The only time I attended the Oscar ceremony, eight-year-old Tatum O’Neal became the youngest person ever to win a competitive Academy Award, a record that still stands.
Her mother, actor Joanna Moore, was an alcoholic and drug addict. Tatum moved in with her father Ryan O’Neal. The Peter Bogdanovich film Paper Moon (1973) seemed like a way for Ryan O’Neal to keep an eye on his daughter. Tatum writes in her memoir A Paper Life that putting her in the film was the way her father ”answered the question of what to do with this strange little girl”.
Tatum’s performance as the pint-sized Depression-era con artist was smart without being precious. Playing an orphan, she was at ease working opposite her father as the man who is given the job of delivering her to a relative after her mother dies. Paper Moon was supposed to be a father-daughter bonding experience, but when he found out Tatum had been nominated for an Oscar and he hadn’t, he punched her.
Tatum wore a tuxedo designed Nolan Miller, later famous doing the costumes for Dynasty, to the ceremony. It wasn’t just a simple miniature tux. Miller designed it with bell bottoms, a frilly shirt was frilly and giant bowtie, making Tatum seem even smaller. Even if it hadn’t been worn by a 10-year-old, it still would have made quite the statement: Only a few women had worn pants to the Oscars: Barbra Streisand in her controversial pantsuit in 1969 and Jane Fonda, nominated for Klute in 1972. Streisand’s ensemble caused stir because, apparently unbeknownst to her, it was see-through.
Tatum’s grandparents were her date to the ceremony. Her father was in London shooting Barry Lyndon. No one else from Paper Moon was there except for Madeline Kahn, who was also up for Supporting Actress, although she appears in just 18 minutes of the movie while O’Neal is in 104 minutes. As the nominees were announced for the category, Tatum looked tiny in her seat. She later described a feeling of bewilderment after her name was called:
I headed to stage in a blur of confusion. I must have looked very vulnerable and small, standing there in my tux, all by myself, until, like an afterthought, my grandfather ran up to join me.
She made a brief speech, simply thanking just her director and her father. Then her grandfather took the microphone and thank the audience on behalf of himself and his son; an adult taking credit for Tatum’s accomplishment before rushing her off the stage.
That Oscars tuxedo made Tatum look even smaller than she was, on television and in real life.
Justin Henry was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, playing a young boy caught in the middle of his parents’ (Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) ugly custody battle.
Quvenzhané Wallis was nine when she was nominated for Best Actress for Beasts Of The Southern Wild in 2012. More remarkable, Wallis was only six-years-old when she made the indie film. She was robbed.
Quinn Cummings was 10-years-old she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Goodbye Girl (1977). She lost and she didn’t stay in showbiz for long, becoming a writer in her early 20s.
Mary Badham was 10 when was nominated for playing Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. She retired from acting at 14.
Abigail Breslin was 10-years-old when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Little Miss Sunshine in 2007.
Patty McCormack was 11 when she nominated for The Bad Seed (1957). She was really good at being really bad. She is still in the biz and appeared last year as Dr. Marsh in a remake of The Bad Seed (2018) with Rob Lowe.
Anna Paquin was 11 when she won Best Supporting Actress for The Piano in 1994, her very first acting role.
Haley Joel Osment was also 11 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Sixth Sense (2000), losing to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules who was 67-years-old. Brandon deWilde was nominate at 11 for Shane (1952), losing to 39-year-old Frank Sinatra for From Here To Eternity (and Sinatra was the one considered “washed-up”).
Saoirse Ronan was 13 when she received her first of her three nominations, this one for Best Supporting Actress for Atonement (2008). Hailee Steinfeld was 14-years-old when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for True Grit (2011); Jodie Foster was also 14 when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Taxi Driver in 1977.
Patty Duke was 16-years-old when she won Best Supporting Actress for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in 1963. She gave the best acceptance speech of all time, saying simply “Thank you“. Jack Wild was 16 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Oliver! (1969).
Sal Mineo was 17-years old when he was nominated for Rebel Without A Cause in 1956. River Phoenix was 18 when he was nominated for Best Supporting for Running On Empty in 1989, and then was gone by 23. Leonardo DiCaprio was 19 when he was nominated for for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1994) and so was Mickey Rooney when he was nominated for: Best Actor for Babes In Arms in 1940, the first teenager to ever be nominated.
Not to ignore the geezers, the oldest nominee in Academy Award History was Christopher Plummer for All the Money In The World (2017) at 88-years-old, and the oldest winner ever is Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2011) at 82 years and 42 days. Plummer was also nominated at 80 for The Last Station (2009).