The Oscar’s: Ego’s “R” Us

With all the usual hype and build-up to the 85th Oscar Academy Awards, I suddenly realised that, unlike the ceremonies that I watched growing up, I did not care at all about the upcoming event.

I used to love the Oscar ceremony. The Academy Awards with all its pomp and circumstance kept me glued to the telly for the entire show. I saw my first “streaker” on the Academy Awards and learned that David Niven really was that funny when he quipped, “Now that chap will only ever be known as the fellow who showed the world his shortcomings on national television.”

When I used to watch, Bob Hope was the eternal master of ceremonies and each year a wealth of jokes about his being passed over for the little golden man were trotted out for the audience’s enjoyment. There were some great moments in the “old days” of the show.

I saw John Wayne moved to tears when he got the nod for True Grit. I saw a very young Henry Winkler telling the world about how excited he was and how star-struck he felt. I watched Clint Eastwood forced to “stand-in” for Charlton Heston; fumbling along until Moses showed up and took over. I also watched Sally Fields exclaim (in a statement that has had the eternal mickey taken out of it ever since) “You like me, you really like me!”

I watched Sir Richard Attenborough give his thank you speech where he talked for what seemed like hours. I also saw the resultant microphone cut-off that the producers of the show introduced after his mammoth acceptance speech. I saw  Elizabeth Taylor get flustered when the above mentioned streaker dashed across the stage (or should I say flashed) during her relay of that category’s nominees.

Mega-Star Taylor creasing up at the streaker. Later she couldn’t concentrate on the auto-cue.

I used to go and get a snack and use the bathroom when the live Broadway show of the moment came on and the other live acts that turned the Awards ceremony into a “variety show” came on. But I loved the awarding of the lifetime achievement awards.

I loved everything about the show, even its awkward (if I chose to watch them) live acts; even when Bob Hope ceased to be the master of ceremonies and was replaced by, among others, Billy Crystal.

Then I got older and began to notice things that I’d missed before.

I realised that actors “got the gong” for films that just were not that great. Other actors never got nominated for outstanding performances or never won when they did get nominated. Films won best picture that were not the best picture by any means. Horror films, screwball comedies, science fiction and a few other film genres were never acknowledged by the Academy’s committee.  Steven Spielberg had to make Schindlers List to finally get the bald golden chap.

Films with “a message” always beat out films that were just damned good entertainment. Your chances of nomination went up with how popular you were. But most obvious were the winners who should have won the year before for an outstanding performance, film, score, et al; who were then nominated for and won the year after for a performance that was nowhere near as impressive. Guilt awarding, I call it.

The other type of award was the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award (which as I said I used to love) these were usually handed out to someone who had been snubbed by the committee for the entire length of their career. Usually trotted hurriedly out when it appeared that the recipient was about to die or, if the timing was off, just after they had died.

I began to realise that the Oscars were not about merit or excellence. It was about egos and agents and publicity and managers who could splurge for the biggest campaigns for their clients. It was a popularity contest. If your peers liked you and, more importantly, liked your political stance you were almost a shoo in.

Liberals were the fair-haired children of the business and right-wing “hawks” were not. Unless you were NRA hawk Charlton ‘Chuck’ Heston whom Hollywood has always equated with God. After all Charlton played Moses for Christ’s sake, you can’t mess with Him.

Moses, I mean, Charlton Heston.

I think the honest humour that used to be present in the ceremonies has disappeared. They all seem to take themselves entirely too seriously. Maybe it’s because the “funny men” have changed or stopped caring. When the actor Chills Wills took out an entire page in Variety to plead his cause for winning the Oscar the ad said:

 “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at the Alamo for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.” “Cousin Chill’s acting was great,” he wrote, signing, Your Alamo cousin.” Another ad read: “Win, lose, or draw. You’re still my cousins and I love you all.”

Comedian Groucho Marx, wrote back: “Dear Mr. Wills. I am delighted to be your cousin. But I voted for Sal Mineo. *courtesy of http://www.emanuellevy.com*

Admittedly a somewhat “tasteless” lapse of judgement on Wills’ part, but a damned funny response from Groucho; but the Oscars have grown up and become more cynical, more about the money and the highbrow idea that these people are more than just talented performers, they are royalty and way above mortal men.

When I became older and more cynical, I began to realize that, just as they don’t make actors like they used to, the business itself has changed. Oh not the money bit, it has always been about the money, but the overtly political overtones have become unwatchable.

The cut-off microphone isn’t the only control that has been placed on the show; they also limited the amount of time that acceptance speeches could last. The televised proceedings have been shortened to show what “they” deem important. Lesser categories (foreign films, documentaries, et al) are not shown at all, except in a quick “credit” recap at the end of the show…if you are lucky.

For me, the magic has gone from the event. They might as well change the name to Ego’s “R” Us. It is all about who has the biggest ego and pocket-book to match. It stopped being about talent and the virtue of a single outstanding shining moment, if indeed it ever was about that to begin with.

The laughter of the audience (filled with the crème de la crème of Hollywood) looks forced and the comedic “in-jokes” have lost their ability to be really funny. When the event becomes more about who has been chosen to be the master of ceremonies; or who is wearing what on the red carpet, and less about the films and actors who have been nominated, it’s time to stop watching.

I’ll just wait to read the list on the internet of who won and who didn’t. Because I don’t believe in the integrity of the award any longer and cannot be bothered to see egos catered to and the audience talked down to. I also don’t want to be overwhelmed by the Botox brigade of new surgically enhanced actors who believe that the secret to a great performance is having the least amount of facial movement possible and big boobs, or a six-pack.

If you watch the show, enjoy it if you can. I’ll probably be watching a film instead; preferably one with the Duke in it.

The Duke’s acceptance speech.

Actors

When I was a boy I had a list of actors about as long as my arm that I wanted to meet. There was also a shorter list of actors I actually would have done anything to work with. I have had a long love affair with Theatre, Film and to a slightly lesser degree television. Ever since I came to the momentous conclusion that I wanted to be an actor, I have been in awe and enamoured of any actor whose performances move me.

Top of the list of “meet-a-bles” was The Duke. John Wayne was, to me anyway, the master of reacting. He also had a knack (one that was enhanced by his “script doctor”) of speaking in very natural tones, but with that Duke cadence that will be forever remembered.

Dean Martin ran a close second. Again, mainly because of the almost lackadaisical way he had of delivering his dialogue. I am talking about his better films here. His method of delivery was so natural, it was as though he had not memorised dialogue, but made it up as he went along.

Richard Burton, with that beautiful voice, enthralled me literally from the first second I heard him speak. I wanted more than anything to see him in Camelot. When I think of actors his name is always first on the list, closely followed by Lawrence Olivier, Richard Harris, Sean Connery and Michael Caine. All actors I so intensely admired and would have given anything to have worked with.

And who could forget the man with the sing-song, musical voice Peter O’Toole. This long lanky actor was also in the league of Oliver and Connery and Burton and Caine. Mr O’Toole announce today that he is retiring from acting. Another legend gone. The world has lost a great actor, not through death, but from age.

There was only one actress that fell into both categories and that was Elizabeth Taylor. My high school drama teacher had worked with her and she swore that they were the same age until suddenly Ms Taylor started getting younger each year. I don’t know about that, but I do know that Pat Collier still thought very highly of Ms Taylor and would sing her praises monthly.

I actually saw Sean Connery in a Holiday Inn restaurant/bar in Alamogordo New Mexico in 1981. He walked within a foot of my and a friends table. Even out of make-up and sans toupee he commanded the room. I was so shocked by his appearance in this out of the way place,  that I was practically speechless. I found out later that he was making a film with Katherine Ross and Robert Conradat the White Sands National Park.

Of course most of the actors I wanted to meet are all gone. They are treading the boards on some other plain of existence or they have “semi” retired. Of course I never really got into the business enough to insure I met anyone. I have met and auditioned for Jonathan Demme. The year was 1976 and the film was Fighting Mad with Peter Fonda.

I got the part, after a very patient Jonathan kept making me re-read it. He kept reminding me that I wasn’t on a stage so I had to tone down my performance. I left thinking I had blown it. It was a good part too. I was going to be saved by Peter Fonda’s character at the beginning of the film. I got the phone call two weeks later and went in to sign the contract with my dad.

Alas, I never got to work on that film. Due to money problems, the company (Palo Alto Productions) started cutting costs where they could and got a young stuntman to do my scene – presumably cheaper than if I had done it. I found this out from a friend of mine who was a Gopher on the film.

I have since worked on small things here and there. Life, love and the support of first one family and then another sort of side tracked me from my “artistic pursuit.” I am slowly and hesitantly backing into my first love. Writing. Before I had decided in my youth to tread the boards, being a writer was my big dream.

Sean Connery at the 2008 Edinburgh Internation...
Sean Connery at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe one day, if I actually get my ageing butt in gear and start looking for it, I will get work acting again. But until that time, I’ll write my blogs and try to stretch my literary muscles in preparation to write the next great American or English novel.