It’s hard enough to get nominated for an Academy Award if you're a living, breathing person. It’s even harder to be nominated when you don’t actually exist. Here are six “people” who did just that.
1. ROBERT RICH // THE BRAVE ONE (1956)
Dalton Trumbo—the subject of this year's Oscar-nominated biopic Trumbo—was famously part of the infamous Hollywood blacklist during the Communist-hunting McCarthy Era. But he wouldn’t let a ban keep him from writing, and he did so under not one pseudonym, but dozens. Two of them won Academy Awards. Trumbo was a member of the Communist Party USA who served 11 months in a Kentucky penitentiary for contempt of Congress when he refused to name names during the HUAC investigation. He won an Oscar for The Brave One under the name Robert Rich, which he eventually received in 1975, just a year before his death. Trumbo also wrote Roman Holiday using real writer Ian McLellan Hunter as a front. McLellan received the Academy Award for Roman Holiday, but later admitted he hadn’t been involved with it at all. Trumbo received his rightful posthumous Oscar in 1993 for the Audrey Hepburn classic, and in 2011, writing credit was restored on the movie itself.
2. PIERRE BOULLE // THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
This one is slightly misleading, because Pierre Boulle did actually exist. Not only did he write the novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai, he also penned Planet of the Apes. But even though Boulle won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for Bridge, he didn’t actually write it—nor did he speak or read any English whatsoever. The real writers who adapted the novel were also part of the blacklist, so they were unable to take credit for their achievement. The widows of the two writers, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, finally received their posthumous Academy Awards in 1985.
3. NATHAN E. DOUGLAS // THE DEFIANT ONES (1958)
Similarly, Nathan E. Douglas was invented to cover for Nedrick Young, a writer who was blacklisted after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights during his trial by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him credit for the Oscar win in 1993, 25 years after Young’s death. Young was also nominated for Inherit the Wind in 1960, but didn't win.
Well, P.H. Vazak did exist. But if he wrote Greystoke, he deserves an entry in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as well as the Oscar history books, since P.H. Vazak was a Hungarian sheepdog. The real writer behind the screenplay, Robert Towne, was unhappy with the direction some rewrites had taken and decided he didn’t want credit for them. Though it surely would have been more entertaining than most of the speeches given at the 1985 Academy Awards ceremony, P.H. Vazak didn’t have to give a speech: Amadeus won for Best Adapted Screenplay instead.
Roderick Jaynes is a pretty talented guy for not being a real person. Jaynes has edited all of the Coen brothers's movies and was even nominated as one of Entertainment Weekly’s Smartest People in Hollywood in 2007. Joel Coen explained that Jaynes probably wouldn't be making an appearance at the 2008 Oscars, despite the nomination. “He’s very old—late 80s, early 90s—so I don’t know if he’d make the trip." In actuality, the Coens edit all of their own movies and use the elderly Brit as a front. Jaynes didn't win for No Country, and when asked how the award-less editor was dealing with the loss, Ethan Coen replied, "We know he's elderly and unhappy, so probably not well."
6. DONALD KAUFMAN // ADAPTATION. (2002)
In the late 1990s, Charlie Kaufman was hired to write a film adaptation of Susan Orlean’s best-selling novel, The Orchid Thief. He promptly came down with a killer case of writer’s block, but instead of letting it stop the process, Kaufman wrote it into the story he was struggling with. He created a fictional brother named Donald, who helped him write the movie—both the one in the movie and the movie itself. However, when the real movie got nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, the “real” Donald Kaufman had tragically perished during pre-production. It turns out Donald wouldn’t have had to claim the Oscar alongside his faux brother anyway: Adaptation lost out to Ronald Harwood for The Pianist.
An earlier version of this story ran in 2013.