Hollywood Winners and Losers: A to Z by Mark Thise is a great reference for any movie or trivia buff who wants to know almost anything about the Oscar awards. This book contains mini-biographies of every actor and actress who has ever been nominated for an Academy Award; if they were nominated for something other than acting, that’s in there, too. It doesn’t include directors and writers or anybody else like that, but if an actor who has been nominated for acting has also been nominated for something else, it’s listed (for example, Matt Damon for co-writing Good Will Hunting). It’s an incredible compendium with information contained in an easy-to-find manner. Only some unfortunate editing mistakes mar what is otherwise a great book.
The book opens with the actors’ listings, each giving the nominations that actor received with a star added for the actor won the award. If the actor didn’t win the award, Thise also notes who did that year. Thise then supplies the birth and, if applicable, death information (including cause of death, a nice touch), followed by the role the actor is most known for, one which I have a few quibbles about but which is debatable anyway (Cate Blanchett is best known for playing the Elf Queen in Lord of the Rings?). Finally, a mini-biography imparts interesting little facts about the actor (e.g. a random page-opening tells me that Cuba Gooding, Jr., attended four high schools and became class president at three of them, and that Barbra Streisand graduated with Neil Diamond).
This information can be extremely interesting, and makes the book readable as well as a reference to consult. However, what could be even more interesting for trivia buffs, and makes the book more useful for trivia contests, are the appendices. Thise provides everything from a year-by-year account of all four major awards to those actors who have won the Superfecta (Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy) and Triple Crown (the Superfecta minus the Grammy). The final appendix is a wealth of Oscar trivia, from the most Oscar wins (Katherine Hepburn with for) to the most actors nominated with the same last name (Moore) and everything in between. Anybody who loves the Oscars and movies could go nuts with this book.
Sadly, what mars Hollywood Winners and Losers: A to Z is poor editing (you can blame Thise, too, but a good editor should have caught the errors) as well as an odd choice of words from time to time. For an example of the latter, there’s the entry for Mary Astor. It says that she “suffered bouts of alcoholism and an abortion.” How do you “suffer” an abortion? The entry for Mikhail Baryshnikov alternates past and present tense, occasionally making it sound like he’s dead (“He was very athletic…”). Oddities like these made me put the book down and wonder for a moment before picking it back up.
The editing mistakes are more annoying. The entry for Faye Bainter shows that she was nominated for two Oscars in the same year, winning one for Jezebel in 1938. However, her name is not in the trivia in the back of the book remarking on actors who have been nominated twice in the same year. Geoffrey Rush is not shown to have won for Shine in his listing, and the only reason I knew he had was because Thise didn’t give an alternate winner for that year. Most annoying is that Thise uses the birth information for Eileen Brennan for his entry on Walter Brennan, making me stop and wonder how he could have been gassed in World War I when he wasn’t born until 1935 before I figured it out. I didn’t read all of the entries closely, skimming some after I had reached a certain point in the book, but those are just the ones I saw. I can only imagine how many more there might be. These errors leapt off the page at me on first reading, so I have to wonder how an editor missed them.
Even with these minor problems, though (and ones hopefully fixed in subsequent editions), Hollywood Winners and Losers: A to Z is a must-have for any movie buff who has even the slightest interest in the Oscars. The book only goes up through 2006, but hopefully it will be updated at some point. Until then, this is a wonderful historical movie reference.