January 31, 2007 / 12:01 AM / 12 years ago

Is winning an Oscar a curse or a blessing?

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It’s awards season in Hollywood, with all red carpets leading to the Oscars. But winning that prestigious award can sometimes lead to nothing more than bad roles and even oblivion.

"It's known as the curse of the Oscar, which is very real. The actor's ultimate dream can turn out to be the ultimate nightmare," said movie pundit Tom O'Neil, awards columnist for the Web site The Envelope (theenvelope.latimes.com/).

Winners like F. Murray Abraham, Brenda Fricker, Linda Hunt, Marlee Matlin and Louise Fletcher are hardly household names despite earning the film world’s most coveted award.

Other better-known Oscar winners, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Richard Dreyfuss, have complained that winning the award brought them personal and career troubles.

“Winners from Joan Fontaine up to Gwyneth Paltrow and Richard Dreyfuss have all said it was a curse,” said O’Neil, noting the Oscar made Paltrow almost too expensive to hire at the age of 26, while Dreyfuss spiraled downward for a while with a high-profile drug habit and a string of flops after his Oscar win for his role in “The Goodbye Girl” in 1977.

Paltrow won for her leading role in “Shakespeare in Love” and has said she was unequipped to cope with the pressure, leading her to make several bad choices.

“I think part of the downside about being so successful and winning the Oscar at the age of 26 is that I sort of became insouciant about the things that I chose. I thought ‘Oh, I’ll just try this, it’ll be fun or I’ll do that for the money’. Things like that now I would absolutely never do,” Paltrow was quoted as saying by the Internet Move Database.

Louise Fletcher, who picked up the Best Actress award for her role as the inflexible Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” went on to scare up roles in such B-films as “Excorcist II: The Heretic,” “Firestarter” and “Flowers in the Attic.”

“It’ll make you wonderfully happy for a night,” Fletcher has said of winning the Oscar. “But don’t expect that it’ll do anything for your career.”


Indeed, many winners seem to have sunk to new lows after Oscar victories. Halle Berry, Faye Dunaway and Liza Minnelli have all won both the Academy Award for Best Actress and a Razzie Award, the industry’s version of an Oscar lampoon that is bestowed to the worst efforts of any given year.

After winning the Oscar for her turn in the 2001 film, “Monster’s Ball,” among the first roles Berry was seen in afterwards was as a female superhero in action flick “Catwoman.”

O’Neil said the list goes on and on, citing Oscar winners from Rita Moreno, who won for “West Side Story,” to Dianne Wiest and Cuba Gooding Jr., who have all struggled to recapture glory after winning an Oscar.

“Sometimes people win because the stars are in alignment and the perfect actor found the perfect role at the right time, but that doesn’t guarantee a lifetime of follow-ups to what may be serendipitous circumstances,” said Leonard Maltin, film critic and historian with entertainment news program Entertainment Tonight.

He said the phenomenon is known in Hollywood circles as the “F. Murray Abraham syndrome,” named after the well-regarded stage actor who earned the Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 1984 film “Amadeus” but has hardly been a big star since.

“He was great in ‘Amadeus’ and he’s a fine actor but for whatever reason or combination of reasons, he didn’t get the same opportunities again in film, although he’s continued to work onstage,” said Maltin, noting that Fletcher is the “poster girl” for the same phenomenon.

Maltin said various factors could play a part in why some actors never follow up their Oscar success, such as bad choices, bad luck, bad agents or letting the win get to their head.

“As tough as it is to make a career in the movie business, it’s just as difficult to maintain one,” he said.

Film critic Richard Schickel said he did not view an Oscar as a viable predictor of immortality for a star or a movie.

“People get carried away by a particular performance, but it doesn’t mean the actor has a lot of long-term viability. The only worthwhile judge of careers is history,” he said.

“It’s the movies that we decide we’ll go back to watch a decade or so later that remain important to people. Often a week after the Oscars ceremony, you can’t even remember what won,” he said.

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