Those of you who already know StinkyLulu also know that, well, I have a little thing about Supporting Actressness. (It's a hobby. It's a research project. It's an obsession. It's all good.) And when I started the Supporting Actress Sundays project about a 18 months ago, I was inclined to think Thelma Ritter -- she of the six Supporting Actress nominations but no trophy -- the "Patron Saint of Actresses at the Edges." That may yet be an apt designation. BUT, when thinking about William Wyler, I hafta wonder: might William Wyler be the "Patron Saint of The Best Supporting Actress"?
Among the sixteen auteurs who've directed more four or more Best Supporting Actress nominated performances, William Wyler leads the pack. As he has for nearly 40 years. With a whopping twelve nominations for Best Supporting Actress emerging from his films. The nominated Supporting Actress performances to be found in William Wyler's films include:
1936 - Bonita Granville, These Three.
1936 - Maria Ouspenskaya, Dodsworth.
1937 - Claire Trevor, Dead End.
1938 - Fay Bainter, Jezebel.
1939 - Geraldine Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights.
1941 - Patricia Collinge, The Little Foxes.
1941 - Teresa Wright, The Little Foxes.
1942 - May Whitty, Mrs. Miniver.
1942 - Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver.
1951 - Lee Grant, Detective Story.
1961 - Fay Bainter, The Children's Hour.
1968 - Kay Medford, Funny Girl.
Wyler's record of twelve remains impressive, possibly untouchable. Only four other directors (Woody Allen, Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols & Martin Scorsese) have come anywhere close, and they're still wrestling in a 4-way tie for 2nd place, with each director counting eight nominated Supporting Actress performances to emerge from their films.
The sure loser, of course, of that 4-way tie for 2nd place in total number of nominated Supporting Actress performances is Elia Kazan. (Kazan, for better or worse, will likely not be directing any more films.) But Kazan will likely hold onto another directorial Supporting Actress record for some time, as the director with the most Best Supporting Actress winners to emerge from his films (Celeste Holm, Gentleman's Agreement - 1947; Kim Hunter, Streetcar Named Desire - 1951; Eva Marie Saint, On the Waterfront - 1954; Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden - 1955). Only two of Wyler's Supporting Actress nominees took the trophy home (Fay Bainter, Jezebel - 1938; Teresa Wright, Mrs. Miniver - 1942), placing him behind Woody Allen (at three for eight) and even with John Huston (at two for five) and Peter Bogdanovich (at two for four).
So why pronounce William Wyler the patron saint of the Best Supporting Actress category? Why not Elia Kazan, who directed more trophy-winning Best Supporting Actresses? Simply, William Wyler did it all and he did it first. Wyler, too, hit that magic plateau of eight nominations, even surpassing it within the first seven years of the category's existence, between 1936 and 1942. Wyler also pushed beyond the 8-nomination glass ceiling to be the first to direct Supporting Actresses to nominations across four decades. (Scorsese and Nichols have since done that as well, but John Huston sneakily snags this stat-heat by directing one nominated performance per decade for five decades.)
William Wyler's exacting directorial regard for formidable actresses helped to refine, in the category's earliest years, what a contender for Best Supporting Actress might be. Dowagers, damsels, hard knock dames, and even a kid - in Wyler's films we can begin to see the category find its shape. And though I have yet to review all twelve of Wyler's Supporting Actresses for Supporting Actress Sundays, I offer this petition in support of the proposition that William Wyler be appreciated as a Patron Saint of Best Supporting Actressness.