Real Oscars, fake people: 6 fictitious people who got nominated for the Academy Award
It’s hard enough to get nominated for an Academy Award if you're a living, breathing person. It’s even harder to be nominated when you don’t actually exist. Harder, but not impossible. Here are six “people” who achieved just that.
The road to the Oscars are just around the bend and the official list of nominations should be out soon. But before you treat this year's nominations as the Holy Grail of cinema recommendations for the last year, you might want to know about the times where the Academy nominated people who didn't really exist at all.
Of course, it’s hard enough to get nominated for an Academy Award if you're a living, breathing person. It must be even harder to be nominated when you don’t actually exist. Or is it really? Whether it was a crafty pseudonym for creative purposes or political reasons, there have been quite a few instances where the Academy has nominated non-existent people for an Oscar. What’s weirder? Some of them actually went on to win the award!
Here are 6 names with no real people behind it who managed to bag an Oscar nomination/victory.
1. Roderick Jaynes
Nomination: Fargo (1996) - Best Film Editing
Nomination: No Country for Old Men (2007) - Best Film Editing
The Coen Brothers definitely have a unique way of doing things. Not only are they famous for creating deep, brooding, yet painfully funny characters on-screen, but off-screen too.
If you notice the credits of the critically acclaimed thriller Blood Simple, their directorial debut in 1985, you will see that the credits for editing go to a chap named Roderick Jaynes. Roderick Jaynes is credited with cutting and editing every single film the Coen Brothers have ever made and went on to be one of the most respected film editors in the business. He was even nominated as one of Entertainment Weekly’s Smartest People in Hollywood in 2007 and bagged two Oscar nominations - one for Fargo in 1997 and one for No Country For Old Men in 2008. Pretty impressive considering Roderick Jaynes is not a real person!
A creation of the Coens, Jaynes is little more than a pseudonym the brothers share when cutting their movies together. When Jaynes was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2007, Joel Cohen made a statement saying he probably wouldn’t turn up for the awards saying, "He’s very old—late 80s, early 90s—so I don’t know if he'd make the trip." Unfortunately, Jaynes didn’t win the Oscar and is yet to bag one till date. When asked how the award-less editor was dealing with the loss, Ethan Coen replied, "We know he's elderly and unhappy, so probably not well."
2. Robert Rich
Winner: The Brave One (1957) - Best Story
Dalton Trumbo had been nominated for an Oscar in 1941 for his script for Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman. It’d be the only time Trumbo would be recognized by the Academy under his real name until shortly before his death in 1976. This was thanks to the infamous Hollywood blacklist during the Communist-hunting McCarthy Era, where writers flagged as communists were not allowed to work with the industry. Dalton Trumbo was a member of the Communist Party USA and served 11 months in a Kentucky penitentiary for contempt of Congress when he refused to name names during the HUAC investigation. But that didn’t stop him from writing screenplays.
Trumbo continued writing under not one pseudonym, but dozens. Two of them won Academy Awards. The first in 1953, when screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter, who was a proxy for Trumbo, was the lone recipient of the trophy for Roman Holiday. But Hunter is a real person so we won’t feature him on this list. The second in 1957, when Trumbo wrote The Brave One, the story of a boy and his bull that was due to fight a matador.
When the Academy bestowed the best screenplay Oscar to Rich, Writers Guild member Jesse Lasky Jr. picked up the award and claimed Rich was at the hospital where his wife was giving birth. The producers of the film took some collateral damage from Trumbo’s blacklisted status. Five people claimed that Robert Rich had plagiarized their story idea for The Brave One and sued. With no real Robert Rich to testify, the first suit alone cost the producers $750,000 just two weeks after the Oscars. Trumbo's story was brought to life on screen in the 2016 film Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston in the titular role.
You can watch the trailer below:
3. Donald Kaufman
Nomination: Adaptation (2002) - Best Adapted Screenplay
In the late 1990s, Charlie Kaufman (of Anomalisa fame) was hired to write a film adaptation of Susan Orlean’s best-selling novel, The Orchid Thief. But he hit the wall and came down with a crippling case of 'writer’s block', but instead of letting it stop the process, Kaufman decided to go meta with it and wrote the process of the struggle into the story he was struggling with.
He created a fictional brother named Donald, who helped him write the movie—both the one in the movie and the movie itself. In the movie, Nicolas Cage plays both the Kaufman brothers. The film went on to bag an Oscar nomination for both the billed writers, the real-life Charlie Kaufman as well as the fictional Donald Kaufman, who according to the end credits of Adaptation, had died during preproduction of the film. When it ultimately came down to the Oscars, the whole issue was solved quite simply - the award for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Ronald Harwood for The Pianist.
4. PH Vazak
Nomination: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) - Best Writing Adapted Screenplay
Technically, PH Vazak did exist. But if he wrote Greystoke, he deserves an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as well as the Oscar history books, since PH Vazak was not a human, but a Hungarian sheepdog! The real writer behind the screenplay was Robert Towne, who had done plenty of uncredited rewrites on Oscar-nominated films, including The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde.
But when his own screenplay for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan was trimmed and reshaped by Michael Austin after he had been denied the opportunity to direct the film, he credited a sheepdog out of spite! So PH Vazak became the first dog to be nominated for an Academy Award. And if the legendary Peter Shaffer hadn't won the best-adapted screenplay for Amadeus, Vazak would’ve become the first dog to win an Oscar! Such a pity.
5. Pierre Boulle
Winner: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958) - Best Adapted Screenplay
This one, again, might technically not be an award for a fictitious person because Pierre Boulle did actually exist. He was a famous French novelist who was previously a spy and he indeed did write the novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai. He also wrote the novel Planet of the Apes, which has today sprouted a whole franchise whose individual film names just keep getting longer!
But even though Boulle won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, he didn’t actually write it. In fact, he couldn’t speak, read or write any English whatsoever. The real writers who adapted the novel, Carl Foreman, and Michael Wilson, were part of the communist blacklist, the same one that kept Dalton Trumbo out of the running for the Oscars. So they were unable to take credit for their achievement. The widows of the two writers finally received their posthumous Academy Awards in 1985, three decades after their actual victory.
6. Nathan E. Douglas
Winner: The Defiant Ones (1958) - Best Original Screenplay
Just as Dalton Trumbo invented Robert Rich during the McCarthy era to avoid being blacklisted, Nathan E. Douglas was invented to cover for Nedrick Young, a writer who was blacklisted after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights during his trial by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
The actual screenplay for The Defiant Ones was co-authored by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith. To get around the blacklisting issue, as an inside joke, director Stanley Kramer cast Young and Smith in bit parts as truck drivers and had their screen credit appear while they were on screen together.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Young credit for the Oscar win in 1993, 25 years after his death. Young was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Inherit the Wind in 1960 under his own name after the blacklisting was scrapped, but didn't win.
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