ALL IN THE TIMING
At the 1976 awards, William Holden, nommed for lead actor for “Network,” lost to co-star Peter Finch, who played a broadcaster on the verge of a meltdown. Finch’s win reps one of only two times that a pic that did not win best picture overcame potential vote-splitting in a lead-actor derby. (Though MGM reportedly had slotted him for a supporting-actor campaign, Finch lobbied hard to be promoted to lead.) Finch remains the only actor to win an Academy Award posthumously.
THE THIRD MAN
Only once has a thesp defeated more than one co-star in a single category at the Oscars. At the 1974 awards, Robert De Niro, who delivered an Italian-language perf as a young Vito Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II,” glided past Lee Strasberg and Michael V. Gazzo to take home the supporting actor trophy. Though De Niro was in the lauded sequel to a picture winner and playing the younger incarnation of the character immortalized by Oscar winner Marlon Brando in the original, some observers had forecast that sentiment and vote-splitting would tip the race in favor of Fred Astaire (the sole acting nominee from pic finalist “The Towering Inferno”).
CATCHING SOME Z’S
The last time a nominee won in the face of the vote-splitting threat was at the 2002 awards, where Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago”) took the Oscar despite a rival nom for co-star Queen Latifah. In fact, Zeta-Jones had a reasonable case for being nommed alongside co-star Renee Zellweger in the lead actress derby, but at a greater risk of the thesps canceling each other out. In the Golden Globes, which determines thesp taxonomy for itself, Zellweger edged out Zeta-Jones in its lead musical/ comedy actress race.
Celeste Holm holds the record for the most nominations at risk for vote-splitting, with all three of her supporting-actress bids coming alongside co-stars. She won the first time out, defeating “Gentleman’s Agreement” co-star Anne Revere, among others, for the 1947 supporting actress Oscar. Aside from being in the clear front-runner for best picture, Holm perhaps benefited from the fact that Revere had won an Oscar two years earlier.
LAST OF HIS KIND
F. Murray Abraham was the last thesp to vault over a nommed co-star for a lead-perf Oscar, in 1984’s “Amadeus.” Abraham’s memorable limning of antagonist Antonio Salieri was an early favorite against Tom Hulce, who played titular musical prodigy Wolfgang Mozart. Abraham’s L.A. crix award and Golden Globe also indicated on which side of the fence voters were likely to land. Since Abraham’s victory, there have been sporadic efforts to avoid doubling up in the lead actor race — for example, the demotion in 2001 of “Training Day” co-lead Ethan Hawke to the supporting race while Denzel Washington earned an Oscar as a lead.
Twenty Oscar-winning actors have defeated at least one co-star in their category. Eleven of them came from best-picture champs, including the first thesp ever to survive a potential vote-splitting scenario, Hattie McDaniel. The “Gone With the Wind” actress, who famously was the first African-American Oscar winner, defeated a slate including co-star Olivia de Havilland at the 1939 awards.
WALKING THE PLANK
The first instance of multiple acting nominees — and likely vote splitting — in one category occurred at the 1935 Academy Awards, when Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone of “Mutiny on the Bounty” all earned lead actor bids, accounting for 75% of the official noms. (Tone was clearly a supporting perf, but that category wasn’t added until 1936.) “Mutiny” won best pic, but it was the odd-man-out nominee — “The Informer” star Victor McLaglen — who netted the actor Oscar.
Twice a film has escaped the vote-splitting curse in multiple thesp categories. In 1971’s race, half of the quartet of neophyte nominees from “The Last Picture Show” took Oscar home: Supporting actor Ben Johnson beat Jeff Bridges, and supporting actress Cloris Leachman defeated Ellen Burstyn (though the Peter Bogdanovich film itself fell to “The French Connection”). At the 1983 awards, Jack Nicholson bested his “Terms of Endearment” co-star John Lithgow to take home the supporting actor Oscar, while Nicholson’s onscreen love interest Shirley MacLaine won over her “Terms” offspring Debra Winger in the lead actress race.
In 1980, Timothy Hutton, 19 when he starred in Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People,” faced the risk of vote-splitting no matter the category — Donald Sutherland, who played his dad, was being promoted for lead, and Judd Hirsch, who portrayed the teen’s therapist, was a strong candidate for a supporting bid. Hutton ultimately confounded the odds, winning the supporting Oscar against a slate that included Hirsch. One factor behind the strategy: The remote likelihood of anyone, including Hutton, defeating Robert De Niro’s powerhouse “Raging Bull” perf.
‘ETERNITY’ MEETS AN END
In Academy Award annals, aside from “Midnight Cowboy,” “All About Eve” and “Mutiny on the Bounty,” one other best picture winner received multiple lead acting bids that apparently canceled each other out — 1953’s “From Here to Eternity.” Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift both fell to William Holden (“Stalag 17”).
Three-quarters of the actors and actresses who have defied the vote-splitting jinx were in the supporting categories, and 47 of the 64 instances of co-stars nommed in the same Oscar race were in those categories. It has been nearly 17 years since a film earned a pair of lead nominations. In that case, neither topliner for “Thelma and Louise,” Susan Sarandon or Geena Davis, was able to defeat Jodie Foster, who profited from the momentum of the night’s big winner, “The Silence of the Lambs,” to win for her performance as Clarice Starling.
A BUMPY NIGHT
In one of the Oscars’ most heated races, “All About Eve” stars Anne Baxter and Bette Davis found themselves rivals in the 1950 lead actress category, echoing their film personae. This was the first time two thesps from the same film had been cited in that category, thanks to a throwing of the dice by Fox chief Darryl Zanuck. Gloria Swanson’s critically lauded turn in “Sunset Boulevard” threatened to emerge triumphant if the “Eve” contenders split their votes, but it was fresh-faced Judy Holliday’s frothy perf in “Born Yesterday” that won. The comedy was a pic nominee, like “Sunset” and winner “Eve,” and a bigger B.O. performer than either.
TOOT TOOT TOOTSIE
At the 1982 awards, supporting actress nominee Jessica Lange flouted vote-splitting fears by winning over “Tootsie” co-star Teri Garr, in no small part due to Lange’s coinciding lead actress nom for little-seen, downbeat biopic “Frances.” An underdog in the lead race behind eventual winner Meryl Streep ( “Sophie’s Choice”), Lange became a supporting actress favorite thanks to the arguable demotion of her substantial comedic performance to the supporting derby, in what was perceived as her breakthrough year.
DUKE IT OUT
Sentiment was more than a pair of lead actor nominees from “Midnight Cowboy,” Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, could overcome. Though the film was an unconventional pic winner in 1969, voter division helped make way for John Wayne to snag his only competitive Oscar, for “True Grit.”