What’s a sure-fire way for an Actress to win an Oscar? Playing a real person helps. Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for playing Loretta Lynn in “Coal Miners Daughter.” Or how about portraying a character with a disability? Patty Duke won an Oscar for playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” Duke scored a double slam-dunk. She was playing a real-life person who had a disability. What about a psychopath? That helped Kathy Bates walk off with the Oscar for “Misery.” Having a flawless accent helps. Meryl Streep scored double Oscar wins for having a spot-on accent; the Polish Holocaust survivor Sophie Zawistowska in “Sophie’s Choice;” Then again almost 20 years later as British PM Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”
Or you have another option. That is to play a sex-worker. In fact, over a dozen actresses have won the Academy Award for playing a hooker. The portrayal of this line of work is not limited to the big screen. Prostitution has been in books, theatre, television shows, and even radio dramas.
Some of the most famous female characters in American cinema and theatre have been that of a prostitute. Anna Christie and Blanche DuBois. Holly Golightly and Vivian Ward. Fantine and Mary Magdalene.
Some of the most acclaimed writers in literature, film, and theatre have written roles for women where their main occupation has been that of a hooker. John Steinbeck, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, David Mamet, and Tennessee Williams.
Thirteen actresses have won the Academy Award for playing a prostitute. Plus, no fewer than 16 Oscar nominations copped by actresses playing a hooker – garnering nods for A-Listers like Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and Jodie Foster, just to name a few.
So that got me thinking. Winning an Academy Award would be the pinnacle of an actor’s success in their industry. But how many Oscar-winning actresses have played a character involved in sex work. The answer? An astounding ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!
That is right. Every single actress who has won an Academy Award has played a character working in the sex trade industry. While 95% of Oscar-winning actresses have played a full out prostitute or madam, the remaining 5% have played a character related to sex work. Examples include phone sex operators, massage attendants, lap dancers, saloon girls, and the list goes on. We even have one character working off the avails of prostitution.
The bottom line is that every single actress who has won an Academy Award has played a sex worker. Either as a prostitute or somehow related to the sex trade industry.
Keep a few things to keep in mind when reading this book. First, I am commenting on the character and NOT the actress. So, for example, when I write about Pretty Woman and say, “she turned tricks on the streets of L.A.” I’m NOT talking about Julia Roberts, the actress. I’m talking about the CHARACTER she is playing, Vivian Ward.
The layout of this site begins in the 1930s straight through to the present day, decade by decade, highlighting every female Oscar win. Since the first Academy Awards happened in 1929, that year appears in the decade of the 1930s. Each win appears under the year the performer won their award, not the year the movie was released. For example, “Silence of the Lambs” was released in 1990. The film swept the top five Oscars in 1991. So that best actress winner, Jodie Foster, was listed in 1991, the year she won her second Academy Award.
Speaking of multiple Oscar winners, several women have won more than one Academy Award but only played a prostitute once in their career. So there are several repeats of the same hooker role. For instance, with Katharine Hepburn, I’ve had to repeat her prostitute role four times as she is a four-time Oscar champ over several decades. But other actresses, who have multiple Oscars, have also played a prostitute more than once. Shelley Winters has played a hooker five times. So in those instances, descriptions of past hooker roles have been spread out between her two wins – two prostitute roles in her first win and three prostitute roles in her second win.
That is about it. Sit back, relax, grab a glass of white wine, and prepare to walk down the streets of broken dreams – reading over 100 hooker roles played by Oscar-winning actresses.