Maureen Stapleton received her second* Academy Award nomination playing Inez Guerrero, the worried wife of a disturbed man (Van Heflin) in "Airport". Inez comforts her struggling-businessman husband as he departs for Rome, and anxiously awaits news of the flight as it is revealed that a bomb has exploded in the cabin. Stapleton is so believable as an ordinary working woman and loving wife, masterfully modulating her reactions, as Inez slowly realizes that her husband may be responsible for the disaster. Later, desperate and alone, she earns our sympathy in her final stages of collapse, pleading for forgiveness of the passengers disembarking into the terminal. Stapleton's nomination was doomed from the start. First, she shared the category with her co-star Helen Hayes, which usually results in votes cancelling each other out. Second, in this case, Hayes played a more endearing character,and was herself a popular and sentimental favorite. Even with a strong performance, it would have been nearly impossible for Stapleton to win the category. I think Stapleton gave the best performance of the whole cast of "Airport". It was a relatively brief appearance that nonetheless lent the film a modicum of real emotion, a supporting performance in the best sense.
Sally Kellerman was responsible for some of the most notorious and well-loved classic sequences in "M*A*S*H". Her statuesque embodiment of a sincere military professional, undone by the outrageous antics of a group of irreverent doctors in a Korean War M(obile) A(rmy) S(urgical) H(ospital) unit, is still one of my all-time favorite movie characters. Months before I was finally able to convince my parents to take me to this, my first R-rated film, word-of-mouth spread about the character of Margaret Houlihan, and how she came by her nickname Hot Lips. This is not the cute TV-sitcom Hot Lips, but a full-blooded no-nonsense nurse who is a victim of unmerciful, politically incorrect pranksters driven by equal parts bloodshed and boredom. After a primal and wickedly funny breakdown in Colonel Blake's tent, she comes around to the madness, chucks her hypocrisy, leads a football cheerleading squad, and connects in a tender way with her fellow surgeons. No longer a "regular Army clown", she proudly bears her nickname in the spirit of blessed insanity. Kellerman perfectly balances a self-righteous smirk with a healthy and explosive sexuality, and delivers her lines with a throaty, sensual strength. I suppose if I had a ballot I would have voted here, for the sheer pleasure this role gave me in my overall love for this film.
But then, there is Karen Black's terrific portrayal of Rayette, the working-class waitress-girlfriend of Jack Nicholson in one of 1970's very best films, "Five Easy Pieces". Black was an interesting presence in the cutting-edge and quirky films of the 1970's, and "Five Easy Pieces" was a perfect showcase for her unique talents. She would go on to do interesting work in unusual films like "Day of the Locust" and "Nashville". After the debacle that was "Airport 1975", her star fell a little, and with few exceptions, it never again shone as brightly. Her Rayette was a woman of simple pleasures, unsophisticated and good-hearted, with an almost childish demand for love from her brooding partner Bobby, (a triumphant role for Jack Nicholson). It's soon apparent that Bobby has surprising layers of complexity, and may regard Rayette as a symbol of his rejection of a privileged upbringing. Black knows this character perfectly, and loves her. She understands the wounds that manifest themselves in annoying behavior, and the deep need to be good to her lover. Her best scene occurs when Rayette crashes Bobby's childhood home and shakes up the pseudo-intellectuals gathered there. In this category, Black would be Kellerman's most serious competitor. My heart would go with Hot Lips, but my vote might go to Rayette.