Home-Cooked Spaghetti Dinners and a Glam Photo Shoot: Eight Unusual Oscar Bids

The campaign on behalf of Andrea Riseborough is the latest to provoke controversy, but it’s hardly the most memorable.

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By Sarah Bahr

When the actress Andrea Riseborough wrapped a 19-day shoot on the microbudget indie “To Leslie” in Los Angeles during the height of the pandemic, her hopes probably extended to positive reviews from critics and indie film enthusiasts.

But now, after a social media campaign on her behalf by some famous friends, among them Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton and Sarah Paulson, she’s been nominated for an Oscar for best actress — an honor she can keep, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled Tuesday after reviewing the unorthodox lobbying on her behalf.

While the regulations around campaigning have become ever murkier in the age of social media, the Riseborough campaign was hardly the first to stretch the rules, which forbid, among other things, mentioning competitors or their films directly or calling academy members personally.

Here are eight memorable bids for a statuette that went rogue.


Chill Wills, ‘The Alamo’

After Chill Wills was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Davy Crockett’s buddy Beekeeper in “The Alamo,” he hired the veteran publicist W.S. “Bow-Wow” Wojciechowicz to run his campaign. Wojciechowicz submitted an ad to Variety with a photo of the film’s cast and text that read, “We of the ‘Alamo’ cast are praying harder — than the real Texans prayed for their lives in the Alamo — for Chill Wills to win the Oscar as best supporting actor.”

Variety refused to run it, and John Wayne, the film’s director and star, took out his own ad rebuking Wills that said neither he nor his production company were in any way involved in the effort. (“I am sure his intentions are not as bad as his taste,” Wayne wrote of Wills, who later blamed Wojciechowicz.) After this fiasco — Wills lost to Peter Ustinov for “Spartacus” — it became rare for actors to run their own campaigns, which have since mostly been the purview of studios and teams of publicists.

Interviews With the Oscar Nominees


Candy Clark, ‘American Graffiti’

The nostalgic coming-of-age feature “American Graffiti” included some future big names like Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford among its ensemble cast, but Candy Clark, then a little-known actress, was the only one to embark on an Oscar campaign. She paid $1,700 to take out a series of quarter-page ads in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety — a strategy that paid off when she was the only member of the film’s cast to be nominated, for best supporting actress. (She lost to a 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal for “Paper Moon.”)


Liv Ullmann, ‘Scenes From a Marriage’

The Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann delivered a standout performance in Ingmar Bergman’s domestic drama “Scenes From a Marriage,” but a potential nomination was tripped up by a technicality that The New York Times likened to a situation “one usually encounters at obscure border stations in Central Asia.” Because a television cut of “Scenes From a Marriage” had premiered on Swedish TV in 1973 — the year before its American theatrical release — it was deemed ineligible for the Oscars thanks to an academy rule that prohibited the film’s being shown on television during the year before its theatrical release.

Three of that year’s eventual best actress nominees — Ellen Burstyn (who went on to win), Diahann Carroll and Gena Rowlands — took up Ullmann’s cause, even signing an open letter supporting her right to compete, but the academy stood firm. (Ullmann, now 84, did receive an honorary award from the academy last year.)


Margaret Avery, ‘The Color Purple’

After being nominated for best supporting actress for “The Color Purple,” Margaret Avery used $1,160 of her own money to pay for a Variety ad promoting her performance. Intended to suggest the voice of her character, Shug Avery, it read: “Well God, I guess the time has come fo’ the Academy voters to decide whether I is one of the best supporting actresses this year or not! Either way, thank you, Lord for the opportunity.” Avery was criticized for the ad, which did not reflect the way her character actually spoke in the film. (She lost to Anjelica Huston for “Prizzi’s Honor.”)


Sally Kirkland, ‘Anna’

Sally Kirkland took a letter-writing fiend approach in an effort to score a best actress nomination for her role as a once-famous Czech actress in the small indie “Anna.” Kirkland not only personally wrote letters to academy voters, she also financed her own ad campaign — the film had no budget to do so — and spoke to any and every journalist who asked. Her persistence paid off with a nomination, though she eventually lost to Cher for “Moonstruck.”


Diane Ladd, ‘Wild at Heart’

After she was nominated for David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart,” Diane Ladd — Laura Dern’s mother — decided that the way to voters’ hearts was through a home-cooked spaghetti dinner. She embarked on a one-woman blitz that involved not only writing personalized letters to voters, but also inviting 20 academy members to a screening of her film, accompanied by a spaghetti dinner that she prepared herself. She might have wanted to spend more time perfecting that spaghetti recipe, though — she lost to Whoopi Goldberg, who won for “Ghost.”


Melissa Leo, ‘The Fighter’

Unlike other nominees who took matters into their own hands, Melissa Leo was considered the front-runner when she began her campaign to secure a best supporting actress win for the boxing drama “The Fighter.” But she took out her now-infamous “Consider” ads anyway, she told Deadline in 2011, because she was frustrated at not being able to land magazine covers as a 50-year-old woman. The ads, which showed off her glamorous side as she leaned forward in a low-cut black evening gown, presented a stark contrast to the gritty, blue-collar mother and fight manager she played in the film (which was not even mentioned in the ad). There’s no way to say for sure if the strategy helped her chances, but it certainly didn’t hurt — she beat out her co-star Amy Adams, as well as Helena Bonham Carter of “The King’s Speech,” to claim the Oscar.


Ann Dowd, ‘Compliance’

Ann Dowd received stellar reviews for the Craig Zobel thriller “Compliance,” a flop of an indie with such a tiny budget that Dowd was paid just $100 per day for her role. But she believed in her performance, and after raising $13,000 by dipping into her bank account, borrowing money from friends and colleagues and maxing out her credit cards, she mailed DVDs to academy members and placed ads in trade publications in an effort to secure a best supporting actress nomination. While the Oscar recognition proved elusive — Anne Hathaway won that year for “Les Misérables” — the media coverage of her efforts may have helped put her on the radar of directors. (And now she has an Emmy for “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)

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