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Oscar Winners of Yesteryear Worth Another Look

March 19, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the 70th annual Academy Awards just four days away, it's a great opportunity to catch up on or revisit some of the best of the best supporting actor award winners currently available on video.

Because Walter Brennan is best known as the cantankerous grandpa on "The Real McCoys," most people have forgotten he's the only actor to win three Academy Awards. What makes his accomplishment even more remarkable is that he won his supporting actor awards within a five-year span.

Brennan won his first award for his sentimental performance as the close Swedish friend of a lumber king (Edward Arnold) in 1936's "Come and Get It" (HBO, $15), William Wyler and Howard Hawks' sprawling adaptation of Edna Ferber's best-selling romance.

He received his final award for his larger-than-life turn as the infamous Judge Roy Bean in Wyler's compelling 1940 sagebrush saga "The Westerner" (HBO, $15). (He won his second for the 1938 film "Kentucky," but that's not available on video.)

Terrific character actor Thomas Mitchell received an Oscar for his memorable performance as an alcoholic doctor in John Ford's landmark 1939 western "Stagecoach" (Warner, $20).

Charles Coburn snared his Oscar for the scrumptious 1943 romantic comedy "The More the Merrier" (Columbia TriStar, $20). In this George Stevens-directed farce, Jean Arthur plays a working woman who, because of the wartime housing crunch in Washington, D.C., must share her apartment with a handsome young man (Joel McCrea) and a crafty old coot (Coburn).

James Dunn, a veteran of such Shirley Temple films as "Bright Eyes," demonstrated he was a dramatic actor of the finest order in 1945's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (Fox, $15), the Elia Kazan-directed adaptation of Betty Smith's novel. Dunn won his Oscar for his compassionate portrayal of an alcoholic but loving father who dreams of a better life for his family.

Walter Huston--father of John and grandfather of Anjelica --richly deserved his Oscar for son John's 1948 classic, "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" (MGM, $20). He's at the peak of his powers as a grizzled, toothless gold prospector who teams up with two greedy men (Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt).

Edmond O'Brien copped his supporting award for 1954's "The Barefoot Contessa" (MGM, $20) for his work as a loudmouthed press agent. He's the best thing about Joseph Mankiewicz's so-so Hollywood drama about a troubled actress (Ava Gardner and a director (Humphrey Bogart).

Comic Red Buttons went dramatic with great results in 1957's "Sayonara" (Fox, $20), winning an Oscar for his heartwarming turn as an Army soldier stationed in Japan after the Korean War whose marriage to a Japanese woman (Oscar winner Miyoshi Umeki) ends in tragedy.

The academy awarded Ed Begley supporting actor for 1962's "Sweet Bird of Youth" (MGM, $20), Richard Brooks' adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play. Begley fills up the screen as the corrupt boss of a Southern town determined that the ex-boyfriend (Paul Newman) of his daughter (Shirley Knight) pay dearly for seducing her.

Veteran actor Melvyn Douglas won his two supporting Oscars late in his career. He picked up his first statuette for Martin Ritt's compelling 1963 modern-day western "Hud" (Paramount, $15) as the stern rancher father of a handsome heel (Paul Newman).

Sixteen years later, he won for his sympathetic turn in the political comedy "Being There" (Fox, $20), as a dying billionaire and friend of the president who believes a feeble-minded gardener (Peter Sellers) is a genius.

Though one of the top stars of the '30s and '40s, Don Ameche had only made a handful of films in the intervening decades. But his career took off again when he was awarded an Oscar for 1985's "Cocoon" (Fox, $10). Ameche's lovable as a break-dancing senior citizen who finds the fountain of youth and love.

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