Skip Navigation

And the Badger Goes to…

Here are the UW alumni who have graced the Oscar stage … or at least the red carpet.

Happy Oscar week! It’s time to bust out the white wine, don the Fashion Police–approved jammies, and settle in for a night of glitz, glam, and hopefully no tripping. On Sunday night, the 91st Academy Awards show will air.

For the first time in 30 years, the ceremony will have no host. Last time that happened, in 1989, Badger Joan Cusack ’84 was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Working Girl. She lost to Geena Davis (who appeared in Accidental Tourist and won, in spite of having gone to Boston University). This year, Phil Johnston ’94 is nominated, as one of the producers of Ralph Breaks the Internet, for Best Animated Feature. We hope he has better luck.

But win or lose, he becomes the latest Badger to join the list of UW alumni who have walked across that Oscar stage … or at least the red carpet.

Fredric March ’20

March, a native of Racine, WI, has been called “one of Hollywood’s most celebrated, versatile stars of the 1930s and ’40s.” He starred in classics such as Strangers in Love, Les Misérables, and The Iceman Cometh. March has five Oscar nominations and two wins, all for Best Actor in a Leading Role. In 1931, he was nominated for The Royal Family of Broadway and won the following year for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His next win was in 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives. He received two more nominations for A Star is Born (1939) and Death of a Salesman (1952). Bradley Cooper has March’s role in 2018’s version of A Star Is Born. He, too, has been nominated for Best Actor.

Don Ameche x’31

In 1986, Ameche won Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Ron Howard’s Cocoon. His talents extend far beyond the screen, however. He toured in vaudeville after attending UW–Madison, and eventually became known for his work in Broadway, radio hosting, and television. (Bonus: Ameche’s cousin Alan Ameche was a running back for the Badgers, and won the 1954 Heisman Trophy.)

Meinhardt Raabe ’37

Raabe himself was not nominated for an Oscar, but he appeared in the critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning film The Wizard of Oz. In 1940, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects. It won Best Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score. Raabe was one of the last surviving Munchkins, as well as one of the film’s last surviving cast members. And even though Raabe didn’t get an Oscar statue, he did become the first “Little Oscar” spokesperson for Oscar Mayer and Company. Which … we guess … is kind of like the same thing?

Walter Mirisch ’42

West Side Story. In the Heat of the Night. The Pink Panther. We’re guessing you’ve heard of at least one, if not all, of these films. We have producer Mirisch to thank for them. After graduating from the UW, he went on to produce nearly 100 movies. In the Heat of the Night won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Picture. Mirisch also won two honorary Oscars, including the 1978 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and the 1983 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, putting him in the company of Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, and Oprah Winfrey.

“I have felt all my life that I owe a great debt of gratitude to the university,” Mirisch said. “I’m also very proud that the University of Wisconsin honored me with an honorary doctorate. There I was, some kid just walking up that hill, and now they want to do this with me. I remember they had given honorary degrees to Douglas MacArthur. Also to Georgia O’Keefe. And I thought, ‘My God, that’s pretty good company!’”

Gena Rowlands x’51

Rowlands is the most decorated Badger grad in the film industry, with 26 award wins and 18 nominations. She has two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role: A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980). She also starred in the TV series Peyton Place, The Betty Ford Story, and Woody Allen’s Another Woman. (Millenials: Don’t know who we’re talking about? Rowlands also played grown-up Allie Calhoun in The Notebook. *sniffle*)

Marshall Brickman ’61

Brickman wrote for The Dick Cavett Show, for which he ultimately won an Emmy. In writing for Cavett, Brickman met Woody Allen and they teamed up as a screenwriting duo. In 1978 they shared the Best Original Screenplay award for Annie Hall, and they were nominated for the same award in 1980 for Manhattan. Most recently, Brickman worked on the screenplay for the 2014 film version of Jersey Boys.

Michael Mann ’65

English majors are no strangers to the question, “So … what are you going to do with that degree?” What Mann did was to get four Oscar nominations. As a director, he received three nominations for The Insider in 2000: Best Picture (shared with Pieter Jan Brugge), Best Director, and Best Adaptive Screenplay (shared with Eric Roth). In 2005, he again received the nomination for Best Picture, this time for his work on The Aviator.

Thomas Rosenberg ’68

Rosenberg has produced everything from sci-fi flicks like I, Frankenstein, to classic rom-coms à la Runaway Bride, to star-studded slapsticks like Stand Up Guys. He received his first Academy Award win and nomination in 2005 for the hugely successful Million Dollar Baby, alongside director Clint Eastwood and co-producer Albert Ruddy.

Errol Morris ’69

Morris is just two nominations shy of tying Rowlands’ record — he has 20 award wins and 22 nominations. His first Oscar came in 2003, when The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film itself won nine other awards, including an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary and the LA Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary/Nonfiction Film.

Terry Zwigoff ’70

In 2002, Zwigoff was nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for his work on Ghost World, the 2001 dramedy starring Steve Buscemi and Scarlett Johansson. His 1994 documentary Crumb, about the controversial cartoonist R. Crumb, failed to receive any Oscar nominations, which resulted in a media outcry and complete revamp of the Oscars documentary nomination process. The film won 16 awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the NY Film Critics Circle Award, and the LA Film Critics Award.

Glenn Silber ’72

Silber, another documentary filmmaker, received a Best Documentary nomination in 1980 for his film The War at Home. The picture focused on the anti-war movement in Madison — specifically, student protests. It also positioned campus events, such as the Sterling Hall bombing, in conjunction with overall anti-war sentiments. In 1982, Silber received another Best Documentary Oscar nomination for El Salvador: Another Vietnam. The War at Home was restored and re-released in 2018.

Jerry Zucker ’72

Though Zucker himself didn’t receive an Oscar, he directed Ghost, which did. The 1991 film won Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Whoopie Goldberg) and Best Screenplay (Bruce Joel Rubin). Zucker did receive recognition for his work on Ghost: He was nominated for the 1991 Saturn Award for Best Director and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (shared with Rubin), and won the 1991 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film in Japan’s Mainichi Film Concours.

In 2003, Zucker returned to UW-Madison as the spring commencement speaker. One piece of advice he left the soon-to-be grads with was, “Think of the world as a big glass of water with some salt in it … As you begin your new journey, you can try to remove everything that you find distasteful in the world, or you can just pour in more love. It’s the only thing that the more you give away, the more you have.”

Robert Stone ’80

After graduating, Stone briefly studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York City. He was nominated for a 1988 Academy Award in the Documentary Feature category for his debut film, Radio Bikini, which investigated nuclear testing during Operation Crossroads in the 1940s.

Joan Cusack ’84

Cusack received two Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role category Working Girl (1989) and In & Out (1998). In total, she’s won 17 awards and has been nominated for another 23. She has also been recognized for her roles in Runaway Bride, Toy Story 2, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the TV series Shameless.

Philip W. Johnston ’94

In addition to his nomination this year, Johnston co-wrote the Oscar-nominated film Wreck-It Ralph, which was nominated for the 2013 Best Animated Feature award. Johnston himself received the 2013 Annie Award for Writing in an Animated Feature (shared with Jennifer Lee). “Madison is a great training ground for surviving in Hollywood, simply because you have to stand out,” Johnston said in a “Badgerwood” featurette. “You have to find a way to make your voice heard.”

Nicole Rocklin ’01

In the 2016 award season, the biographical drama Spotlight claimed 124 awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. Nicole Rocklin ’01 was one of the four producers to receive the golden statue. Her production company, Rocklin/Faust, helped bring Spotlight to life. “The day after the ceremony I woke up and swept my kitchen floor and fed my son breakfast,” she said. “Life hasn’t changed much.”

Other Notable Oscars:

The Arboretum

Yes, the UW Arboretum is an Oscar winner! Well, sort of. In 1954, Disney’s The Vanishing Prairie won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the Arboretum’s Curtis Prairie was one of the primary filming location. The Vanishing Prairie was one of a 13-part series that Disney released aimed at educating about nature and conservation. The Arb was selected because filmmakers needed a prairie that looked like the world “before civilization left its mark upon the land.”

Alfred McCoy

Another Best Documentary Feature winner with a UW tie is the 2008 film Taxi to the Dark Side. The film — which has a rare 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — goes in depth about U.S. interrogation techniques. Among the subjects interviewed is Alfred McCoy, a UW history professor who discusses the history of CIA torture and how it influenced policy during the Bush administration.

There are 138 alumni named Oscar.
We have 19 active Oscars in WAA.
We were only able to find seven alumni with the last name Oscar.

Related News and Stories