5 Best Actress Academy Award Winners You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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The Academy Award category of best actress is synonymous with stars, including Jodie Foster, Sally Field and the venerable Meryl Streep. Yet not every Oscar-winning performance stands the test of time. Unless an actress appeared in a timeless movie, such as “The Wizard of Oz” or “Singing in the Rain,” her renowned roles and films may soon be forgotten. While an Oscar win earns some actresses enduring fame that will last beyond their lifetimes, other award-worthy performances have faded from memory.

5 Luise Rainer

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German-born actress Luise Rainer deserves to be remembered for making Academy Award history twice—as the first actor ever who ever won two Oscars and the first person to win Academy Awards consecutively. Rainer’s film career began in Austria, but it wasn’t long until MGM talent scouts snatched her up and had her starring opposite Hollywood heavy-hitter William Powell. Her fast rise to fame didn’t sit well with Rainer, as she famously said: “Stars are not important, only what they do as a part of their work is important. Artists need quiet in which to grow. It seems Hollywood does not like to give them this quiet.” Rainer left acting behind in 1938 after shooting only eight Hollywood films.

4 Patricia Neal

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Another Broadway actress who successfully transitioned to the silver screen was Patricia Neal, who won the 1964 Academy Award for her portrayal of Alma Brown opposite Paul Newman in the modern-day western, “Hud.” Neal also achieved acclaim for her work in both “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Her career was derailed in 1965, when she fell into a three-week coma after suffering burst aneurysms during pregnancy. Despite her award-winning talent, Neal’s more often remembered for the men in her life based on her tumultuous affair with her “The Fountainhead” co-star Gary Cooper and her turbulent marriage to famed British children’s author Roald Dahl.

3 Shirley Booth

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Shirley Booth has the distinction of winning her one and only Academy Award in the first film she ever made, playing Lola in the screen adaptation of the play “Come Back, Little Sheba.” Three years earlier in 1950, Booth had won a Tony for playing that same role on Broadway. Although acclaimed on both stage and screen, Booth never received another Oscar award or nomination in her career. That’s because Booth preferred theater over moviemaking; she made only four more films throughout her career. However, she did receive two more Tony awards, plus two Emmys for portraying the title character in “Hazel.”

2 Greer Garson

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British actress Greer Garson began her career on the stage, until none other than MGM’s Louis B. Mayer discovered her. Garson received her first Oscar nomination for her very first film, “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” in 1939. Nominated a whopping seven times throughout her career, Garson won the best actress Academy Award only once—in 1942 for her portrayal of the titular character in “Mrs. Miniver.” After Garson’s Hollywood star power faded in the late 1940s and ’50s, the actress turned to Broadway and television, where she found modest success.

1 Janet Gaynor

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Janet Gaynor became the first ever best actress Oscar winner in 1929. Gaynor received the honor for her work in three films: “Seventh Heaven,” “Sunrise” and “Street Angel.” She is the only actress to ever receive the award for work in multiple films. After making an award-winning name for herself in silent films, Gaynor became one of the few silent film stars to successfully transition into talking pictures, with hits including “Sunny Side Up” and “State Fair.” Gaynor’s Hollywood status faded when she left the business in 1938 to travel with her successful costume designer husband, Adrian Adolph Greenberg. Twenty years later, Gaynor returned to make one final film, “Bernadine,” in 1957.

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