Judy had formidable competition that year. She was up against Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve, and Eleanor Parker for Caged. While the other actresses starred in dramas and noirs with camp elements, Judy was the only lead in a straight comedy. Two out of the four films, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, continue to inspire rabid devotion today. Anyone with general classic film knowledge knows those films.
Judy’s legacy has another hurdle. She’s not as well-known to people who aren’t classic film fans, and even some classic film fans aren’t too familiar with her. Also a stage actress, Judy left a limited amount of filmed work when she died young, and not all of it is in-print to view at home. In stills, she looks like yet another actress playing yet another voluptuous, dumb blonde.
On film, she could take a role that would be a caricature in lesser hands and make her a character. She never overintellectualized her roles. She made being and seeming look easy. Judy had that same ability as Clara Bow to quickly shift emotions and thoughts across her face. She could make you laugh and break your heart at the same time, and she did as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Out of the four nominees, she’s the only one whose role I can’t imagine being played by another with the same impact. She owned her part. No one else would have given as an affecting or original performance as Billie.