What does it mean to be an Oscar nominee?
The answers can be as varied as the nominees themselves. As the annual “31 Days of Oscar” festival continues on Turner Classic Movies, each night is themed to all the candidates in a certain category in a certain year.
The evening of Friday, Feb. 14, showcases all the talents who were nominated for best actor of 1955 for the pictures that are being shown. One of the movies absolutely transformed the career of the actor in question: “Marty,” the big-screen version of a television play.
Rod Steiger was sought to reprise his TV portrayal of a lonely, good-hearted Bronx butcher, but he refused to sign a contract that would have obligated him to make several more pictures for the producers, who included Burt Lancaster. They then chose Ernest Borgnine, who mostly had played villains (“From Here to Eternity,” “Vera Cruz”).
The new image and the Oscar that “Marty” gave Borgnine opened him up to a broader variety of roles, as he would demonstrate in the television sitcom “McHale’s Navy” and such films as “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”
Interestingly, one of Borgnine’s rivals for that Academy Award cemented his image for all time in the picture he was nominated for: James Dean in “East of Eden,” also a TCM attraction the same night. The John Steinbeck-created character of a misunderstood young rebel fit Dean like a glove, and the actor would follow it up the same year with “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Both Dean and Borgnine were somewhat new to movies in 1955. James Cagney (for “Love Me or Leave Me”), Frank Sinatra (“The Man With the Golden Arm”) and Spencer Tracy (“Bad Day at Black Rock,” which also had Borgnine as a supporting player) were in the running as well … but their careers were established by then, all of them already Oscar winners.
Still, even if the person doesn’t win, an Academy Award nomination can be invaluable — as much now as it was in the mid-1950s.