Every Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winner of the 1960s Listed and Ranked

Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winners of the 1960s

The Supporting Actress category is traditionally treated like a throwaway category for most of Oscar history, but the 1960s has a really great lineup of performances (aside from the bottom two, that is). There’s a lot to discuss here.

Once again, it behooves me to remind you that I am only considering actresses who won the Oscar, and while I will comment on who should have won, whether or not an award was deserved cannot impact the ranking in and of itself.

Margaret Rutherford The VIPs

10. Margaret Rutherford, The V.I.P.s (1963)

The V.I.P.s was part of a Hollywood trend to get a bunch of stars together for an ensemble picture (a la David Niven’s Separate Tables). In this one, a series of glamorous travelers at a dramatic crossroads in their lives become stranded in a London airport’s VIP area due to fog. Rutherford’s dotty duchess is there for comic relief, a fact not quite lessened by the knowledge that this once proud woman is on the verge of losing her ancestral home. Rutherford executes the part well but there’s just not much there. The movie is far more enamored of its bigger stars.

Should have won in 1963: Patricia Neal won Best Actress for what is arguably a supporting role in Hud, so bump her down here and we have a winner.

Estelle Parsons Bonnie and Clyde

9. Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Estelle Parsons is a wonderful character actress, but holy hell is she annoying in Bonnie and Clyde. She doesn’t have much to do in the grand scheme of things, but when she does she’s shrilly hysterical. That’s about it. I fully understand why Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie wants to get rid of her for the whole movie. If not for Rutherford’s lazy character in The V.I.P.s, this would easily be the worst.

Should have won in 1967: Carol Channing is batshit insane in Thoroughly Modern Millie but even though I’m not a fan of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I would go for its heartfelt performance from Beah Richards.

Shelley Winters A Patch of Blue

8. Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue (1965)

Given that this role is Shelley Winters (a great actress) playing an abusive and racist mother, you would think there would be more than there is. The movie just doesn’t give her much to do except sit around, roll her eyes, and then have two explosive scenes at the end. The first is a knock-down-drag-out fight with her blind daughter and elderly father. The second is when she confronts the African American man that blind daughter has fallen in love with. Winters executes these like a pro and makes you wish she’d been given more room to flex her considerable muscle.

Should have won in 1965: Winters.

Goldie Hawn Cactus Flower

7. Goldie Hawn, Cactus Flower (1969)

Cactus Flower opens with Hawn’s character attempting suicide, then zings into being a whacky farce about a dentist pretending to be married so he doesn’t have to get serious with his girlfriend (Hawn). Then, when he decides to marry her after all he needs his secretary to pretend to be the wife he’s supposedly divorcing. The movie is dated but the performances are great. Hawn isn’t asked to do much other than be cute but she manages to elevate the weak material. There are little expressions and gestures that reveal much more than the script thought of, such as a devastating look on Hawn’s face after she turns on the stove to kill herself in the opening. She’s great, but if only the movie had respect for her talent.

Should have won in 1969: Hawn still deserved it for taking a role that could have cemented her image as the go-go girl from Laugh-In and making it more.

Patty Duke The Miracle Worker

6. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker (1962)

Whenever an actor plays a disabled character, one can’t help but watch them closely to see if they cheat. Watching Duke play deaf and blind Helen Keller, I kept waiting for her to unwittingly use her eyes or react to a noise. She doesn’t, not once. I also kept waiting for her to soften some of Helen’s lashing out to make her more sympathetic. She doesn’t, and she still manages to show you Helen’s tormented internal life so you feel sympathetic toward her anyway.

Should have won in 1962: Angela Lansbury gave us one of cinema’s best villains in The Manchurian Candidate, but I’m sticking with Patty Duke.

Ruth Gordon Rosemary's Baby

5. Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Eccentric old ladies are almost as common as supportive wives in the Supporting Actress category, but this is an unexpected twist on the formula. When we first meet Minnie Castevet she seems nothing more than a nosy, overbearing ‘New Yawk’ neighbor. Of course, as the movie progresses we realize she may be up to something significantly more sinister. Gordon plays both sides of Minnie Castevet beautifully. She’s always buzzing about and doing something in a way that feels perfectly authentic.

Should have won in 1968: Gordon’s marvelous turn deserved it.

Lila Kedrova Zorba the Greek

4. Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek (1964)

As the faded mistress of a hotel, Kedrova captures the profound sadness and desperation of Madame Hortense, giving a palpable aura of despair to a film that otherwise shrugs off life’s miseries. She’s captivating every time she shows up. I kept wanting more of her character.

Should have won in 1964: Kedrova had it locked.

Shirley Jones Elmer Gantry

3. Shirley Jones, Elmer Gantry (1960)

You may recall from the Best Actor discussion that I hated Elmer Gantry, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Shirley Jones is a goddamn delight in it. She’s so good the rest of the movie doesn’t deserve her. While Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons hammed it up to intolerable levels, Jones effortlessly is breezy, natural, and believable. She’s easily the most captivating thing in the whole movie.

Should have won in 1960: Jones, for nearly making an unbearably over the top movie almost bearable.

Sandy Dennis Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

2. Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Honey, the mousy and slim-hipped wife of all-American god Nick, is something of a thankless role. She doesn’t get the best lines, she isn’t witty or pretty enough to flirt or tease the others, and she spends most of the show feeling sick from having one (or two or three) two many. In most productions, she’s the character you forget the fastest. Dennis managed to take the slim-hipped lady and make her interesting. She gets at the underlying pathos of Honey–making her politeness a determination, her unwitting nature a sort of desperation, her conflicted attitudes about motherhood a fascinating (unresolved) question mark–and makes her just as interesting as the rest of the cast. She also makes the very fact that Honey is a thankless role with no great lines or wit into its greatest asset: transforming Honey into something of a tragic figure.

Should have won in 1966: Dennis, for making an unsung character sing.

Rita Moreno West Side Story

1. Rita Moreno, West Side Story (1961)

As discussed in the Best Picture ranking for this decade, the leads in West Side Story are near-total duds, lacking in passion and chemistry. Thank goodness for Rita Moreno, who nearly sets the screen on fire with everything they lack. Her singing and dancing put them to shame, and when her Anita hurts she is so compelling that you hurt right along with her. It’s one of the most incandescent performances ever captured on film.

Should have won in 1961: Moreno, Moreno, Moreno.

For more, check out my Academy Awards page.

Now let’s see what this list would look like with all the actresses who should have won:

10. Shelley Winters, A Patch of Blue (1965)

9. Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

8. Beah Richards, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

7. Lila Kedrova, Zorba the Greek (1964)

6. Goldie Hawn, Cactus Flower (1969)

5. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker (1962)

4. Shirley Jones, Elmer Gantry (1960)

3. Patricia Neal, Hud (1963)

2. Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

1. Rita Moreno, West Side Story (1961)


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