sundowners (1960). To this day, she holds the record of being the actress with the most Best Actress nominations, at six– with no wins. However she was given an honorary Academy Award in 1994 for her “impeccable grace and beauty,” and for being “a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.”

2. Greta Garbo
Best Film: Camille (1932)

The Guinness Word Record named the Swedish legend as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her sphinx-like allure, inscrutable dramatic performances in Anna Christie (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Camille (1936), and Ninotchka (1939), and hatred for publicity solidified her goddess-like persona that went on to this day. She scooped four Oscar nominations and received an honorary award in 1954 for “her unforgettable screen performances.” In 1999, the American Film Institute placed Garbo fifth on its list of the greatest female screen legends of all time.

3. Barbara Stanwyck
Best Film: Double Indemnity (1941)

Well-loved by directors and crews for her professionalism at work, “Director’s Actress” Barbara Stanwyck was equally popular among audiences for her versatility on screen, as shown in her memorable roles as a longsuffering mother (Stella Dallas, 1937), burlesque queen (Ball of Fire, 1941), femme fatale (Double Indemnity, 1944), and screaming invalid (Sorry, Wrong Number, 1947). She won four Oscar nominations and was given an honorary award by the Academy for her “superlative creativity and unique contribution to the art of screen acting.”

4. Irene Dunne
Best Film: Love Affair (1939)

From musicals to heavy dramas, Irenne Dunne was a star. She began her career on stage and parlayed her acting prowess in such heavy-weight, Oscar nominated roles in Cimarron (1931), Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939), and I Remember Mama (1948), all unforgotten to this day by movie buffs and critics alike. She was inducted to the Kennedy Center Honors in 1985.

5. Rosalind Russell
Best Film: Auntie Mamie (1958)

Rosalind RUssell was perhaps one of a handful of actresses who can give justice to dramas, thrillers, and comedies. She won Golden Globes (and Oscar nominations) for her performances in My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and Auntie Mame (1958). After her film career began to wane, she shifted focus on charity and humanitarian causes. Her efforts proved fruitful; in 1972, the Academy honored her with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

6. Lillian Gish
Oscar-worthy performance: Night of the Hunter (1955)

Considered as the greatest actress of the silent screen, Lillian Gish did not have to speak to convey her message– her eyes, face, and movement spoke for her. When talkies came, she was relegated to character roles, but lead or not, she was an acting powerhouse. She was most memorable for her roles in the seminal Birth of a Nation (1915), controversial western Duel in the Sun (1946), terrifying thriller Night of the Hunter (1955), and as an elderly sister in The Whales of August (1987. She received an Honorary Academy Award in 1971 “For superlative artistry and for distinguished contribution to the progress of motion pictures.”

7. Thelma Ritter
Best Film: All About Eve (1950)

Considered as the most critically acclaimed character actresses of her time, she appeared as support to some of Hollywood’s most revered leading ladies, including Bette Davis and Doris Day. She earned six Oscar nominations for best supporting actress for All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952),Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959), and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

8. Eleanor Parker

Best Film: Interrupted Melody (1955)

Dubbed as the “Woman with a Thousand Faces” for her versatility, Eleanor Parker came in and out of various film genres with ease and confidence. She played a prison inmate in Caged (1950), a detective’s wife in Detective Story (1951), and Marjorie Lawrence in the biopic Interrupted Melody (1955), although she is best remembered today as the baroness in the Sound of Music (1965). For her compelling role in Caged, she won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in the Venice Film Festival.

9. Marlene Dietrich
Best Film: Morocco (1930)

Marlene Dietrich was the quintessential embodiment of cool, elegant, ambiguously erotic glamour. She constantly reinvented herself through time, although she was at her best in her roles in Blue Angel, Morocco (both 1930), Shanghai Express (1932), and Destry Rides Again (1939). “Dietrich was not just one of the most extraordinary women the movies created; she was also a personality who has exercised her spell as powerfully off screen as on.”

10. Judy Garland
Best Film: A Star is Born (1956)

Judy Garland was one of a handful of child actresses who succeeded as mature stars. She was a singer, dancer, actress, and performer rolled into one, although her personal struggles for most of her career eclipsed her popularity as an actress. Nevertheless, Garland was at her best in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), while her compelling performance in A Star in Born (1956) nearly earned her an Oscar. Earlier in 1940, she was awarded the Juvenile Performer Academy Award.


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