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What Grace Kelly Defeating Judy Garland at the 1955 Oscars Tells Us About Lady Gaga’s Own Oscar Chances

A Star is Born Gaga & Garland

While I am walking, not running, to see the 2018 version of A Star is Born, all the discussion of Lady Gaga being potentially nominated for an Oscar for playing Ally made me think of my favorite version of A Star is Born, the 1954 version in which actress Judy Garland was nominated for Best Actress. But I didn’t just think about Garland and how good she was in it, but also the way she lost the Best Actress Oscar to Grace Kelly at the 1955 Oscars.

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The reasons why the Judy vs Grace thing is one of the biggest award upsets in Oscar history is because it encapsulates one of the prominent issues with the Oscars: it’ll always back the young ingenue over the experienced actress. If you look at the history of the Oscars and who wins, while older actresses get nominated for their roles, when going through the winners it is easy to see that youth and beauty and most of all, playing the game, is a huge part of winning a Best Actress Oscar.

Grace Kelly is a fine actress who was also gorgeous and arrived on the scene being everything Hollywood wanted in a leading lady in one blonde package. She was also “respectable” and had a great narrative of being a new talent who’d made her on-screen debuts in serious dramas and thrillers like Rear Window. For Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, there was so much made about her “dressing down” and wearing *gasp* GLASSES.

In comparison, Judy Garland had spent her adolescence being mocked for her looks, and she was peddled drugs that made her broken emotionally. Garland had been given drugs as a young actress to keep up with the seven day work weeks and 18 hour days her career required of her and as a result, she became dependent on them. That led to set delays and production issues.

For a long time MGM was willing to put up with it because Garland was that good, but the first time her movie didn’t make a profit she was cut. Casting her in A Star is Born was her big comeback move, and despite the issues that happened on the production of that film, some due to her, others not, people walked out of the movie calling the 1955 Oscar Garland’s.

Yet Grace Kelly won because she wasn’t just elevated by her performance, but because her success symbolized the place Hollywood wanted to be. Elegant, classic, an actress who wasn’t “rewarded” for being a disaster. The story of the rising star was more important than the comeback. Which brings us to Lady Gaga.

Right now the story of Lady Gaga’s rise from pop icon turned actress, turned serious actress, is part of the push for the film. We are seeing Gaga “stripped down” without makeup, without artifice, without the trappings of stardom that she is used to. When it was first announced that Gaga was cast in the new Star Is Born, many scoffed at that casting choice; after critics said she was amazing it in, people still didn’t believe it. Yet the accolades raining down have opened up Gaga to being a potential casting darling. This is the type of upward star power that the Oscars love.

Does this mean that Gaga will win? No, but her being nominated is likely, because more than talent and more than critical acclaim, the Oscars love a dramatic narrative, and A Star is Born combines their two favorite stories: a deep contemplation about the limits of fame and the rise of new acting darling.

(image: Warner Bros.)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.

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