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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar is 80

This piece of mine appears in The Daily Express.

Today, very few people remember the film stars Emil Jannings and Janet Gaynor.

But the duo will always hold an important place in film history, as they were the winners of the very first Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927, but it was not until the following year that the idea came for recognising merit in the film industry. Studios were invited to submit lists of films released between 1st August 1927- 31st July 1928 in 12 categories, the winners decided by a team of judges.

And it was on the 18th February 1929, exactly 80 years ago this week, that the very first results were announced.

The inaugural Awards ceremony, held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood, was a far cry from the much-hyped, multi-million dollar Oscar ceremonies of today. Just 250 people attended, at a cost of $5 each, with the event hosted by film star Douglas Fairbanks and director William C. De Mille (elder brother of Cecil B). It didn’t take long, however, for the Awards to gain in prestige.

From the beginning the winners were awarded a gold-plated statuette. But the trophies didn’t officially get the name of Oscars until 1939; the origin of the name is thought to derive from Margaret Herrick, the wife of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, who reportedly said that the statuette reminded her of her Uncle Oscar.

In 1941 the Academy adopted the famous sealed-envelope system of announcing the winners, after the Los Angeles Times had broken the embargo by revealing the results in its evening edition on the day of the awards.

The early Academy Awards ceremonies were broadcast live on radio, but in 1953 they were televised live for the first time. In 1970, an estimated 43 per cent of households in America watched the ceremony live- an all-time record. Today, though there are many other film awards, the Academy Awards remain the most important. “In the myth of cinema, the Oscar is the supreme prize,” said Italian director Federico Fellini.

As the film industry’s most illustrious names gather for the 81st Academy Awards ceremony, to be held in the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, on Sunday, here are some interesting facts you may or may not know about the most famous awards in the world.

Three films have won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur (1959); Titanic (1998) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Katherine Hepburn is the most successful actress, winning four Best Actress Oscars; while eight actors have won two Best Actor Oscars, among them Daniel Day- Lewis, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy, the only man to win the Best Actor award two years running.

Some of the famous names who failed to win an Oscar in their careers include Richard Burton (seven nominations), Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Judy Garland.
Director Alfred Hitchcock was nominated five times, but failed to win while British actress Deborah Kerr was nominated six times. The record for most unsuccessful nominations is British actor Peter O’Toole, eight times a loser.

The oldest person to win an Oscar was Jessica Tandy, who won Best Actress Award in 1990 at the age of 80 for her role in Driving Miss Daisy. The youngest Oscar winner was Shirley Temple, who won a Special Award for Outstanding Contribution in 1934 at the age of six.

While winning an Oscar is the greatest ambition of most in the film industry, two actors have refused the award. George C. Scott, who earlier had declined a nomination for his role in The Hustler, declined the 1970 Best Actor award for his role in Patton saying “The whole thing is a goddam meat parade. I want none of it”. In 1973, Marlon Brando turned down his Best Actor Award for his role in ‘The Godfather’ in protest against the depiction of American Indians by the film industry.

Although director John Ford, a four-times Oscar winner, never turned down an award, he didn’t make attending the awards ceremony his greatest priority. “I didn’t show up at the ceremony to collect my Oscars. Once I went fishing, another time there was a war on, and on another occasion, I was suddenly taken drunk”.

The first British actor to win an Oscar was George Arliss, who won Best Actor in 1930 for his role in Disraeli. The first British actress to win was Vivien Leigh (pictured above) for her portrayal of Scarlett O’ Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Leigh won her second Best Actress Award playing another Southern belle, Blanche Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1952. The most successful Oscar-winning British film is Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, which won 8 awards in 1983.

Claudette Colbert, convinced she had no chance of winning, was boarding a train for New York when her name was announced as the winner of the Best Actress award in 1935. She was whisked back to receive her award, then went back to the train, which had been held for her return.

“I didn’t think I was that good. I don’t have a speech, I’m too incoherent”
Thomas Mitchell, on winning the Best Supporting Actor award in 1940.

“I am the King of the world”.
James Cameron, on winning the Best Director award in 1998.
“I deserve this”.
Shirley MacLaine, on winning the Best Actress Oscar in 1984.

Cuba Gooding Jnr said “I love you” fourteen times after winning the Best Supporting Actor award in 1996, while in 1985 a hysterical Sally Field screamed “I can‘t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you really like me“.

"In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it – the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it – must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow."
Laurence Olivier, on winning an Honorary Oscar, in 1979.

Eric Von Stroheim threatened to sue Paramount after they nominated him as ‘Best Supporting Actor’ and not ‘Best Actor’ for his role in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.

Ann Baxter and Bette Davis, stars of All About Eve, were both nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1950, the only time two women from the same film ever competed against each other for the award. Neither won. Shortly before her death, Baxter admitted she should have campaigned for a Best Supporting Actress award so that Davis might have won her third Oscar. On hearing this, Davis said “Yes, she should have”.

The Academy Awards have been postponed three times. The 1938 ceremony was postponed for a week due to severe flooding in Los Angeles. The 1968 ceremony was postponed for two days out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King whose funeral was to be held on the same day. The 1981 ceremony were postponed for a day due to the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Since 1950, there has been a legal requirement that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US$1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, the Academy keeps the statuette. When Oscar winner Michael Todd’s grandson tried to sell Todd's statuette to a collector, the Academy won the legal battle by getting a permanent injunction.


olching said...

Well if Kate Winslet wins anything this year, then she might top two categories at once: Most embarrassing and most pretentious acceptance speech.

Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

Should any of the winning films go onto the AFI top 100 list? If so, what should go off, and why?

Madam Miaow said...

Great post, Neil. Fascinating, captain.

" I was suddenly taken drunk”.

LOL! They were geniuses in them days.