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Shawn Dwyer

Best Actress Winners from Oscar Past

By January 27, 2013

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Gone With the WindAs we did earlier in the month in highlighting the Best Actor winners from past Academy Awards, let's take a look at all the great female performances from the 1930s-1970s.

In one of the greatest decades for Best Actress in Oscar history, the 1930s saw the rise of some of the classic era's greatest stars. Following surprise wins by Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler, such greats as Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert and Bette Davis earned top honors and cemented their place in Oscar history. Luise Reiner won two Oscars in a row before seeing her career fall by the wayside, while Vivien Leigh took home Oscar for playing one of the silver screen's most iconic roles, Scarlett O'Hara, in Gone With the Wind.

Mildred PierceThe 1940s were another great decade for Best Actress, and the roles played by women were slowly, but surely becoming more complex. Ginger Rogers proved the naysayers wrong with Kitty Foyle, while embattled sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland both won, though de Havilland received two to Fonatine's one. Greer Garson gave a rousing, but overly sentimental turn as a matriarch putting on a good face during World War II, while Joan Crawford revived her flagging career with an outstanding performance in the classic Mildred Pierce. Ingrid Bergman, Jennifer Jones, Jane Wyman and Loretta Young also took home Oscar.

StreetcarAs with their male counterparts, actresses in the 1950s tackled increasingly darker characters and delved into more risque territory. After Judy Holliday won for her dim-witted showgirl in Born Yesterday, Vivien Leigh triumphed with her second Academy Award for playing faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois opposite Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. Audrey Hepburn was catapulted into stardom with her infectious performance in Roman Holiday, while Grace Kelly and Joanne Woodward each won their career's sole awards. Ingrid Bergman revived her own scandal-plagued career with Anastasia and Susan Hayward finally triumphed as a woman on death row in I Want to Live!

The Miracle WorkerThe 1960s started out rather inauspiciously when Elizabeth Taylor won for playing a prostitute in Butterfield 8, a role she notoriously hated. But the decade quickly picked up with a heartbreaking turn from Sophia Loren in Two Women and one of the greatest performances in Oscar history with Anne Bancroft's portrayal of Anne Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. Other notable performances included Taylor's foul-mouthed Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Julie Andrews perfect nanny in the Disney classic Mary Poppins. In 1968, the Academy awarded their only tie for Best Actress when both Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn won for Funny Girl and The Lion in Winter respectively.

NetworkFinally, the 1970s saw some of the category's most diverse work. Jane Fonda won two Oscars, one for playing a mysterious prostitute in Klute and the other for the Vietnam War drama Coming Home, while Liza Minnelli burned up the Berlin stage in Cabaret. Glenda Jackson also won a pair for Women in Love and A Touch of Class, while Louise Fletcher sent a chill up everyone's spine as the authoritarian Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Also in the decade, Faye Dunaway was television incarnate in Network, Diane Keaton set the pace as Annie Hall and Sally Field delivered a powerhouse performance as union organizer Norma Rae.

Movie posters for 'Gone with the Wind' (1939)/Warner Bros.; 'Mildred Pierce' (1945)/Warner Bros.; 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (1951)/Warner Bros.; 'The Miracle Worker' (1962)/MGM Home Entertainment; and 'Network' (1976)/MGM Home Entertainment

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