In our inaugural Oscar Legends segment, AwardsDaily had the pleasure of Zooming with 5-time Academy Award nominee and 2-time Oscar winner Lee Grant.
In her teens, Grant began her stage career on Broadway and was immediately cast in her first film William Wyler’s Detective Story in 1951. For that role, she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. However, almost immediately, she was blacklisted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee for calling out the group in a Eulogy for her friend and collaborator J. Edward Bromberg. The actor was being pressured by the committee to name names and died of a heart attack. Grant could not get work in film or TV for 12 years.
Her first major credit post-blacklist was the TV series Peyton Place. In 1967, Norman Jewison cast her in In the Heat of the Night which went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Grant would receive three more Best Supporting Actress nominations for The Landlord (1970), Shampoo (1975), and Voyage of the Damned (1976), winning for Shampoo which was directed by Hal Ashby and starred Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Goldie Hawn.
Other notable films include The Balcony, Valley of the Dolls, Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell, The Big Bounce, Plaza Suite, Portnoy’s Complaint, Airport ’77, Defending Your Life, It’s My Party, Dr. T. and the Women, and Mulholland Drive.
She also picked up seven Emmy nominations, winning two, for Peyton Place in 1966 and the TV movie The Neon Ceiling in 1971.
Shortly after her Oscar win, Grant turned to directing. Her first feature, Tell Me a Riddle, starred Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova in 1980. In 1985, she helmed What Sex Am I?, one of the first documentaries about transgender people. In 1986, she directed Down and Out in America, an exploration of poverty in the U.S., which won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar, her second win.
The same year she became the first female director to win the Directors Guild Award for the TV movie Nobody’s Child, starring Marlo Thomas.
In an extraordinary career that has spanned an astonishing eight decades (she is no longer acting but does not rule out directing again), Grant has worked with some of the best artists in the business. She had some great stories to share and was more than eager to chat. Now in her 90s, Grant is sometimes unable to remember names, but this has more to do with her being traumatized during the McCarthy witch hunt than with her age. She certainly had no problems recollecting almost everything else about her life and work. Besides being refreshingly candid, she was an absolute delight to speak with.
Grant’s place in history must be given its due. She was chipping away at that glass ceiling and fighting against injustice, all the while doing remarkable work on stage, screen and television, decades ago. And continues to speak out.
Lee Grant’s documentary collection will be available for the first time on VOD beginning in June. AwardsDaily readers can receive 15% off at her online store using the promo code 20thCenturyWoman.