Yale Alumni Go to the Oscars

This year Yale University is sending five of its alumni to the 82nd Academy Awards presentation on March 7. ‘The nominees are: Meryl Streep for Best Actress in her role as Julia Child in “Julie and Julia”; Maury Yeston for Best Song, “Take It All,” from the movie “Nine”; Marco Beltrami for Best Score, “The Hurt Locker”; Thomas McCarthy for Original Screenplay, “Up”; and Matthew O’Neill for Best Documentary Short, “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province.”

Though their names don’t show up on the official roster of Oscar nominees, two other Yalies can claim Academy recognition: Michael Beugg (Yale College, 1985) is the Executive Producer of “Up in the Air” and Lisa Cortés (Yale College, 1982),the Executive Producer of “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” Both movies are in contention for Best Picture and each has six nominations.

Streep and McCarthy are both graduates of the Yale School of Drama (1975 and 1995, respectively), which also counts among its Academy Award-nominated alumni Julie Harris, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Bassett, Patricia Clarkson, Frances McDormand and Paul Giamatti. (See “Oscars and Elis,” attached.)

Two of this year’s alumni nominees hold a B.A. from Yale College: Yeston (1967), who also earned a doctorate at Yale in 1974, and O’Neill, who graduated in 2000.

Yale School of Music, which sent five of its graduates to this year’s Grammy Awards presentation, can boast alumnus Beltrami (1991) among this year’s Oscar nominees.
Oscars and Elis

It is almost impossible to make a complete inventory of Yale-educated producers, actors, composers and directors who have been nominated for the movie industry’s most highly sought prize. Here’s a look at just some of them:

Meryl Streep, a 1975 graduate of Yale School of Drama, has been nominated for 16 Academy Awards, making her the most nominated actor in Oscar history. She has received the Award twice: Supporting Actress for “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and Best Actress, “Sophie’s Choice” (1982).

The winner of five Tony and three Grammy awards, Julie Harris, who attended Yale School of Drama without graduating, was nominated for one Oscar, as Best Actress for her role in “The Member of the Wedding” (1952).

Paul Newman spent one year at the Yale School of Drama before embarking on his long and successful film career. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, he won one, for his lead role in “The Color of Money” (1987).

Sigourney Weaver, a 1974 graduate of the Drama School, was nominated for three Oscars, once in 1987 for her lead role in “Aliens” and twice in 1989: Best Supporting Actress for “Working Girl” and Best Actress, “Gorillas in the Mist.”

A graduate of Yale College (1980) and the Yale School of Drama (1983), Angela Bassett was nominated in the Best Leading Actress category for her role as Tina Turner in the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1993).

Patricia Clarkson, who graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1985, received her single Oscar nomination to date for her supporting role in “Pieces of April” (2003).

Frances McDormand earned her M.F.A. from Yale School of Drama in 1982 and her Oscar for Best Actress in 1996, for the Coen brothers’ classic crime on ice, “Fargo.” McDormand also won nominations as Best Supporting Actress in 1998 for “Mississippi Burning,” in 2000 for “Almost Famous,” and in 2006 for “North Country.”

Double Yale-degreed Paul Giamatti (B.A., 1989; M.F.A., 1994) was nominated for best supporting actor for his performance in “Cinderella Man,” for which, incidentally, twice Yale-degreed Thomas Newman, wrote the musical score.

The Yale School of Drama can also lay claim to director and screenwriter Elia Kazan, who attended without graduating and later racked up seven Academy nominations with two wins. His Awards, both in the Best Director category, were in 1947 and 1954 for “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “On the Waterfront,” respectively. Kazan also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.Talia Shire, who also attended the Drama School, was nominated twice: in 1974 for Best Supporting Actress in “Godfather II” and in 1976 for Best Actress in “Rocky.”

Composer Thomas Newman, who holds a B.A. from Yale College (1977) and Mus.M. from the Yale School of Music (1978), has made the Oscar short list 10 times. Although he has received five Grammy Awards, Newman — who wrote the scores for “WALL-E,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “American Beauty,” among others — has yet to walk away with Hollywood’s most coveted statuette.

Yale’s long history of producing Oscar contenders goes back at least as far as the urbane, and sometimes profane, legends Monty Woolley and Cole Porter. Close friends in college, both graduated in or around 1913. Woolley, best known for his role as the world’s worst guest in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” was nominated in 1943 for Best Actor in “Pied Piper” and in 1943 for Best Supporting Actor in “Since You Went Away.” Arguably the cleverest (and inarguably the Bluest) songwriter of the 20th century, Porter was nominated in 1936, 1941, 1943 and 1956. Although he never took home the gold-plated trophy, Porter was posthumously honored at the 37th Academy Awards when Judy Garland performed a medley of his songs.

A more recent graduate who made it to the Oscar finals is the versatile Sam Waterston, Yale College Class of 1962. Equally celebrated for his work on stage, screen and television, Waterston is a six-time Emmy Award nominee as well as a winner of Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, but he has had only one nomination for the movie industry’s most coveted prize: in 1984, as Best Actor in “The Killing Fields.”

Jodie Foster, who graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 1985, won two of the four Oscars for which she was nominated. Between her nominations for Best Supporting Actress in 1976 for “Taxi Driver,” and in 1994 for Best Actress for “Nell,” she took home two Oscars for Best Actress, in 1988 for “The Accused” and 1991 for “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Edward Norton (Yale College, Class of 1991) was twice nominated: in 1996 as Best Supporting Actor in “Primal Fear” and in 1997 as Best Actor for “American History X.” Some might argue that the Academy mistakenly overlooked Norton’s 2000 film “Keeping the Faith,” which he directed and Yale classmate Stuart Blumberg wrote.

The adaptation of “Little Children” by Tom Perrotta (Class of 1983) was nominated for best screenplay. In addition, the Oscar-nominated screenplay of “Election” (1999) was based on the novel of the same name by Perrotta.

Finally, although he famously left Yale before graduating, Oliver Stone has perhaps the most Oscar nominations to his credit of all Yale alumni. Up for 11 Oscars in a variety of categories, Stone has personally won three: Best Adapted Screenplay for “Midnight Express” (1978), and Best Director for “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989). In addition, Stone directed, produced or wrote the screenplays for movies that received a multitude of nominations: “Platoon,” 8 nominations; “Born on the Fourth of July,” 8 nominations; “JFK” (1991), 8 nominations; and “Nixon” (1994), 4 nominations.

While by no means exhaustive, this cross-section of Yalies who have walked the red carpet suggests that there is no more than one degree of separation between Yale and the Oscars, and it most certainly takes fewer than six degrees to separate Yale from Kevin Bacon, who starred with Streep in “The River Wild.”

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Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345