Rita Moreno, Best Supporting Actress, 'West Side Story' (1961)

For, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: This being Oscar weekend, here’s a related Weekend cover story that ran in the Deseret News on March 22, 2002.

Is there really an Oscar Curse? That is, do women who win in the supporting-actress category really watch their careers dry up and blow away afterward?

Well, not always, of course. Not even most of the time, really.

But the "curse" rumor continues to crop up every year around Oscar season, and it has a history that goes back to the early '60s, when Rita Moreno won a supporting Oscar for "West Side Story," and her film career subsequently sputtered. Moreno actually had a fairly high-profile TV and stage career in the '60s, '70s and into the '80s, but she never again won a major role in an important movie.

None of this is to say that Moreno isn't a talented actress.

But the Oscar Curse is no respecter of talent.

And a look back at the winners since "West Side Story" in 1961 reveals that it has definitely been a hit-and-miss affair.

After all, winners who have gone on to stardom and high-profile careers include Goldie Hawn, who won in 1969 for "Cactus Flower"; Meryl Streep, 1979 winner for "Kramer vs. Kramer"; and Jessica Lange, "Tootsie" in 1982.

On the other end of the spectrum is Geena Davis, 1988 winner for "The Accidental Tourist," who is often cited as a prime Oscar Curse example for her surprising descent in a long line of mediocre-to-awful box-office failures (following two more hits in the early '90s, "Thelma & Louise" and "A League of Their Own"). Then there was that dreadful TV series last year.

Geena Davis, Best Supporting Actress, 'The Accidental Tourist' (1988)

In truth, however, most of the women cited as victims of the Oscar Curse have continued working in show business and movies, albeit with lower-profile or less successful subsequent films:

— Patty Duke, "The Miracle Worker" (1962)

— Estelle Parsons, "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)

— Eileen Heckart, "Butterflies are Free" (1972)

— Tatum O'Neal, "Paper Moon" (1973)

— Olympia Dukakis, "Moonstruck" (1987)

— Brenda Fricker, "My Left Foot" (1989)

— Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King" (1991)

— Anna Paquin, "The Piano" (1993)

— Mira Sorvino, "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995)

— Kim Basinger, "L.A. Confidential" (1997)

And last year, Marcia Gay Harden won for "Pollock" and promptly began co-starring with another Oscar-winner, Richard Dreyfuss, in the mediocre, low-rated TV series "The Education of Max Bickford," along with the TV miniseries "Guilty Hearts," which also did poorly in the ratings.

A particularly strange urban legend attached itself to the Oscar Curse after Marisa Tomei's win as best supporting actress in 1991 for "My Cousin Vinny." Supposedly, Tomei's name was not actually in the envelope opened by presenter Jack Palance that year, and because he was unable to read the correct name, he just blurted out the last name he had read as a nominee: Marisa Tomei.

Marisa Tomei, Best Supporting Actress, 'My Cousin Vinny' (1992)

Did that really happen? Of course not. (Although there's no denying that Tomei was a surprise winner that year, a twentysomething newcomer up against some powerhouse veterans — Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson.)

And it's also true that Tomei has made a string of forgettable movies since her win, and that even her better films ("Only You," "Chaplin," "The Paper," etc.) weren't successful enough to boost her back onto moviegoers' radar.

But then she got a plum role in the Mel Gibson comedy "What Women Want" two years ago, followed now by "In the Bedroom," which has given her a second supporting-actress Oscar nomination.

If Tomei wins Sunday night, perhaps it will burst the Oscar Curse bubble once and for all.