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21 First-Time Directors Nominated For An Academy Award

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Some filmmakers spend their whole careers trying to nab one of the Academy's five annual "Best Director" nomination slots. But in some rare cases, a director's debut film will make such a lasting and deep impression that the Academy of Arts and Sciences takes notice. Here are 21 directors who were nominated for an Oscar for their first efforts.

1. ORSON WELLES // CITIZEN KANE (1941)

Often considered the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane was nominated for nine Academy Awards in 1942including one for Best Director for its director (and star and writer) Orson Welles—but only won a single award for its original screenplay. While Welles was one of the youngest filmmakers to receive a directing nomination at the age of 26, the prestigious award went to John Ford for the film How Green Was My Valley.

2. DELBERT MANN // MARTY (1955)


In 1955, first-time feature film director Delbert Mann and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky made the film adaptation of the teleplay Marty (which the pair had also collaborated on two years earlier). The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actor for Ernest Borgnine, and earned a win for Chayefsky’s screenplay and Mann’s direction.

3. SIDNEY LUMET // 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)


At 33, Sidney Lumet was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for his debut feature film, 12 Angry Men. The tension-filled courtroom drama was nominated for two additional Academy Awards, including Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Lumet lost; the Oscar instead went to David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai.

4. JACK CLAYTON // ROOM AT THE TOP (1959)


In 1959, British director Jack Clayton received international critical acclaim for the harsh indictment of the British class system he depicted in Room at the Top. Based on author John Braine’s novel of the same name, the black-and-white film earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. Interestingly, Hermione Baddeley’s supporting performance as Elspeth in Room at the Top holds the record for shortest performance to be nominated for an Academy Award, clocking in at only 2 minutes and 20 seconds of screen time. Clayton didn't take home the best directing trophy; it went to William Wyler for Ben-Hur.

5. MIKE NICHOLS // WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was nominated for every eligible category during the 39th Academy Awards in 1967. To date, it's one of only two films that have achieved this record (the other is the 1931 film Cimarron). Mike Nichols was nominated for Best Director, but lost the Oscar to director Fred Zinnemann for A Man for All Seasons.

6. AND 7. WARREN BEATTY AND BUCK HENRY // HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978)


During the 51st Academy Awards in 1979, first-time directors Warren Beatty and Buck Henry were nominated for the film adaptation of Harry Segall’s stage play Heaven Can Wait. Beatty was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Adapted Screenplay, which he also shared with screenwriter and director Elaine May. While Beatty and Henry lost the Oscar for directing to Michael Camino for The Deer Hunter, Beatty would win the Best Director Academy Award for the film Reds a few years later.

8. ROBERT REDFORD // ORDINARY PEOPLE  (1980)


Robert Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People, was nominated for six Oscars during the 53rd Academy Awards in 1981. Before the film’s release, Redford was mostly known as an actor with iconic films his CV, including All the President’s Men, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ordinary People ended up winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

9. HUGH HUDSON // CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)


The British film Chariots of Fire earned seven Academy Award nominations and four wins, including Best Original Screenplay. The film’s director, Hugh Hudson, was nominated for Best Director with his feature film debut. Although Warren Beatty ultimately took the trophy home for for Reds, Hudson’s film won the Best Picture prize.

10. JAMES L. BROOKS // TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)


Before Terms of Endearment was released in 1983, James L. Brooks was mostly known as a television producer with big hits like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Taxi under his belt. However, Brooks’ first attempt at film directing earned him three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director.

11. ROLAND JOFFÉ // THE KILLING FIELDS  (1984)


Director Roland Joffé made the transition from television to the big screen with The Killing Fields. He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director; the film earned six additional nominations and won three of them, including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Haing S. Ngor—a non-actor who was also making his film debut.

12. KENNETH BRANAGH // HENRY V (1989)


In 1989, the British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V earned rookie director (and the film’s star) Kenneth Branagh an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. While the film only won one Oscar—Phyllis Dalton took home the statue for Best Costume Design—Branagh’s Henry V is considered one of the best film adaptations of a Shakespeare play.

13. JIM SHERIDAN // MY LEFT FOOT (1989)


Dublin-born director Jim Sheridan is a six-time Academy Award nominated filmmaker. His first nomination came from My Left Foot in 1989. Sheridan didn’t win the trophy, but actor Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Irish artist Christy Brown.

14. KEVIN COSTNER // DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)

In 1990, Dances with Wolves became a pop culture phenomenon, grossing $424.2 million worldwide and garnering 12 Academy Award nominations. Although it was Kevin Costner’s first time behind the camera, the actor-turned-director was honored with the Best Director Academy Award, and he beat out top-tier directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Frears, and Barbet Schroeder for the prestigious and notable award.

15. JOHN SINGLETON // BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991)


In 1991, John Singleton made his directorial debut with Boyz n the Hood, which explored gang violence in South Central Los Angeles during the early '90s. The film earned Singleton two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Original Screenplay and the other for Best Director. Singleton was the first African-American nominated for Best Director, and, at 24, also the youngest director to be nominated.

16. SPIKE JONZE // BEING JOHN MALKOVICH  (1999)


Before he started making feature films, Spike Jonze was mostly known for his strange and quirky commercial work and music videos. In 1999, Jonze earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for Being John Malkovich. Although Jonze is one of the youngest directors to be nominated for an Oscar, the then-30-year-old filmmaker lost the award to Sam Mendes for American Beauty, which also won Best Picture.

17. SAM MENDES // AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Speaking of Sam Mendes: In 1999, the British director made the transition from stage plays to major motion pictures with American Beauty. The film, about the emotional and psychological dangers of living in the American suburbs, was a box office hit and a cultural touchstone for many moviegoers in the late '90s. American Beauty won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Kevin Spacey, and Best Director fo Mendes in his film directorial debut.

18. ROB MARSHALL // CHICAGO (2002)


Chicago was the ninth movie musical to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was nominated for 13 Oscars for the 75th Academy Awards, including Best Director for Rob Marshall, who was making his feature debut. (He had previously directed a TV movie version of Annie.) Marshall ultimately lost the award to director Roman Polanski for The Pianist.

19. BENNETT MILLER // CAPOTE (2005)


Though Bennett Miller had directed a theatrically released documentary in 1998 called The Cruise, his feature film debut was a biopic about author Truman Capote writing the nonfiction book In Cold Blood. While the film only won one Academy Award—Best Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman—Capote was nominated in four other categories including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Catherine Keener, Best Picture, and Best Director for Miller, who lost the award to director Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain.

20. TONY GILROY // MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007)


While Tony Gilroy has a long career as a screenwriter, penning such movies as The Cutting Edge, Armageddon, and the first three movies in the Jason Bourne film series, the filmmaker decided to take a stab at directing with the film Michael Clayton in 2007. The movie earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for George Clooney, while Tilda Swinton earned a win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Tony Gilroy was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director for his debut feature film.

21. BENH ZEITLIN // BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)


At the beginning of 2013, 30-year-old Benh Zeitlin was honored with an Academy Award nomination for his directorial debut, Beasts of the Southern Wild, but the award went to Ang Lee for his skillful direction of Life of Pi.

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

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When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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