A prominent proboscis never blows it for a nominee. In what's more than just a whiff of coincidence, history shows that actors with a nose for parts can raise their Oscar profile

By Steve Wulf
Updated February 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

It begins to protrude just below the eyes and runs a wide swath down to just above the lips, swerving inward at the last instant. It is strong and noble and sculpted — yet unlike any belonging to the actors or actresses who have embraced him.

We’re talking, of course, about Oscar’s nose. It’s the one aspect of the statue that doesn’t come immediately to mind — hey, he’s naked. But as history has shown, the nose can be a feature attraction when it comes to getting an Academy Award nomination.

This year the Academy is recognizing Nicole Kidman, who was nearly unrecognizable in the long, equine nose that Jo Allen and Conor O’Sullivan gave her to look like Virginia Woolf in The Hours. ”It’s a beautiful, seamless, elegant creation,” says Stan Winston, one of the acknowledged masters of the craft of prosthetic makeup. ”And it just goes to show you the power of the nose.”

Oddly enough, as far as we can figure, Kidman is the first actress to earn an Oscar nod while donning a beak not her own. But the roster of actors who received nominations for having their snouts extended, padded, puttied, gelatined, foam-latexed, or otherwise doctored is both long and distinguished. ”It’s easy to see why,” says Winston. ”A new nose helps to take an actor to a place he’s never been before.”

Winston knows noses. He was, after all, the first person to give Michael Jackson a nose job: that little candy cup number in The Wiz (1978). He also turned Rod Steiger into W.C. Fields for a 1976 film. More prominently, Winston helped Maximilian Schell get an Oscar nomination in 1976 by creating the nose that served as the denouement to Robert Shaw’s The Man in the Glass Booth.

Long before Winston went on to bigger and scarier things (The Terminator, Aliens, Jurassic Park), he was an actor himself. ”I know from my own experience the magic of makeup,” he says. ”Almost every actor or actress I’ve known has gotten that gleam of inspiration in the eye as I’ve applied the effects.”

Naturally — or unnaturally — enough, the first Oscar-nominated actor to stick out was Jose Ferrer, whose quintessential portrayal of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac was transferred from stage to screen in 1950. When he first appears, we see the soles of his feet propped up on the theater balcony. Then they part and we marvel at the (let’s be honest) phallic schnozz of the poet/ swordsman. It was a wonderful creation, and it helped Ferrer win the Best Actor Oscar by a nose over such stalwarts as James Stewart (Harvey), Spencer Tracy (Father of the Bride), and William Holden (Sunset Boulevard).

As it happened, Ferrer accepted the award not in Hollywood but via a live feed from a birthday party for Gloria Swanson at New York’s La Zambra restaurant. ”I consider it a vote of confidence and an act of faith,” said Ferrer, ”and believe me, I’ll not let you down.” The subtext to his thank-you was a recent subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee; Ferrer vehemently denied any association with the Communist Party. Born in Puerto Rico and educated at Princeton, he had a prolific career as an actor, director, and husband — Uta Hagen was his first wife, Rosemary Clooney his third. But the Oscar was both a blessing and a curse: He never quite got out of the shadow of Cyrano’s proboscis.