"71 Years of Precocious Supporting Actressness" (Rugrats Blogathon)

This post marks my contribution to The Rugrats Blogathon instigated by My Stuff & Cr*p. Peruse more precocity at the blogathon HQ...
Starting with the category's first appearance in 1936, Oscar has demonstrated a recurring fascination with the actressing at the edges done by actresses aged 16 and younger. Eleven such young women and girls have been nominated; three have taken home the trophy. The 16-and-under nominees are:
Bonita Granville in These Three (1936)
• Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed (1956)
Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (1962) - winner
Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
• Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973)
• Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973) - winner
• Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976)
• Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl (1977)
• Anna Paquin in The Piano (1993) - winner
Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement (2007)
Such a range of precocity. Girls in touch with the powers of darkness (Granville, McCormack, Blair, Ronan) and girls wise beyond their years (O'Neal, Foster, Cummings, Paquin) and extraordinary innocents who challenge the adults around them to do the right thing (Duke, Badham, Breslin).

Considering this list I'm struck by three main things.

First, most of these young women went on to build interesting and sometimes formidable careers as adult performers. (Only Badham and Cummings left the business entirely and, whatever you wanna say about Linda Blair, you must acknowledge that the gal keeps on working.)

Second, this is such a lily white bunch of little ones. (I guess Keisha Castle-Hughes remains the only young woman of color to have been nominated, although -- of course -- that was over in Best Actress.)

And third, the young girls really do keep the nominators busy. Point of comparison: in the 71 years of Oscar, the twelve African American actresses nominated for Best Supporting Actress account for nearly the same percentage of total Supporting Actress Nominees as the eleven "16 and under" nominees (3.3% and 3.1%, respectively); notably, both groups account for the same number of winners (3). Likewise, and while I acknowlege that the Best Supporting Actor category is not my area of expertise, I can only think of two young male nominees for Best Supporting Actor -- Justin Henry and Haley Joel Osment (are there more?) -- which suggests that the girls really do have it on the boys in this category.

All told, an interesting batch of precociously accomplished actresses.

But I'm curious:
What, lovely reader, most strikes YOU about Oscar's history of nominating younger Supporting actresses? And, now that Dakota Fanning's "aged out" of potential "16 and under" distinction, who do you think is the likeliest contender to snag that 12th slot on the poster? And what's up with Oscar's interest in little girls, anyway? Please share your thoughts in comments.


Ortzi said...

Brandon de Wilde was nominated as a child for "Shane", so add that to your list alongside Osment and Henry.

Other than that, the analysis of the girls nominated is impressive.I think all these girls (one or two exceptions aside) have in common an exceptional role that in some cases is arguably lead (Badham comes to my mind). I don't think Oscar has a fixation with child actresses, but it does with young actresses, some of which happen to be under 16. If we have a look at the lists of nominated actresses each year, we'll see that they are considerably younger than their male counterparts. Supporting actress awards more often than not go to ingenues while supporting actor awards go to veterans.

Meanwhile, women over 40 struggle to find any interesting roles in mainstream movies, and normally they play dull mother and wife roles. I'd like to see a trend in the opposite direction, but I don't think that's happening right now.

Michael Parsons said...

Thank you thank you thank you! Wonderful for you to join in!

Hope you do one soon too!

StinkyLulu said...

@Ortzi - I would agree that the presence of younger actresses is an extension of the categories predisposition toward "discovering" youngish actresses. Though, having said that, I suspect the young'uns have a stronger post-nomination career than some of the 20somethings nominated for their breakout roles.

I don't know if all these girls are leads (though Badham certainly is and Duke, O'Neal and Paquin are possibly co-leads). Breslin is definitely supporting, as are Cummings, Granville and Foster. And Ronan -- well, that's a complicated case...as is Blair. I'd need to look at McCormack again to know for sure there...

(BTW - it's great to see you Ortzi!)

I've linked to those performances I've already profiled above. But, I too, am hoping to get to one of the young'uns again soon. I plan arrange the polling for October's roster toward horror performances, which will put McCormack, Blair (as well as her '73 colleague O'Neal), and Foster (via her '76 colleague Piper Laurie) in the mix. So I'm hoping we'll get some new profiles there...

Alex in Movieland said...

Sal Mineo ("Rebel...") and Jack Wild ("Oliver!") were 16 when their movies were released.

hmmm, it's hard to compare Tatum O'Neal or Abigail Breslin to Jodie Foster's Taxi Driver performance :D because of obvious reasons.

criticlasm said...

Keisha Castle-Hughes was in Whale Rider.

Keisha Knight-Pulliam was Rudy on the Cosby show, though the thought of her OScar nom is just making me L A U G H this morning.

Hope you're giggling, too. Hee.

StinkyLulu said...

Well, "Rachmaninoff" to you too.


An honest mistake.

Ortzi said...


when I hinted some or most of the nominated girls were mostly leads, I meant that with the sole exception of Cummings or maybe Foster, the film is either about them (Linda Blair being a good example) or the main action is caused by them (Breslin is the catalyst of the road trip, Granville causes all the action with her lies, etc.). Compare these roles to the usual roles we can see in the category: the mother, the wife, the best friend who do nothing but confort the lead and be there for them.

StinkyLulu said...

I think that's definitely right, and "the catalyst" is one of the curiosities of the Supporting Actress category. (I'm thinking of how Miss Em in Pinky is also the catalyst of all the action in the film, with Water's Aunt Dicey and Crain's Pinky mostly reacting.)

Again, I think the nominations for the old ladies and the young'uns end up having more in common than those for the 20somethings.

elgringo said...

Anna Paquin in The Piano certainly earned her trophy. I recently re-watched this and was blown away like I am every time. I don't think Campion has worked with another child actress since The Piano, but she should, she seems to have the touch.

If Hounddog doesn't make the changes everyone says it needs to, I don't know what Dakota Fanning's career will look like...


Java Bean Rush said...

@ criticlasm
When Keisha Knight Pulliam was in the 16 and under age range she was nominated for an Emmy, which is the Oscars of TV, as you know.

She probably could have gotten an Oscar nod for supporting actress back then if she had had the right movie material (read a drama), but now . . . .