Everybody knows George C. Scott was the first actor to refuse an Oscar, but not many people know that screenwriter Dudley Nichols was the very first person to do so. Not only that, but he was also one of the most prolific and well-regarded story crafters of the 1930s and 40s.
Born in 1895 in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Nichols started his career as a reporter and feature writer for the New York Evening Post and the New York World, before moving to Hollywood in 1929. The following year, he co-wrote Men Without Women (1930), the first of many collaborations with director John Ford. After a string of Pre-Codes, dramas and comedies, including A Connecticut Yankee (1931), She Wanted a Millionaire (1932) and The Lost Patrol (1934), he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for The Informer (1935), which he turned down, becoming the first person to do so. As a member, and later President, of the Screen Writers Guild, formed in 1933, his refusal was part of a boycott of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which the Guild felt was a ‘company union’, and part of the oppressive Hollywood studio system. In 1938, after a long dispute, the Screen Writers Guild was finally recognized as the sole representative of screenwriters, and Nichols accepted his Oscar at last. After this, he went on to write such movies as Bringing up Baby (1938), Stagecoach (1939), Scarlet Street (1945), and The Bells of St Mary’s (1945), among others and he received three more Oscar nominations for The Long Voyage Home (1940), Air Force (1943) and The Tin Star (1957). He also wrote the screenplays for the only three films he directed, Government Girl (1943), Sister Kenny (1946) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) – Rosalind Russell was Oscar-nominated for the last two.
Dudley Nichols received the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America, before passing away in Los Angeles in 1960.