The Honorary Oscar Winner Who Lost The Most Competitive Awards

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The Big Picture

  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Katharine Hepburn, and Meryl Streep are historical anomalies at the Academy Awards, garnering nominations and wins for nearly every film they’ve appeared in.
  • Although some famous actors, directors, and actresses have never won an Oscar, screenwriter Alex North holds the record for the most unsuccessful nominations without a competitive win.
  • Honorary Oscars are consolation prizes given for career achievements rather than individual performances, with Alfred Hitchcock and Peter O’Toole being notable examples. Alex North received an Honorary Award in 1986.

In the recent history of the Academy Awards, a small subset of people have won an Oscar as simple as taking a bow or running a victory lap; despite the great prestige of the art form’s most prestigious award, people like it Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Hepburnand Meryl Streep have been known to be historical anomalies, picking up nominations and wins for almost every film they’ve approached. Among non-actors, there have been even more impressive outings, from Allan Menkenand eight Oscars to John Williams’53 named to Walt disneyan amazing 22 victories. For every such star-crossed competitor affected by fate, however, there have been those at the other end of the scale: the constant competitors always on the edge of glory, but never for a reason somehow does not enter the limelight successfully. While there are many actors, directors, and actors who never came home with the award, a reigning champion would probably not miss his name: the film’s writer Alex North.

Christopher Plummer and others had long famous Oscar Dry Spells

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

There are, of course, many more famous names than that of Alex North among those who never rose to the top of the Oscars. After all, Oscar winners are notoriously difficult to achieve, even for Hollywood’s most talented elite. Despite being the most iconic actor of a generation, John Wayne recognized by the Academy very late in his career for True Grit, after almost every role he can remember. It took more than 20 years from the first nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally win the Prize, and Christopher Plummer He was 82 before he finally won his well-deserved Oscar.

But despite the long and hard road it took to get there, these actors at least finally broke through and received the recognition that had eluded them for decades with competitive awards. Alex North, however, belongs to a select crew even within the ranks of those under the dry spell of the Oscar curse: although he never won a competitive Oscar despite an incredible number of nominations, he walked away with an image anyway.

What are Honorary Oscars?

Janet Leigh as Marion in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho 1960
Photo via Paramount Pictures

The reason such a situation has always come about has to do with the various honorary Oscars given for career achievements rather than individual performances. Oscar “career success” for many has been a consolation prize for long-time contenders who have never walked away with an outright victory. While they completed nomination after nomination without winning, their Oscar profile has an asterisk because they walked away with the trophy in a less conventional way. Alfred Hitchcock one of the most famous examples, as one of the most iconic directors of all time was nominated five times without ever winning, before being recognized for his career in 1968. Perhaps even more famous than Hitchcock Peter O’Toolewhich was nominated for acting Oscars seven times in his career before accepting a career achievement award — and even faced an eighth nomination void before finally submitting.

While these may be the most famous to have broken a dry spell with an honorary Award, however, there are a handful of lesser-known cases that have come close to reaching double figures in their careers. before they finally received recognition for their work. One of the most famous examples is the director Federico Fellini. The Italian director at The Dolce Vita and He was nominated for both Directing and Writing a total of twelve times in his 30-year career, but never received the top prize – until he was finally recognized for his career achievements in 1993.

Surpassing even Fellini in naming, Diane Warren he recently joined this select group of down-on-his-luck nominees with a silver lining, like the woman who wrote his songs Dear, Celine Dionand Aerosmith contributed Oscar-nominated music to films like Dog Air, Armageddonand RGB and to date has been nominated fourteen times since 1987, before being recognized with the Honorary Award in 2023.

Alex North had the longest Oscar run without a win

'Spartacus' comes close to being completely historically accurate
Photo via Universal Pictures

But so far, Alex North is the undisputed king of this team. The man best known for writing “Unchained Melody” in 1955 also scored some of the most famous and successful films of his era. The composer for the film is Car Street named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Who is Virginia Woolf Afraid of?, Stanley Kubrickand Spartacus, Cleopatraand The Angel and the Ecstasy they were nominated fifteen times from 1952 to 1985, but somehow, even with more than a dozen chances, he never came away with the Award. He also wrote a score especially for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey which the conductor never used – although admittedly, in that case, it is difficult to imagine that he could have surpassed the iconic image and sound of Richard Strauss’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” playing over the opening scene of that film.

In the end, Alex North ended up in the ranks of Oscar history. Not only does he hold the record for the most unsuccessful nominations without a competitive win – a distinction he currently shares with another composer, Thomas Newman – but with his Honorary Award awarded in 1986, he was also one of only two composers ever to receive that Award from the Academy. It divides that difference by Ennio Morriconewho was just as lucky at the Oscars until he finally won a competitive award for his film score for The Hateful Eight.

While there is an illustrious list of actors, directors, and composers who have been nominated multiple times over several decades without ever winning, Alex North is the man at the top of the tree in that category. rarely gets recognition these days. – either for his contribution to cinema, his special place among composers, or his bad luck with competing Oscars. Thomas Newman might someday threaten his position, but even then Alex North’s unique legacy would still deserve another look by students of cinema, music, and Oscar history.

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