Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Oscar Winning Stars of the Small Screen

You hear a lot about the groundbreaking work now being done on television, yet film is still considered a much higher art form and probably always will be. If you devote your life to watching movies, you are a cinephile. If you spend the same amount of time watching TV, you are a couch potato.

So as we approach this year’s Academy Awards, arguably the highest honor in the motion picture industry, I thought it might be interesting to look at how many Oscar winners also left their mark on the Comfort TV era.

If you remember these actors from their TV shows more than their movies, you’re my kinda people.

Art Carney
He won his Oscar for Harry and Tonto, but Art Carney will always be best remembered as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners.

Sally Field
Before she was Norma Rae, she was Gidget and The Flying Nun. And it was another TV role, as a girl with multiple personalities in Sybil, that helped to launch her movie career at a time when that transition was less common. 

Michael Douglas
The son of Spartacus is a two-time Oscar winner (for acting in Wall Street and co-producing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). His first role of note was in The Streets of San Francisco, in which he costarred with Karl Malden, another Academy Award recipient.

Shirley Booth
Where most of the actors on this list started in TV and “graduated” to movies, Shirley Booth won an Oscar in 1952 (for Come Back, Little Sheba) nearly ten years before playing the title role in the popular sitcom Hazel.

Tom Hanks
I don’t care how many great movies he makes, I still think he peaked with Bosom Buddies, plus an honorable mention for his stellar work as Alex’s alcoholic Uncle Ned on Family Ties

Patty Duke
One of the most gifted actresses of the 1960s, whether playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker or identical cousins on her classic situation comedy.

Robin Williams
If Mork can win an Oscar, there’s still hope for Potsie.

Jodie Foster
She is the gold standard for aging gracefully in a business that is rarely kind to child stars. Two Oscar wins, but also a slew of classic TV credits including My Three Sons, The Partridge Family, Nanny and the Professor, Gunsmoke and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

Ernest Borgnine
His amazing career spanned more than 60 years, but the first credit that appears on an IMDB search of his name is McHale’s Navy, an underrated military sitcom with more than 130 episodes. But his heartbreaking Oscar-winning performance in Marty is a must-see as well.

Cher usually ends up playing Cher regardless of the movie role, so I’d rather just watch her without the character trappings, singing next to Sonny. 

Morgan Freeman
He’s now one of our elder statesmen of respected actors, but 40 years ago he was one of two Oscar winners in the cast of PBS’s The Electric Company. The other, Rita Moreno, recently presented Freeman with a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actor’s Guild.

Goldie Hawn
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In would never have been the same without Goldie Hawn’s infectious giggle, or her complete inability to correctly read a cue card (of course, the writers often switched out the lines so she’d look even more adorably frazzled). Hawn earned Best Supporting Actress honors in 1969 for Cactus Flower.

Jack Albertson
You’d have to be a cinephile to know the film featuring Jack Albertson’s Oscar-winning performance, but after seeing his name you may already be singing the theme to Chico and the Man. For the record, the movie was 1968’s The Subject Was Roses.

Cloris Leachman
As Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the spinoff series Phyllis, Cloris Leachman remains beloved by a generation of classic TV fans, many of whom may never have seen her Oscar-winning work in The Last Picture Show.

Martin Landau
In 1994, Martin Landau capped a remarkable career with an Academy Award for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s delightful Ed Wood. Twenty-five years earlier he received the last of 3 Emmy nominations for his stellar work at Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible.

Shirley Jones
Mrs. Partridge won an Oscar in 1961 for playing a hooker in Elmer Gantry. The Academy always loves it when actors play against type.

George Clooney
He has 2 Academy Awards and is arguably Hollywood’s top leading man, but some of us remember when Clooney sported a mullet on The Facts of Life. And when he sported a mullet on Roseanne. And how both were still less embarrassing than Batman and Robin

Donna Reed
After It’s a Wonderful Life and her Oscar-winning performance in From Here to Eternity, Donna Reed starred in one of TV’s smartest and kindest family situation comedies. The Donna Reed Show ran for 8 years and was a Nick at Nite staple for more than a decade (back when the Nick lineup featured only good shows).

Denzel Washington
If you had asked me which cast member amongst the large ensemble on St. Elsewhere had the star quality to get to the next level, I’d have bet on Cynthia Sikes. Oh, well. 

Marissa Tomei
Before she was Joe Pesci’s girlfriend in My Cousin Vinny, she was Denise Huxtable’s college roommate in A Different World

Kevin Spacey
After 2 Academy Awards (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty), Spacey’s TV work may no longer make the highlight reel for his stellar career, but many of us haven’t forgotten the chilling first impression he made as the despicable Mel Profitt on Wiseguy.

Helen Hunt
She won the Oscar for As Good as it Gets, and several Emmys for Mad About You. But Helen Hunt’s classic TV roots date back to guest roles on Ark II, The Bionic Woman, Family and Knots Landing, as well as three short-lived series: The Swiss Family Robinson, The Fitzpatricks and It Takes Two.



  1. Very surprised not to see Dustin Hoffman ("Naked City"), Gene Hackman ("Route 66"), Maureen Stapleton ("Car 54 Where are You?") or Jack Nicholson ("The Andy Griffith Show") on the list. Of course they were all guest actors.

    1. I was surprised by how many there were, and how many others I could have added - including your suggestions. There was also George Burns, and Cliff Robertson, who I loved as "Shame" on Batman - heck, even Bette Davis in a classic episode of Gunsmoke.

  2. Mr. Hofstede, did you particularly care for "The Streets of San Francisco"?

    1. I remember watching it in its original run, but it's a show I haven't revisited for some time.

    2. Well, Mr. Hofstede, all five seasons of the series have been released on DVD.

  3. You forgot to bring up Tommy Lee Jones, Mr. Hofstede. He was on "One Life to Live" for several years during the 1970s.