18 People Who Won Oscars For Their First Movie

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1. Gale Sondergaard

This year, Lupita Nyong’o is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her film debut in 12 Years a Slave. It's quite an achievement, but if Nyong’o wins, she won't be the first. That honor goes to Gale Sondergaard, who won Best Supporting Actress in 1936 for the costume drama Anthony Adverse. It was the only Academy Award of her career. Years later, she turned down the part of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz because she didn't want to wear disfiguring makeup. That's how people win Oscars nowadays!

2. Katina Paxinou

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Greek actress Katina Paxinou also peaked early. She honed her acting skills on stage, even when her parents disowned her. When Paxinou finally got in front of a movie camera in the 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls, she won Best Supporting Actress. The Oscar winner made just a handful of movies before returning to the stage in 1950.

3. Harold Russell

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This year, Barkhad Abdi is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role. Before playing a Somali pirate leader in Captain Phillips, he worked as a chauffeur. Almost all first-role Oscar winners are women—only two men have accomplished the same feat. The first was Harold Russell, a World War II veteran who lost both hands in the war. He's the only person to win two Academy Awards for the same performance, the 1947 film The Best Years of Our Lives. The first was Best Supporting Actor; the second was an honorary Oscar for bringing hope and courage to fellow veterans. In 1992, he controversially sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette to pay for his wife's medical expenses. Since 1950, Oscar winners have had to sign an agreement that prohibits selling their awards.

4. Mercedes McCambridge

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Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress," but Mercedes McCambridge was also impressive enough on camera to win Best Supporting Actress for All the King's Men in 1949. She was nominated for the same award again for Giant in 1956, but didn't take home the golden statuette. One of her strangest later roles: The voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist.

5. Shirley Booth

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Sometimes a rookie carries an entire film. Shirley Booth's first role in 1952's Come Back, Little Sheba won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. There was a reason Booth was trusted with a big part: She won her second Tony two years earlier in the same role.

6. Barbra Streisand

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It's hard enough to win an Oscar. But Barbra Streisand is among the few performers to have won at least one Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award. Just four years after being nominated for a Tony for Funny Girl and losing, Streisand won Best Actress for the same role in the 1968 film. Then she was honored with a Special Tony for career achievement in 1970. It was non-competitive, but we're still impressed.

7. Eva Marie Saint

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Before she played the femme fatale in the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, Eva Marie Saint's breakout role was in 1954's On the Waterfront. She won Best Supporting Actress. She had some prior TV and stage experience, but it was still her film debut.

8. Jo Van Fleet

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A year after Saint's win, another upstart—stage actress Jo Van Fleet—took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both actresses won Oscars under the direction of Elia Kazan, but their careers took very different turns. After playing Kate in East of Eden, Fleet was typecast as an old woman, often much older than she actually was. Ouch.

9. Julie Andrews

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Julie Andrews initially turned down the part of Mary Poppins, because she didn't want to film her first movie while pregnant. Disney decided to wait until Andrews had the baby—they thought she was perfect for the role. So did the Academy: Andrews won Best Actress in 1964. Two years later, she was nominated for The Sound of Music, but didn't win.

10. Tatum O'Neal

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Best Supporting Actress tends to be awarded to up-and-coming stars. At 10 years old, Tatum O'Neal was the youngest winner in history, beating her 31-year-old co-star Madeline Kahn. She was nine when she starred alongside her father Ryan O'Neal in 1973's Paper Moon. He was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger.

11. Marlee Matlin

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Marlee Matlin's Best Actress award for the 1986 film Children of a Lesser God broke even more records. At 21, Matlin was the youngest performer to win Best Actress. She's still the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award.

12. Haing S. Ngor

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The only other actor to win an Oscar for his first role was Haing S. Ngor for the 1985 film The Killing Fields about the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. The Cambodian-American physican-turned-actor is still the only Asian man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Ngor was tragically murdered 11 years later during a gang robbery. Interestingly, the three suspects were found guilty the same day Pol Pot was confirmed dead in Cambodia.

13. Anna Paquin

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Long before True Blood, nine-year-old Anna Paquin got her first big break in The Piano. She beat 5000 other girls, including her sister, for the role. Her only acting experience: a small role as a skunk in the school play. Paquin was 11 when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1994. Holly Hunter won Best Actress for playing her character's mother.

14. Michael Arndt

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Winning debuts aren't limited to actors. It only took three days for Michael Arndt to write Little Miss Sunshine. (Well, three days and then a year of revisions.) The screenplay sold in 2001 and then spent a few more years in pre-production. The completed film was a surprise hit, winning Best Original Screenplay in 2006. Arndt made more history when his second script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The movie? A little picture called Toy Story 3.

15. Diablo Cody

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Honest to blog: Screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote her first film in just a few months at a Minnesota Starbucks. (And not just any Starbucks—a Starbucks in a Target.) Juno won Best Original Screenplay in 2007.

16. Geoffrey Fletcher

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Most screenwriters start their careers with an original screenplay. Geoffrey Fletcher made his name with a heart-wrenching adaptation of the Sapphire novel Push. Precious won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010. So far, Fletcher's the only African-American to win an Academy Award for writing.

17. Mark Boal

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Before turning to film, Mark Boal honed his writing and research skills as a journalist. They came in handy as he wrote and produced The Hurt Locker, which won both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture in 2009. That year, the film's director Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win Best Director. They teamed up again for Boal's second film, Zero Dark Thirty, in 2012. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, but didn't win.

18. Jennifer Hudson

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And who could forget Jennifer Hudson? (Note: We originally forgot Jennifer Hudson.)

When singers get voted off American Idol, we don't usually hear much from them again. But when Hudson got the boot in 2004, she was just getting started. She was cast as Effie White in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls even before she had a record deal. Hudson had big shoes to fill — Jennifer Holliday won a Tony and Grammy for the role in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Hudson stole the show from Beyoncé and sent a message to everyone when she sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The singer won Best Supporting Actress in 2007, the third African-American woman to ever do so. A year later, she took home her first Grammy.

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March 2, 2014 - 8:00am
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