Best Actor nominees by Year

1939 Academy Awards® Winners and History

The winner is listed first, in CAPITAL letters.

ROBERT DONAT in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", Clark Gable in "Gone With The Wind", Laurence Olivier in "Wuthering Heights", Mickey Rooney in "Babes in Arms", James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
VIVIEN LEIGH in "Gone With The Wind", Bette Davis in "Dark Victory", Irene Dunne in "Love Affair", Greta Garbo in "Ninotchka", Greer Garson in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"
Supporting Actor:
THOMAS MITCHELL in "Stagecoach", Brian Aherne in "Juarez", Harry Carey in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Brian Donlevy in "Beau Geste", Claude Rains in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
Supporting Actress:
HATTIE MCDANIEL in "Gone With The Wind", Olivia de Havilland in "Gone With The Wind", Geraldine Fitzgerald in "Wuthering Heights", Edna May Oliver in "Drums Along the Mohawk", Maria Ouspenskaya in "Love Affair"
VICTOR FLEMING for "Gone With The Wind", Frank Capra for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", John Ford for "Stagecoach", Sam Wood for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", William Wyler for "Wuthering Heights"

1939 is undoubtedly the most celebrated year in American film history - the year produced more outstanding films than any other 12-month period. It was bound to be difficult for the Academy to nominate or honor all the rich, outstanding films of the year.

This year, the first Oscar for Visual Effects (a new category) was given to The Rains Came, defeating Gone With the Wind's nomination (one of five that did not win) that included recognition for its remarkable burning of Atlanta sequence. The Wizard of Oz's nomination for Visual Effects (undoubtedly for its exceptional cyclone sequence) was also defeated. For the first time this year, the Cinematography award was divided into two categories: Black and White, and Color.

Director Victor Fleming's almost four-hour long blockbuster film was the longest feature film released up to that time - and it was the major Oscar winner of the year. It was also the first color film to win Best Picture. The epic was obsessed producer David O. Selznick's romantic costume melodrama Gone With the Wind, a story of the Civil War South (from Margaret Mitchell's best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel) told by following the story of a tempestuous, headstrong Southern heroine from the O'Hara family who was married three times and carried on an unconsummated love relationship with a Southern gentleman from the Wilkes family. It was the first Best Picture-winning film that was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (the second was ).

The film had thirteen nominations and won eight competitive awards (and two special citations) - both records for the time. [It would hold this record until Gigi (1958) won a record 9 Oscars.] The blockbuster film was the number one box-office champion for many years. Its awards included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel - the first African-American performer to be nominated and win), Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, and Best Film Editing. The only major award it didn't win was Best Actor for Clark Gable, meaning that it wasn't able to sweep the "Top Five" awards categories. The credited screenwriter for Gone With the Wind was Sidney Howard - he received a posthumous Oscar and became the first posthumous winner.

All the Best Picture nominated films were exceptional and unforgettable:

A change in the Academy rules required that directors could be nominated for only one motion picture in a single year. Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, and Sam Wood - all great directors for Oscar-nominated films, couldn't overcome the almost-total sweep of Gone With the Wind. Best Director winner Victor Fleming also directed another Best Picture nominee in 1939, The Wizard of Oz.

One of the few categories where the celebrated Best Picture didn't win was Best Actor. British actor Robert Donat (with his second - and final - consecutive nomination and sole Oscar) won the Best Actor award for his touching performance as the shy British schoolmaster Mr. Charles Chipping at his beloved institution, who evolves from a novice to a respected headmaster in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (from James Hilton's novel). It appeared that he was being honored as much for his neglected performance in Hitchcock's The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and for his Oscar-losing performance (to Spencer Tracy in Boys Town (1938)) in The Citadel (1938) from a year earlier as he was for the part of the schoolteacher.

The rest of the competition was fierce in the Best Actor category:

  • Clark Gable (with his third and last career nomination even though he made 27 more films in his career) as blockade runner Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind
  • Mickey Rooney (with his first of four unsuccessful nominations) as showbiz kid Mickey Moran (opposite Judy Garland in their first major film together) in Busby Berkeley-directed Babes in Arms...
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