1950 ought to be considered one of the most unforgivable years for the Academy Awards when it came to the Best Actress category. The year saw Bette Davis, Anne Baxter (both for All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson nominated for roles that would forever define their respective careers. Yet all three of them lost to Judy Holliday for the lighter film, Born Yesterday. While the argument can be made of Davis and Baxter canceling each other out, it is inexcusable that the Academy neglected to award Swanson for a performance that has become so iconic and still has relevancy with contemporary audiences. Lines such as, “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille” or “I am big; its the pictures that have got small,” are quotations that have entered pop-culture and are continuously spoken amongst contemporary film and theater fans. Swanson and Sunset Boulevard even inspired a Broadway musical adaptation in 1994 starring Glenn Close that went on to win the Tony for Best Musical.
Like her character, Norma Desmond, Swanson came from the silent film era and was long considered to be a relic of the past. Her reemergence and performance in Sunset Boulevard was then, and ought to be considered now, one of the greatest comebacks in Hollywood and cinema history. Gloria Swanson’s performance hinges on vanity and borderlines on madness. The film centers around the hysteria of her character, who believes she is on the precipice of a comeback when a writer. Joe Gillis (William Holden), stumbles onto her property. Thinking he can manipulate Norma, Gillis agrees to writing her a screenplay. Yet his underestimation of Norma, and her extreme narcissism, only sucks him into a world that inevitably claims his life.
Gloria Swanson’s performance is one of the finest performances in film history. She may not have won the Oscar, but the legacy her performance has spawned has outweighed the necessity of winning the Academy Award.
Lost to: Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950)