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Shawn Dwyer

Best Actor Winners from Oscar Past

By January 11, 2013

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OscarWith the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcing the nominees for this year's Oscars, it's as good a time as any to look back at the Oscar winners from the classic movies era. We'll start with Best Actor from the 1930s-1970s.

The Oscars were first held in May 1929 and handed out awards for the best achievement in movies for 1927 and 1928, a trend that continued until 1935 when the Academy held the Oscars for the previous year's movies only.

In the 1930s, the Academy saw it's one and only tie for Best Actor with Wallace Beery winning for The Champ and Fredric March for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, even though March actually had one more vote. Hollywood's first full decade of sound films also saw the rise of such classic stars as Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, while the great Charles Laughton delivered an all-time great performance as King Henry VIII.

Yankee Doodle DandyThe following decade's winners featured some worthy recipients of Oscar, though many argue that Orson Welles should have won over Gary Cooper in 1941 for his iconic performance as Charles Foster Kane. Still, the 1940s contained some of classic Hollywood's most cherished leading turns, including James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend and Laurence Olivier in Hamlet.

The 1950s saw a change in the types of characters portrayed by leading actors and with it a new generation of thespians were ushered into the fold. Though older stars like Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen) and Gary Cooper (High Noon) received the honor, by mid-decade the likes of Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront), Ernest Borgnine (Marty) and Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur) had climbed to the top.

Lilies of the FieldIn the 1960s, with the studios falling on hard times, a massive shift in movies was on the horizon. Naturally, the Academy award Best Actor to a far different field of actors than even the previous decade. Sure, some old favorites like Gregory Peck and John Wayne won, but new faces like Lee Marvin, Cliff Robertson and Rod Steiger took home Oscar. Of course, history was made in 1963 when Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win Best Actor, an accomplishment that sadly stood idle until Denzel Washington's win nearly four decades later.

But the times were a-changing and by the 1970s a new generation of Best Actors stepped to the fore. New Hollywood, or the Second Golden Age, was in full swing and Oscar was bestowed on a wide range of newcomers like Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and Dustin Hoffman, though some old favorites like Marlon Brando, Jack Lemmon and even Art Carney were given Best Actor.

Movie posters from 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942)/MGM Home Entertainment and 'Lilies of the Field' (1963)/United Artists

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