After winning an Oscar, an actor’s career is usually marked by the question: Did they live up to the award or not? Here are 10 Oscar-winning actors who have gone in completely different directions.
10. Donna Reed-Riding the Highs and Lows of Television
Best Supporting Actress for From Here to Eternity (1953)
Reed’s career after winning her Oscar was mostly in television. In 1958, she starred in The Donna Reed Show, which was produced by her husband. While Reed won her Oscar playing a prostitute, her show was so wholesome that, according to TV.com, it “won many awards from various civic, educational, and medical groups due to its handling of topics like adoption, prescription drug abuse, and home safety.” Since this was the 50’s and that’s what was popular on television, it was a big hit. Her other notable TV role, on Dallas 20 years later, was much less well-received. She was hired as a replacement actress for the character of Elle Ewing when original actress Barbara del Gettes left for health reasons. Accepting a different actress for the same character was not something audiences were prepared to do and the network had to fire Reed and bring del Gettes back due to popular demand.
9. Jamie Foxx-Multitalented Singer/Songwriter and Radio Host
Best Actor for Ray (2004)
Before he got into acting, Foxx was studying to be a classical pianist which helped him bond with Ray Charles so well during production as the two got to know each other by playing duets. After winning the Oscar for his eerily lifelike portrayal of Charles in Ray, he returned to music by releasing an album of original music. He’s since released two more and was even briefly considered as a replacement judge on American Idol after successful guest stints. He also hosts a show on Sirius radio called the Foxhole.
8. Gwyneth Paltrow-Lifestyle Blogger, Country Singer, and TV Guest Star
Best Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Paltrow’s Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” was her crowning moment as the proverbial prom queen of Hollywood. Initially, Paltrow made career choices as if she wanted to backup her statuette with another by taking the kinds of roles that practically beg for a nomination: A suicidal poet in Sylvia and a tortured mathematician’s daughter in Proof. Since then, she’s seemingly given up on trying to validate herself as a high profile actress to an unforgiving press (the daughter of Hollywood royalty, she’s been derided as a product of nepotism). She started a lifestyle website, goop.com, which has gained a lot of notice. She also returned to the Oscars this past year, not as a nominee, but as a song performer for Country Strong. Throw in her hit appearances on Glee and Saturday Night Live this past year, and it’s fair to call her a reinvented woman.
7. Kevin Spacey-Real-life version of Jim Carrey in The Majestic
Best Supporting Actor for Usual Suspects (1995) and Best Actor for American Beauty (1999)
In 2003, Kevin Spacey was appointed the Artistic Director for one of the most prestigious theaters in London with no less daunting a task than saving it from insolvency. The Old Vic Theater, which has operated since 1818, was slated for demolition by a new property owner just five years earlier. Spacey has picked up the occasional Hollywood role, but most of his focus for the last eight years has been on acting in and producing plays for the Old Vic. He also produced and acted in his dream project in 2004, Beyond the Sea, about the life of Bobby Darin. He even accompanied the film’s release with his own CD covering the crooner’s hits and followed it up with a musical tour that summer.
6. Luise Rainer-Pioneer for Discontented Stars Everywhere
Best Actress for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937)
Some of the more cynical Oscar recipients (George C Scott, Alan Arkin, Sideways screenwriter Alexander Payne, etc.) have bemoaned the idea of competition or been otherwise apathetic. Luise Rainer, on the other hand, is unique in believing that the actual act of being voted on by a body of her peers as actress of the year was what ruined her career. “Nothing worse could have happened to me,” she’s said. Rainer felt that the increased fame and the way she was treated as a star left her disconnected from other actors she was used to collaborating with and she also felt that the studio put her in overly commercial projects. She complained about this loudly to the press which led to a mutually beneficial divorce between her and employer MGM Studios. Although she was lured to the screen occasionally, she retired from acting. She spent the rest of her life maintaining a 43-year marriage, writing articles, travelling, producing art, and sporadically dabbling in theater. This past March, she turned 101.
5. Whoopi Goldberg-Stand-up Artist and Media Icon
Won: Best Supporting Actress for Ghost (1990)
Whoopi Goldberg was once on a conventional path to stardom as an actress with roles in diverse high-profile films such as Soapdish, The Player and The Color Purple. Her Oscar win in Ghost was the culmination of that route but it was nearing the end of that phase of her career. Casting directors today are probably not even considering Whoopi for prestige parts in films because she’s not really known as an actress anymore. With stints hosting the Oscars, participating in the annual charity event Comic Relief, doing stand-up comedy and co-hosting The View, she’s more of a media icon nowadays. She also took a role on a TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, simply because she was a fan of the show.
4. Richard Dreyfuss-Professor Emeritus
Won Best Actor for The Goodbye Girl (1977)
An Oscar-winner at the age of 29 (only two Best Actor winners have won the award before turning 30), Dreyfuss has immersed himself in academia where his primary interests include civics, education, government and rhetoric. He was a scholar-in-residence at England’s ultra-prestigious Oxford University where he served as a Senior Research Advisory Member of St. Antony’s College. In addition, he served for 12 years on the Board of the National Constitution Center and founded the non-profit institute Dreyfuss Initiative dedicated to reviving civic conversation in American culture and improving the teaching of civics in elementary education. He still acts occasionally but he openly admitted in interviews for his film Poseidon that he now just acts for the money and that his passions lie elsewhere.
3. Glenda Jackson-Member of Parliament
Won Best Actress for A Touch of Class (1973) and Women in Love (1970)
Like many actors, British actress Glenda Jackson used her high profile to spout out on various political opinions. Unlike most other actors, however, she took it upon herself to get into politics. An outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party, Jackson decided to run for Parliament in 1992 and won. There were some expectations that she would coast through parliament based on her previous fame as a movie star, but she immediately took an interest in transportation and was eventually appointed Junior Transportation Minister in 1997. She also unsuccessfully ran for the Mayor of London in 2000.
2. Gig Young-Double Murder-Suicide
Won Best Supporting Actor for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They (1969)
Young’s tragic post-Oscar path was certainly unique because he’s very likely (Hollywood was a sordid place of scandal in the Golden Age so you never know) the only Oscar winner to commit murder (his fifth wife three weeks into marriage) followed immediately thereafter by his own suicide. Young had a long history with alcoholism and psychological problems before and after his Oscar despite having a long career as a character actor and leaving behind a trail of friends and admirers. His low point was being carried off the set of Blazing Saddles in an ambulance on the first day of shooting (suffering an alcohol-induced delirium tremens), forcing production to replace him with Gene Wilder. His Oscar later became the center of a legal battle when his sole child, Jennifer Young, fought his agent for ownership of the physical statue. Jennifer Young is currently producing a documentary on Gig that has yet to find a distributor.
1. Grace Kelly-Princess of Monaco
Won Best Actress for The Country Girl (1954)
Gig Young’s downfall into suicide made for an immensely fascinating story, but to end the list on a more upbeat note, I’m going to give the top spot to the woman who met Mr. Right and became a princess. Quite literally. When her film, The Country Girl premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France, she was invited for a photo session with the prince of Monaco whom she would later marry. This marked the end of a 5-year acting career that’s as remarkable an output as anyone could have in such a short span. By marrying Prince Rainier, she also saved the tiny principality (if you can’t find that country on the globe, try a magnifying glass: it’s the second smallest country in the world) from dissolution. A 1918 Treaty stipulated that if the Prince of Monaco couldn’t produce a male heir, then it would be surrendered to France. Rainer’s first fiance was rumored to be infertile and when the Prince met Grace Kelly at Cannes, he was supposedly in search of a new bride.
-Orrin Konheim – @okonh0wp