Friday, December 28, 2007

13th Academy Award

The 13th Academy Awards honored American film achievements in 1940. This was the first year that sealed envelopes were used to keep secret the names of the winners which led to the famous phrase: "May I have the Envelope, please." The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse was hired to count the ballots, after the fiasco of leaked voting results in 1939 by the Los Angeles Times. A new category was added this year for Best Original Screenplay. Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a six minute direct radio address to the attendees from the White House. It is the first time an American president participates in the event.

Independent producer David O. Selznick, who had produced the previous year's big winner Gone with the Wind (1939), also produced the Best Picture winner in 1940 - and campaigned heavily for its win. Selznick was the first to produce two consecutive winners of the Best Picture Oscar. Rebecca was based on Daphne du Maurier's popular novel about a shrinking, child-like bride (Joan Fontaine) who lives in the shadow of her enigmatic widower husband's (Laurence Olivier) first wife at a somber estate named Manderley (run by a mad, steely-eyed and devoted housekeeper (Judith Anderson). Although Rebecca had eleven nominations, it only won for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, Black and White. The film's studio - United Artists - was the last of the original film studios (the others were MGM, Columbia, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Universal, and Paramount) to win the Best Picture Oscar. Rebecca was the first American-made film directed by British suspense master Alfred Hitchcock.

The Best Actor award went to James Stewart for The Philadelphia story. Jimmy Stewart as he was known, was an iconic, American film and stage actor, best known for his self-effacing screen persona. Over the course of his career, he starred in many films widely considered classics and was nominated for five Oscars, winning one in competition and one life achievement. He also had a noted military career, rising to the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force.Stewart's career gained momentum after his well-received Frank Capra films, including his Academy Award nominated role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Throughout his seven decades in Hollywood, Stewart cultivated a versatile career and recognized screen image in such classics as The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, It's a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Rope, and Vertigo. Stewart left his mark on a wide range of film genres, including screwball comedies, westerns, biographies, suspense thrillers, and family films. He worked for a number of renowned directors later in his career, most notably Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Billy Wilder and Anthony Mann. He won many of the industry's highest honors and earned Lifetime Achievement awards from every major film organization. He died in 1997, leaving behind a legacy of classic performances, and is considered one of the finest actors of the "Golden Age of Hollywood." He was named the third Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute. In 1938, Stewart had a brief, tumultuous, and well-publicized affair with Hollywood queen Norma Shearer whose husband Irving Thalberg, head of production at MGM, had died two years earlier. Stewart began a successful partnership with director Frank Capra in 1938, when he was loaned out to Columbia Pictures to star in You Can't Take It With You. Frank Capra had been impressed by Stewart’s minor role in Navy Blue and Gold (1937). The director had recently completed several popular movies including It Happened One Night and was looking for the right type of actor to suit his needs—which other recent actors in his films such as Clark Gable, Ronald Colman, and Gary Cooper did not quite fit. Not only was Stewart just what he was looking for, but Capra also found Stewart understood that prototype intuitively and required very little directing. The following year saw Stewart team with Capra and Arthur again for the political comedy-drama, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart replaced intended star Gary Cooper in the film about an idealistic man thrown into the political arena. Upon the film's October release, it garnered critical praise and became a box office success. For his performance, Stewart was nominated for the first of five Academy Awards for Best Actor.Even after this great success, Stewart’s parents were still trying to talk him into leaving Hollywood and its sinful ways, and to return to his home town to lead a decent life. Instead, he took a secret trip to Europe to take a break, and returned home just as Germany invaded Poland. Stewart also starred opposite Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in George Cukor's classic The Philadelphia Story (1940). His performance as an intrusive, fast-talking reporter earned him his only Academy Award in a competitive category (Best Actor, 1941), and he beat out his good friend Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath). Stewart thought his performance “entertaining and slick and smooth” but lacking the “guts” of "Mr. Smith". Stewart gave the Oscar statuette to his father, who displayed it in the window of his hardware store for many years, along side other family awards and military medals. Stewart was drafted in late 1940 and it coincided with the lapse in his MGM contract, marking a turning point in Stewart's career, with twenty-eight movies to his credit so far. Upon Stewart's return to Hollywood in fall 1945, he decided not to renew his MGM contract. He signed with an MCA talent agency. His former agent Leland Hayward got out of the talent business in 1944 after selling his A-list of stars, including Stewart, to MCA. The move made Stewart one of the first independently contracted actors, and gave him more freedom to choose the roles he wished to play. For the remainder of his career, Stewart was able to work without limits to director and studio availability. For his first film in five years, Stewart appeared in his third and final Frank Capra production, It's a Wonderful Life as George Bailey, a small-town man and upstanding citizen, who becomes increasingly frustrated by his ordinary existence and financial troubles. Driven to suicide on Christmas Eve, he is led to reassess his life by Clarence Odbody AS2, an "angel, second class," played by Henry Travers. Although the film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Stewart's third Best Actor nomination, it received mixed reviews and only moderate success at the box office, possibly due to its dark nature. However, in the decades since the film's release, it grew to define Stewart's film persona and is widely considered as a sentimental Christmas film classic and, according to the American Film Institute, one of the best movies ever made. Stewart decided to return to the stage for the Mary Chase-penned comedy, Harvey, which had opened to nearly universal praise in November 1944. Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist and Stewart's character, is a wealthy eccentric, whose best friend is an invisible rabbit, living with his sister and niece. His eccentricity, especially the friendship with the rabbit, is ruining the niece's hopes of finding a husband. While trying to have Dowd committed to a sanitorium, his sister is committed herself while the play follows Dowd on an ordinary day in his not-so-ordinary life. James Stewart took over the role from Frank Fay and gained an increased Broadway following in the unconventional play. The play, which ran for nearly three years with Stewart as its star, was successfully adapted into a 1950 film, directed by Henry Koster, with Stewart playing Dowd and Josephine Hull as his sister, Veta. Bing Crosby was the first choice for the movie but he declined. For his performance in the film, Stewart received his fourth Best Actor nomination. During the 1950s, he took on more challenging roles and expanded into the western and suspense genres, thanks largely to collaborations with directors Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock. Other notable performances by Stewart during this time include the critically acclaimed 1950 Delmer Daves western Broken Arrow, which featured Stewart as an ex-soldier making peace with the Apache; a troubled clown in the 1952 Best Picture The Greatest Show on Earth; and Stewart's role as Charles Lindbergh in Billy Wilder's 1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis. Stewart's first appearance in a film helmed by Mann came with the 1950 western classic, Winchester '73. In choosing Mann (after first choice Fritz Lang declined), Stewart cemented a powerful partnership.mOther Stewart-Mann westerns, such as Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955) were perennial favorites among young audiences entranced by the American West. Frequently, the films featured Stewart as a troubled cowboy seeking redemption, while facing corrupt cattlemen, ranchers and outlaws—a man who knows violence first hand and struggles to control it. Their collaborations laid the foundation for many of the westerns of the 1950s and remain popular today for their grittier, more realistic depiction of the classic movie genre. Stewart's starring role in Winchester '73 was also a turning point in Hollywood. Universal Studios, who wanted Stewart to appear in both that film and Harvey, balked at his $200,000 asking price. Stewart's agent, Lew Wasserman, brokered an alternate deal, in which Stewart would appear in both films for no pay, in exchange for a percentage of the profits and cast and director approval. Hollywood's other stars quickly capitalized on this new way of doing business, which further undermined the decaying "studio system." The second collaboration to define Stewart's career in the 1950s was with acclaimed mystery and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock. Like Mann, Hitchcock uncovered new depths to Stewart’s acting, showing a protagonist confronting his fears and his repressed desires. Stewart's first movie with Hitchcock was the technologically innovative 1948 film Rope, shot in long “real time” takes. The two collaborated for the second of four times on the 1954 hit Rear Window, one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces. Stewart portrays photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries, loosely based on Life photographer Robert Capa, who projects his fantasies and fears onto the people he observes out his apartment window while on hiatus due to a broken leg. Jeffries gets into more than he can handle, however, when he believes he has witnessed a salesman (Raymond Burr) commit a murder, and when his glamorous girlfriend (Grace Kelly), at first disdainful of his voyeurism and skeptical about any crime, eventually is drawn in and tries to help solve the mystery. Limited by his wheelchair, Stewart is masterfully forced by Hitchcock to react to what his character sees with mostly facial responses. It was a landmark year for Stewart, becoming the highest grossing actor of 1954, and the most popular Hollywood star in the world, displacing John Wayne. After starring in Hitchcock's remake of the director's own production, The Man Who Knew Too Much, with co-star Doris Day, Stewart starred in what many consider Hitchcock's most personal film, Vertigo. The film starred Stewart as “Scottie”, a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing. Scottie's obsession inevitably leads to the destruction of everything he once had and believed in. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, and the pairing with Kim Novak one of the screen’s most perfect, ‘’Vertigo’’ met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock. Stewart was also disappointed. The director blamed the film's failure on Stewart looking too old to still attract audiences, and replaced him with Cary Grant for North by Northwest (1959). In reality, Grant was actually four years older than Stewart. In 1960, James Stewart was awarded the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and nominated for his fifth and final Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the 1959 Otto Preminger film Anatomy of a Murder. The early courtroom drama starred Stewart as Paul Biegler, the lawyer of a hot-tempered soldier Ben Gazzara who claims temporary insanity after murdering a tavern owner who raped his sexy wife Lee Remick. The film featured a career-making performance by George C. Scott as the prosecutor. The film was sexually frank for its time (some thought it sordid), and its provocative promotional campaign helped gain it box office success, though Ben-Hur outgrossed all movies by a huge margin and swept the Academy Awards that year. In the early 1960s Stewart took leading roles in three John Ford films, his first with the acclaimed director. Despite his high anticipation for the pairing, the first Ford film, Two Rode Together was a sub-par effort from the director and a disappointing vehicle for Stewart, whose performance was criticized as over the top. The next 1962's twist-ending The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (with John Wayne), is a classic "psychological" western, with Stewart featured as an Eastern attorney who goes against his nonviolent principles when he is forced to confront a psychopathic outlaw (played by Lee Marvin) in a small frontier town. At story's end, Stewart's character — now a rising political figure — faces a difficult ethical choice as he attempts to reconcile his actions with his personal integrity on the day Liberty Valance was shot. The film's billing is unusual in that Stewart was given top billing over Wayne in the trailers and on the posters but Wayne had top billing in the film itself, a system later repeated by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men. The film garnered so-so reviews (Stewart was seen as being far too old for the young character he played) and faired poorly at the box office, but is now considered a late Ford classic. How the West Was Won and Cheyenne Autumn were western epics released in 1962 and 1964 respectively. While the Cinerama production How the West Was Won went on to win three Oscars and reaped massive box office figures, Cheyenne Autumn, in which a white-suited Stewart played Wyatt Earp in a long sequence in the middle of the movie, failed domestically and was quickly forgotten. The Civil War period film Shenandoah (1965) and the western family film The Rare Breed fared better at the box office; the Civil War movie was a smash hit in the South. Stewart was offered the role of the father in On Golden Pond which went instead to Henry Fonda and earning Stewart’s friend his first Best Actor Oscar, just before his death. Long-time friend Grace Kelly, his favorite female co-star, died shortly afterwards. A few months later, Stewart starred with Bette Davis in Right of Way, which had the distinction of being the first made-for-cable movie. After filming several television movies in the 1980s, including Mr. Krueger's Christmas, James Stewart, still receiving considerable offers to play “grandfather” roles, retired from acting to spend time with his family. He had diversified investments including real estate, oil wells, a charter-plane company and membership on major corporate boards. He became a multimillionaire. Stewart died at the age of 89 on 2 July 1997, at his home in Beverly Hills, of cardiac arrest and a pulmonary embolism following a long illness from respiratory problems. He had also suffered from Alzheimer's disease. His death came just one day after fellow screen legend and The Big Sleep co-star Robert Mitchum had died of lung cancer and emphysema.

The Best Actress award went to Ginger Rogers for her role in Kitty Foyle. Rogers was a film and stage actress and singer. In a film career spanning fifty years she made a total of seventy-three films, and is now principally celebrated for her role as Fred Astaire's romantic interest and dancing partner in a series of ten Hollywood musical films that revolutionized the genre. When she was nine years old, her mother got remarried to a man named John Logan Rogers. Ginger took the name of Rogers, although she was never legally adopted. As a teenager, she thought of teaching school, but with her mother's interest in Hollywood and the theater, her young exposure to the theater increased. Waiting for her mother in the wings of the Majestic Theatre, she began to sing and dance along to the performers on stage.When only 17 she married Jack Culpepper, another dancer on the circuit. The marriage was over within months, and she went back to touring with her mother.Within two weeks of opening in Top Speed she was hired to star on Broadway in Girl Crazy by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Fred Astaire was hired to help the dancers with their choreography, and he briefly dated Rogers. Her appearance in Girl Crazy made her an overnight star at the age of 19. In 1930 she was signed with Paramount Pictures for a seven-year contract. After getting bit parts for singing and dancing for most of 1932, she made her screen breakthrough in the Warner Brothers film 42nd Street (1933). She went on to make a series of films with RKO Radio Pictures and, in the second of those, Flying Down to Rio (1933), she again met up with Fred Astaire. Together, from 1933 to 1939 they made nine musical films at RKO and in so doing, revolutionized the Hollywood musical, introducing dance routines of unprecedented elegance and virtuosity, set to songs specially composed for them by the greatest popular song composers of the day, and performed in some of the most glamorous Art Deco-inspired sets ever seen on film. In 1939 Rogers requested a break from musicals saying "I don't want to make a musical for the next year. Don't get me wrong—I'm not ungrateful for what musicals have accomplished for me. However for the last four years I've been doing the same thing with minor variations." After breaking with Astaire, her first role was opposite David Niven in Bachelor Mother. Ginger Rogers won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in Kitty Foyle. She enjoyed considerable success during the early 1940s, and was RKO's hottest property during this period, however, by the end of this decade her film career was in decline. Arthur Freed reunited her with Fred Astaire for one last time in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) which, while very successful, failed to revive Rogers's flagging career, although she continued to obtain parts throughout the 1950s. In later life, Rogers remained on good terms with Astaire: she presented him with a special Academy Award in 1950, and they teamed up in 1967 as co-presenters of individual Academy AwardsIn 1934, she married her second husband, actor Lew Ayres (1908 – 1996). They separated quickly and were divorced in 1941. In 1943, she married her third husband, Jack Briggs, a Marine. They divorced in 1949. In 1953, Rogers married her fourth husband, lawyer Jacques Bergerac. 16 years her junior, he became an actor and then a cosmetics company executive. They divorced in 1957 and he soon remarried actress Dorothy Malone. In 1961, she married her fifth husband, director and producer William Marshall. They divorced in 1971. Rogers would spend the winters in Rancho Mirage, California, and the summers in Medford, Oregon. Ginger Rogers died on April 25, 1995, of congestive heart failure, at the age of 83, in Rancho Mirage, and was cremated.

The Best Director award went to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath as his second Oscar and the Best Supporting Actor award to Walter Brennan for the third and last time for The Westerner. The Best Supporting Actress went to Jane Darwell, an American theater and film actress. She began her acting career in theater productions in Chicago and made her first film appearance in 1913. After a 15 year absence from films, she resumed her film career in 1930 with a role in Tom Sawyer, and her career as a Hollywood character actress began. Short, stout and plain faced she was quickly cast in a succession of films usually as the mother of one of the major characters.She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as "Ma Joad" in The Grapes of Wrath a role she was given at the insistence of the film's star, Henry Fonda. A contract player with 20th Century Fox, Darwell occasionally starred in "B" movies and played featured parts in scores of major films. By the end of her career she had appeared in more than 170 films, including Huckleberry Finn (1931), Roman Scandals (1933), Once to Every Woman (1934), Little Miss Broadway (1938), Jesse James, The Rains Came, Gone with the Wind (all 1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), My Darling Clementine(1946), Three Godfathers (1948) and Caged (1950). Always popular within the film industry, her final role as the old woman feeding the birds in Mary Poppins was personally given to her by Walt Disney. Darwell died from a heart attack in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 88.

The Best original song award was won by "When You Wish upon a Star" a popular song written by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline and introduced in the 1940 Walt Disney movie Pinocchio, where it is sung by Cliff Edwards in the character of Jiminy Cricket, over the opening credits and again in the final scene of the film.The song became a theme song for the Disney company, used in the opening sequences of Disney anthology television series and in Walt Disney Pictures' opening logos. The ships of the Disney Cruise Line, the Disney Wonder and the Disney Magic, use the iconic first seven notes of this melody as their horn signals.
The American Film Institute ranked it seventh in their 100 Greatest Songs in Film History, the highest ranked Disney song.

The Honorary Awards went to:

Bob Hope - In recognition of his unselfish services to the motion picture industry (special silver plaque).
Nathan Levinson- For his outstanding service to the industry and the Army during the past nine years, which has made possible the present efficient mobilization of the motion picture industry facilities for the production of Army training films.

The awards were hosted by Walter Wanger, an important film producer. He produced his first motion picture in 1929 titled The Cocoanuts directed by Joseph Santley and starring the Marx brothers. His many significant productions include The Sheik (1921), Gabriel Over the White House (1933), Queen Christina (1933), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Stagecoach (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Scarlet Street (1945), Joan of Arc (1948), The Reckless Moment (1949), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I Want to Live! (1958), and Cleopatra (1963). Wanger married silent film actress Justine Johnstone in 1919. They divorced in 1938 and in 1940 he married Joan Bennett with whom he remained married until 1965. Wanger was given an Honorary Academy Award in 1946 for his service as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He refused another honorary Oscar in 1949 for Joan of Arc, out of anger over the fact that the film, which he felt was one of his best, had not been nominated for Best Picture. His 1958 production of I Want to Live! starred Susan Hayward in an anti-capital punishment film that is one of the most highly regarded films on the subject. Hayward won her only Oscar for her role in the film. Walter Wanger died of a heart attack, aged 74, in New York City.

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