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This Alumni Award Has a First Name (It’s O-S-C-A-R)

You won’t see any UW–Madison alumni on stage at this year’s Academy Awards show, but Bucky isn’t a complete stranger to the little gold statue.

John Allen
February 15, 2017

Caption: Fred Bickel (far right) acts in the 1919 junior-class play, The Romancers. He would later win two Oscars under the name Fredric March.

Photo by UW-Madison Digital Archives uwar00544

Oscar and Bucky aren’t exactly the best of friends. On February 26, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out little gold statuettes for the 89th time, and you won’t see any Badgers on stage. In fact, it’s been rare to see a UW–Madison grad (or even dropout) pick up an Oscar for acting. It’s happened only four times.

The most decorated Badger actor (at least by the Academy) was Fredric March ’20 — he of the Wisconsin Union Theater Play Circle fame. March made his first appearance on the Oscar stage in 1931, at the fourth awards show, when he was nominated for the lead role in the 1930 film The Royal Family of Broadway. He didn’t win.

But he returned two years later and did grab the little gold statuette for his role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He grabbed another in 1947, taking home Best Actor for The Best Years of Our Lives. In all, March was nominated five times.

But if you had had a seat at Los Angeles’s Biltmore Hotel for his first nomination back in 1931, you might have recognized March’s face from the 1921 yearbook, but it would have taken you a moment to place his name. Though “Freddie” had been the president of the 1920 senior class, his name then was Frederick McIntyre Bickel ’20.

Joining March (né Bickel) in Oscar glory were two nongrads: Don Ameche x’31, who received the Best Supporting Actor award for Cocoon in 1986; and Gena Rowlands x’51, who picked up an honorary award in 2015.

No other Badger has received an acting Oscar by our count, though two have received multiple nominations: Joan Cusack ’84 (twice) and Agnes Moorehead MA’24 (four times).

Behind the camera, Badgers have had more success. Winners include writer Marshall Brickman ’61 (Annie Hall), producers Walter Mirisch ’42 (In the Heat of the Night) and Tom Rosenberg ’68 (Million Dollar Baby), documentarian Errol Morris ’69 (The Fog of War), animator Pat Hanrahan ’77, PhD’85 (three times, for his work on RenderMan software), and last year, Nicole Rocklin ’01 (one of the producers of Best Picture Spotlight).

The Badger with the most Oscar nominations has won only one of the awards, and his face was never in a movie: Herbert Stothart x1904 didn’t complete his degree, but he came back to campus as a music instructor from 1910 to 1912 before heading off to Hollywood. There he wrote music for films, racking up 12 Academy Award nominations, all between 1935 and 1945. He won the Best Original Score honor for his work on The Wizard of Oz in 1939.

Caption: Fred Bickel (far right) acts in the 1919 junior-class play, The Romancers. He would later win two Oscars under the name Fredric March.

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