Thank God we have the Tonys to reward kickass people who, for some reason, miss out on winning an Academy Award for reasons beyond everyone’s control. Here are eight times the Tonys awarded a legendary movie actress who never collected gold for her onscreen work. And look: I’ve ranked them for the hell of it!
8. Jane Alexander
She scared up a Tony by taking her Oscar-nominated role in The Great White Hope to Broadway, but Jane Alexander’s consummate chops deserve kudos in just about every performance. Loved her in all four of her Oscar-nominated performances, which include Kramer Vs. Kramer, All the Presidents Men, and the deeeeply underrated Testament. Hell, I love her on The Good Wife as a no-nonsense judge.
7. Viola Davis
Oh, I think we haven’t heard the last of Viola Davis’ Oscar story, but for now she’s the exceptionally talented thespian who lost an Oscar — in a bit of an upset, actually — to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. No matter: She has two Tonys for her work in two of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh cycle” plays, King Hedley II and Fences. By the way, am I missing something here: Why aren’t August Wilson’s plays ever turned into movies? The Piano Lesson would be an awesome movie. Starring Viola Davis. Now.
6. Thelma Ritter
It stuns me that Thelma Ritter could rack up six Oscar nominations, yet none of them were for Rear Window, in which she gives one of the definitive supporting comic performances in cinema. Her Tony win is a strange anomaly, since she won in a tie with New Girl in Town costar Gwen Verdon, who I believe has over 700 Tonys (checking the actual number now — OK, four). Ritter is the saltiest of our great spitfire actresses, and I’m glad she collected at least half a trophy in her lifetime.
5. Joan Allen
Joan Allen hit the award circuit fast track by netting a Tony for her Broadway debut in Burn This, a great Lanford Wilson play about his specialty topic of gay identity and relationships, but wonderful Allen’s cinematic output hasn’t turned up gold yet. Forget her unfulfilled Oscar nominations for Nixon, The Crucible, and The Contender: Where’s the love for Pleasantville and The Ice Storm? Fun Joan Allen fact: Did you know she has starred opposite Jeremy Irons in two art-themed productions, including the Lifetime Network biopic Georgia O’Keeffe and the play Impressionism? No? Good.
4. Angela Lansbury
The indefatigable Angela Lansbury has five Tonys, which ties her with Audra McDonald and Julie Harris for most wins ever. I wish her Oscar record could be just as astounding, but she did earn three nominations for three very different films: Gaslight (in 1944!), The Picture of Dorian Gray, and most importantly The Manchurian Candidate, in which she gives a chilling, ferocious performance as a political Svengali. Oh, Mrs. Potts. She could be the living acting legend among living acting legends, at this point.
3. Rosalind Russell
Auntie Mame may never have cashed in on her four Oscar nominations (a list that doesn’t even include her unforgettable role in His Girl Friday), but she did walk off a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for Wonderful Town. The irony: Wonderful Town is based on Russell’s film My Sister Eileen, which did not net her an Oscar.
2. Glenn Close
I feel like we should talk about Glenn’s kickass Broadway career more often. The woman does have three Tonys, which is the same amount of competitive Tony wins as Helen f*cking Hayes. We could also talk for years about all the movies Glenn deserved Oscars for, but I’ll never forgive the Academy for the Dangerous Liaisons snub, especially when Jodie Foster’s work in The Accused is simply not as dynamic. The Marquise de Merteuil is a legendary character, and one that shows off Glenn’s gifts for damning dialogue and microscopically subtle emotionality.
1. Madeline Kahn
I hope I speak on behalf of everyone here when I say, “That’s our girl!” If you don’t love every single thing about Madeline Kahn, I don’t understand how you qualify as human. The magically charming, beautiful, and wickedly funny Kahn stole away with a Tony for her work in Wendy Wasserstein’s ’90s hit The Sisters Rosensweig, even though she never Oscared for her legendary (though nominated) roles in Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles. Here are some other movies she could’ve used an Oscar for: What’s Up, Doc?, Young Frankenstein, First Family, and Clue. Ugh, the flames of resentment are on the side of my face again.
Other suitable choices: Barbara Harris, Margaret Leighton, and musical theater doyenne Ethel Merman.