In 1999, the Motion Picture Academy voted to give director/writer/novelist/ratfink Elia Kazan an honorary Oscar for his lifetime's work. Hell hath no fury like righteous Hollywood prigs, however, and mayhem ensued. Kazan's testimony for the HUAC in the early 1950s (in which he named names of his former Communist Party 'cellmates') was still fresh in the minds of much of the older Hollywood crowd (most notably screenwriter Abraham Polonsky) and protests began immediately, with many asking the Academy to rescind the honor. They didn't. Accompanied onstage by Robert De Niro and Martin Scorcese, the ninety-year old Kazan endured a combination of a standing ovation and overt snubs by members who refused to stand or even applaud. Most righteous among them are Ed Harris and Nick Nolte, neither of whom worked with him or were old enough at the time of the HUAC hearings to know what the fuss was about and both of whom would most likely not have become actors if not for Brando and 'On The Waterfront.' Kazan's speech is simple, not at all political and ends on a very poignant note: 'I think I can slip away', says the old director, well aware of the sentiments--earned and unearned--of so many in the audience. Above I've posted the speech as well as a very good little ten minute doc on the whole messy controversy.

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Above are two of Katherine Hepburn's no-shows for her Oscar wins (there were four). The first is for 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner'--the award is accepted by her long-time director, pal and landlord George Cukor. It's not nearly as interesting an event as the second clip, though. In this one, Kate actually ties for best actress with Barbara Streisand (Kate for 'The Lion In Winter', Babs for 'Funny Girl'). Imagine if Kate had been present? The idea of the two Diva's sharing the stage--the unbearable friction, the awkward moment where the decision is made as to who goes first and, more importantly, who gets the last word--would have made for a truly delightful moment of Oscar discomfort, probably only to be superseded by the "Best Picture is 'La-La Land'--er, no it's not, it's 'Moonlight'" moment last year. As it is, though, we do have a nice moment of Babs tripping and almost going on her ass on the way up the stairs due to the flouncy cuffs of her absurd spangled pantsuit. Anthony Harvey, the director of "The Lion In Winter' bails her out and graciously accepts Hepburn's award first. Streisand's acceptance speech is interminable and embarrassing and no doubt was a big factor in the Academy developing the 'get off the stage' music which they use to great effect--and not often enough IMHO. Hepburn's nonappearance actually has the peculiar reverse effect of dampening Streisand's win--the cool of Hepburn's absence being superior and more knowing then the high school eagerness in Streisand's over-dramatic acceptance speech. And the whole time you keep thinking: you didn't even win. You tied.

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Meet Robert Opel, the most famous man ever on the Oscars telecast whose name you don't know. Opel was the streaker who ran naked ('streaked') behind emcee David Niven at the 1974 Oscars. Streaking was a fad at that time and the producer of the Oscars, Jack Haley Jr., clearly had this in mind when he arranged this little stunt. What makes me so sure it's a stunt? Well, look at how well timed his ignominious moment is and how excellent Niven's retort is. Nobody, not even a clever Englishman with a little moustache, could have ad-libbed that 'shortcomings' line. (I'll leave the entire quote out, thus forcing you to watch the two-minute clip). And how did Opel get backstage in the first place? And what did he do with his clothes? And why is Liz Taylor wearing that hideous yellow dress? Ah, don't try to fool me, Oscar. You'll get nowhere--but quick!

Opel was a photographer and something of a renegade--click here for the obligatory Wikipedia bio--who, unfortunately, only lived another five years after this moment of Oscar glory. He was murdered in his apartment in San Francisco, a victim of a robbery gone awry. Or was it something more complex? A subject for further research...

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"If there was a winner it was the people who voted for me." So said Glenda Jackson recently by way of explaining why she was a no-show for her two Oscar wins, for 'A Touch Of Class' and 'Women In Love'. It's an interesting comment. At first it might be mistaken for the customary 'I couldn't have done it without youse' show-biz bromide. But in fact what she seems to be saying is that good sense prevailed and the Academy voters were tasteful and correct in their assessment of her performance being 'better' than Marsha Masons or Barbara Streisand or the other nominees for Best Actress at the 1974 Oscars. No matter. She still blew off the ceremony. Good for her.

 If you scroll down you'll see that I've been posting  Oscar blow-offs and this one's pretty good. The general air in the audience when it becomes known that Ms. Jackson is AWOL is an uneasy one at best; Streisand stares off away from camera (already divining defeat?) and Marsha Mason looks profoundly uncomfortable. The presenters are Susan Hayward and Charlton Heston and the award is accepted by the co-writer, producer and director of 'A Touch Of Class' Melvin Frank. As always with these moments, it's neither pleasant nor necessary. Frank tries to make a joke about how Ms. Jackson would surely thank the director, producer and co-writer...and nobody laughs. He gets off stage with a modicum of decorum (or should that be decorum of modicum?) and the evening stumbles onward...

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George C. Scott won the 1969 Best Actor Oscar for portraying General George S. Patton in the still wildly entertaining and watchable (largely because of his performance) 'Patton.' But did this mean anything special to George C.? Apparently not. He was always hypercritical of awards, feeling that they did a disservice to actors by pitting them against each other. Good for him! I'm in total agreement and, having had the dubious distinction of having lost an Oscar for my first film, have always felt that the final five nominations (or ten, or whatever they do now) should be the award--you're in a group of elite achievers that a body of professionals have voted to honor. Enough already with picking the 'best' one. As a voting member of the Academy I can assure you that the final selection process is a dubious one at best.

Unlike Brando (see yesterdays post), George C. didn't send anyone up on stage to make an announcement about why he was refusing the Oscar. Indeed, nobody watching at the time knew that he was actually refusing it--just that he wasn't there to accept it. Instead, 'Patton's' producer Gen. Frank McCarthy (now there's an interesting man--distinguished military man, movie producer and more or less openly gay at a time when that was unusual...I'll have to write about him sometime)...where was I? Ah, yes, McCarthy accepted the award on Scott's behalf and thanked the distinguished body of members for honoring such a great artist blah blah blah. The fun here isn't watching the event (as with Sacheen Littlefeather) but rather in watching the non-event. Poor McCarthy puts on a good face but he really is eating a bowl of it and you can't help but feel for the position he was in.

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