Saturday, December 29, 2007

14th Academy Awards

The 14th Academy Awards, held on February 26th 1942 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, may be most famous as the year Citizen Kane did not win Best Picture. John Ford won his third Oscar for Directing Best Picture of the year How Green Was My Valley, the story of Welsh coalminers in changing times. Indeed, Orson Welles was booed when he picked up Kane’s only Oscar for the night, for Original Screenplay.The event is nearly canceled following the Pearl Harbor attack. Academy president Bette Davis suggests moving the event to an auditorium and allowing the public to buy tickets benefiting the Red Cross. Instead it is decided to tone down the event, as a 'dinner' rather than a banquet, including a ban on formal wear.

How Green Was My Valley stars Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five and beating out such classics as The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane for Best Picture. The film tells the story of the Morgans, a close, hard-working Welsh family at the turn of the twentieth century. It chronicles a socio-economic way of life passing and the family unit disintegrating. In 1990, How Green Was My Valley was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

The Best Actor award went to Gary Cooper for Sergeant York. Cooper's career spanned from the 1920s until the year of his death, and saw him make one hundred films. He was renowned for his quiet, understated acting style and his stoic, individualistic, emotionally restrained, but at times intense screen persona, which was particularly well suited for the many Westerns he made. Cooper received five Oscar nominations for Best Actor, winning twice. He also received an Honorary Award from the Academy in 1961. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Cooper among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking at No. 11.He became a major star with his first sound picture, The Virginian, in 1929. The lead in the screen adaptation of A Farewell to Arms (1932) and the title role in 1936's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town furthered his box office appeal. Cooper was producer David O. Selznick's first choice for the role of Rhett Butler in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind. When Cooper turned down the role, he was passionately against it. He is quoted as saying, "Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me". Alfred Hitchcock wanted him to star in Foreign Corresponden (1940) and Saboteur (1942). Cooper later admitted he had made a "mistake" in turning down the director.In 1942, he won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as the title character in Sergeant York. Alvin York refused to authorize a movie about his life unless Gary Cooper portrayed him. In 1953, Cooper won his second Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon, considered his finest role. Ill with an ulcer, he wasn't present to receive his Academy Award in February 1953. He asked John Wayne to accept it on his behalf, a bit of irony in light of Wayne's stated distaste for the film. Cooper continued to appear in films almost to the end of his life. Among his later box office hits was his portrayal of a Quaker farmer during the Civil War in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion in 1956. His final motion picture was a British film, The Naked Edge (1961), directed by Michael Anderson. Among his final projects was serving as narrator for an NBC documentary, The Real West, in which he helped clear up myths about famous Western figures. On December 15, 1933, Cooper wed Veronica Balfe, (May 27, 1913 - February 16, 2000). Balfe was a New York Roman Catholic socialite who had briefly acted under the name of Sandra Shaw. She appeared in the film No Other Woman, but her most widely seen role was in King Kong, as the woman dropped by Kong. Her third and final movie was Blood Money. Her father was governor of the New York Stock Exchange, and her uncle was Cedric Gibbons. During the 1930s she also became the California state women's Skeet Champion. They had one child, Maria, now Maria Cooper Janis, married to classical pianist Byron Janis. Cooper separated from his wife between 1951 and 1954. He was friends with Ernest Hemingway, and spent many vacations with the writer in the winter wonderland of Sun Valley, Idaho. In 1961, Cooper died of prostate cancer six days after his 60th birthday. He had undergone surgery for the cancer which had spread to his colon in the previous year, but as there were no means of monitoring the progress of cancer in those days it then spread to his lungs and then, most painfully, to his bones. Cooper was too ill to attend the Academy Awards ceremony in April 1961, so his close friend James Stewart accepted the honorary Oscar on his behalf. Stewart's emotional speech hinted that something was seriously wrong, and the next day newspapers all over the world ran the headline, "Gary Cooper has cancer". One month later Cooper was dead.

Most public attention was focused on the Best Actress race between sibling rivals Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion and Olivia de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn. Fontaine’s victory was the only time an actor won for a performance in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Fontaine was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan, the younger daughter of Walter de Havilland, and the former Lilian Augusta Ruse, a British actress known by her stage name of Lilian Fontaine, who married in 1914. Her film debut was a small role in No More Ladies (1935). She was selected to appear in a major role alongside Fred Astaire in his first RKO film without Ginger Rogers: A Damsel in Distress (1937) but audiences were disappointed and the film flopped. She continued appearing in small parts in about a dozen films but failed to make a strong impression and her contract was not renewed when it expired in 1939, the same year she married her first husband, the late British actor Brian Aherne. That marriage was not a success. Her luck changed one night at a dinner party when she found herself seated next to producer David O. Selznick. She and Selznick began discussing the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca, and Selznick asked her to audition for the part of the unnamed heroine. She endured a grueling six-month series of film tests, along with hundreds of other actresses, before securing the part. Rebecca marked the American debut of British director Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, the film was released to glowing reviews and Joan was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She didn't win that year (Ginger Rogers took home the award for Kitty Foyle) but Fontaine did win the following year. Olivia de Havilland, her sister, was the first to become an actress; when her sister, Joan, tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favoured Olivia, refused to let her use the family name. So Joan was forced to invent a name (Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine, utilizing her own mother's former stage name). As Joan stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected Olivia's attempts at congratulating her and that Olivia was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. Several years later, Olivia would remember the slight and exact her own by brushing past Joan, who was waiting with her hand extended, because Olivia had allegedly taken offense at a comment Joan had made about Olivia's then-husband. Olivia's relationship with Joan continued to deteriorate after the incident at the Academy Awards in 1942. This was the near final straw for what would become a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking until 1975. According to Joan, Olivia did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother, who had recently died. Olivia claims she told Joan, but that Joan had brushed her off, claiming that she was too busy to attend. Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationships. She went on to continued success in the 1940s, during which she excelled in romantic melodramas. Among her memorable films during this time were The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), Ivy (1947), and Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948). Her film successes slowed a bit during the 1950s and she also began appearing in television and on the stage. Her last theatrical film was The Witches (1966), which she also co-produced. She made sporadic television appearances throughout the 1970s and 1980s and was nominated for an Emmy for the soap opera, Ryan's Hope in 1980. She resides in Carmel, California, in relative seclusion. Joan Fontaine was married four times: Brian Aherne(1939 - 1945) William Dozier (1946 - 1951) Collier Young (1952 - 1961) Alfred Wright, Jr. (1964 - 1969), a magazine editor. She has one daughter, Deborah Leslie Dozier (born in 1948), from her union with Dozier, and another daughter, Martita, a Peruvian adoptee, who ran away from home.

The Best Supporting Actor went to Donald Crisp for his role in How Green Was My Valley. From 1908 to 1930 Crisp, in addition to directing dozens of films, would also appear in nearly 100 silent films, many in bit or small parts. One notable exception was his casting by Griffith as General Ulysses S. Grant in Griffith's landmark film Birth of a Nation in 1915. Another was his acclaimed role in the 1919 film Broken Blossoms as the brutal and abusive father "Battling Burrows" opposite Lillian Gish. His final directorial effort was the 1930 film The Runaway Bride starring Mary Astor. With the advent of sound in films, coupled with his acknowledged weariness for directing, Crisp moved entirely to acting after 1930 where he became a much sought after character actor. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he appeared in a wide range of roles along side some of the era's biggest stars, including Katharine Hepburn in The Little Minister (1934), Clark Gable in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in That Certain Woman (1937), Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights (1939), Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk (1940), and Gregory Peck in The Valley of Decision (1945). A versatile supporting actor, Crisp could be equally good in either lovable or sinister roles. During the same period he was playing loving father figures or charming old codgers in classic films like National Velvet and Lassie Come Home, he also turned in an acclaimed performance as Commander Beach, the tormented presumptive grandfather in Lewis Allen's The Uninvited (1944). Undoubtedly, however, Crisp's most memorable role was as the taciturn but loving father in How Green Was My Valley. While widely known to audiences as a talented actor and director, few outside the movie community realized, then or now, that beyond this work, Crisp was one of the most influential people in Hollywood, wielding more power than most directors and even more than many producers or studio executives. Not surprisingly, Crisp eventually became one of the more wealthy members of the film industry. His "banker's sobriety", extensive contacts, and clarity allowed him to make good investments, particularly in the real estate market. He continued to appear in films throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s. During more than half century as an actor in both the early silent and later the sound era, he appeared in as many 400 short reel and feature length productions. His final screen role was as Grandpa Spencer opposite Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara in the 1963 film Spencer's Mountain. Crisp was in his eighties by the time he quit acting entirely, continuing to work long after financially necessary simply because he enjoyed it. He was married twice, divorced from his first wife in 1919. He later married film screenwriter Jane Murfin, whom he divorced in 1944. Crisp died in 1974 a few months short of his 92th birthday due to complications from a series of strokes.

The Best Supporting Actress Oscar went to Mary Astor. Most famous for her role as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941) opposite Humphrey Bogart, Astor began her long motion picture career as a teenager in the silent movies of the early 1920s. After appearing in several larger roles at various studios, she was signed by Paramount again, this time to a one-year contract at $500 a week. She had appeared in several more movies when John Barrymore saw a photograph of her in a magazine and wanted her cast in his upcoming movie. On loan-out to Warner Bros., she starred with him in Beau Brummel (1924). The older actor wooed the young actress, but their engagement ended when he became involved with Dolores Costello. In 1925, Astor's parents bought a Moorish style mansion with one acre of land known as "Moorcrest" in the hills above Hollywood. They lived lavishly on her earnings. Moorcrest is notable not only for its ornate style but its place as the most lavish residence associated with the Krotona Colony, a utopian society founded by the Theosophical Society in 1912. Astor went on appearing in movies at various studios. When her Paramount contract ended in 1925, she was signed at Warner Bros. Among her assignments was another role with John Barrymore, this time in Don Juan (1926). When her Warner Bros. contract ended, she signed a contract with Fox for $3,750 a week. In 1928, she and director Kenneth Hawks were married at her family home, Moorcrest. He gave her a Packard automobile for a wedding gift and they moved into a home high up on Lookout Mountain in Los Angeles Astor took voice training and singing lessons during her time off, but no roles were offered. Her acting career was then given a boost by her friend, Florence Eldridge (wife of Fredric March), whom she confided in. Eldridge, who was to star in the stage play Among the Married at the Majestic Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles, recommended Astor for the second female lead. The play was a success and her voice was deemed suitable, being described as low and vibrant.On January 3, 1930, while filming sequences for the Fox movie Such Men Are Dangerous, Kenneth Hawks was killed in a mid-air plane crash over the Pacific. Astor had just finished a matinee performance at the Majestic when Florence Eldridge came to her with the news. She was rushed from the theatre and taken to Eldridge's apartment; a replacement, Doris Lloyd, stepped in for the next show. Astor remained with her friend, Eldridge, at her apartment for some time, but she soon went back to work. Shortly after her husband's death, she debuted in her first "talkie", Ladies Love Brutes (1930) at Paramount, which co-starred friend Fredric March. After working on several more movies, she suffered delayed shock over her husband's death and had a nervous breakdown. During the months of her illness, she was attended to by Dr. Franklyn Thorpe, whom she later married. Astor had four husbands, director Kenneth Hawks (married February 26, 1928-his death on January 3, 1930); physician and surgeon Franklyn Thorpe (married June 29, 1931-divorced 1936); insurance salesman Manuel del Campo (married February 1936-divorced 1941); and stockbroker Thomas Wheelock (married December 25, 1945-divorced 1955). She and Thorpe had one daughter, Marylyn Hauoli Thorpe (born June 16, 1932); she and del Campo had one son, Anthony Paul "Tono" del Campo (born June 5, 1939). Astor began freelancing and accepted the pivotal role of Barbara Willis in Red Dust (1932) at MGM with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. In late 1932, Astor signed a featured player contract with Warner Bros. Besides spending lavishly, her parents invested in the stock market, which turned out in many instances to be unprofitable. They still lived in Moorcrest, which Astor dubbed a "white elephant" and refused to maintain. She had to turn to the Motion Picture Relief Fund in 1933 to pay her bills. In 1933, she appeared as the female lead, Hilda Lake, the niece of the murder victims, in The Kennel Murder Case, co-starring with William Powell playing detective Philo Vance. Unhappy with her marriage, she took a break from movie making in 1933 and went to New York by herself. In March 1934, Astor was sued by her parents for support and a public family feud burst out violently. The Langhankes said they did not have enough money for the necessities of life. The judge ruled that she should give her parents $100 per month. Moorcrest, now valued at $200,000, went on the auction block and sold for only $21,500. In April 1935, Thorpe divorced her in an uncontested suit and gained sole custody of their daughter. In July 1936, while working on Dodsworth with Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, Astor sued to gain sole custody, as well as for the recovery of stocks and property paid for by her movie earnings, or the monetary equivalent, and a vicious battle broke out that was also well documented by the press. Fortunately, the scandals caused no harm to Astor's career, which was actually revitalized because of the custody fight and the huge amount of publicity it generated; Dodsworth was released to rave revues, and the public's acceptance assured the studios that she was still a viable commercial property. Some of her best movies were still to come, including The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), John Ford's The Hurricane (1937), and Brigham Young (1940). Astor is probably most famous for her role as Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the scheming temptress who murders Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) opposite Humphrey Bogart, with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Another noteworthy performance was her Oscar-winning role as Sandra Kovak, the selfish, self-centered concert pianist, who willingly gives up her child, in The Great Lie starring Bette Davis and George Brent. Astor was not propelled into the upper echelon of movie stars by these successes, however. She always declined offers of starring in her own right. Not wanting the responsibility of top billing and having to "carry the picture," she preferred the security of being a featured player. She was kept busy playing what she considered mediocre mother roles. After Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), the studio allowed her to make her Broadway debut in Many Happy Returns (1945). The play was a miserable failure, but Astor received good reviews. On loan-out to 20th Century Fox, she played a wealthy widow in Claudia and David (1946). She was also loaned to Paramount to play Fritzi Haller in Desert Fury (1947) in which she played the tough owner of a saloon and casino in a small mining town. The last straw came when she was cast as Marmee March in Little Women (1949). Astor found no redemption in playing what she considered another humdrum mother and became despondent. The studio wanted to renew her contract, promising to give her better roles, but she declined the offer.After taking a trip around the world in 1964, Astor was lured away from her Malibu home, where she was spending time gardening and working on her third novel, to make what she decided would be her final movie appearance. When she was offered the small role as a key figure in the murder mystery Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring her friend, Bette Davis, Astor decided it would serve as her swan song in the movie business. After 109 movies during a career spanning 45 years, she turned in her Screen Actors Guild card and retired. She later moved to Fountain Valley, California, where she lived near her son, Tono del Campo, and his family until 1971. That same year, suffering from a chronic heart condition, she then moved to a small cottage on the grounds of the Motion Picture & Television Country House, the industry's retirement facility in Woodland Hills, where she had her own private table when she chose to eat in the resident dining room. While living there since 1974, Astor had a heart attack, two strokes and developed emphysema. Mary Astor died on September 25, 1987, at age 81, of respiratory failure due to pulmonary emphysema while a patient in the hospital in the Motion Picture House complex, exactly one week before Prisoner of Zenda co-star Madeleine Carroll.

The Best Song was "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from the movie "Lady Be Good", composed by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

The Honorary Awards went to:

Fantasia (1940) - Walt Disney; William E. Garity; J.N.A. Hawkins; RCA Manufacturing Co.- For their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia.
Fantasia (1940) - Leopold Stokowski (and his associates)- For their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney's production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form (certificate).
Kukan (1941) - Rey Scott- For his extraordinary achievement in producing Kukan, the film record of China's struggle, including its photography with a 16mm camera under the most difficult and dangerous conditions (certificate).
Target for Tonight (1941) - Ministry of Information, UK- For its vivid and dramatic presentation of the heroism of the RAF in the documentary film (certificate).

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award went to Walt Disney. Disney is notable as one of the most influential and innovative figures in the field of entertainment during the twentieth century. As the co-founder (with his brother Roy O. Disney) of Walt Disney Productions, Walt became one of the best-known motion picture producers in the world. The corporation he co-founded, now known as The Walt Disney Company, today has annual revenues of approximately U.S. $35 billion. Walt Disney is particularly noted for being a film producer and a popular showman, as well as an innovator in animation and theme park design. He received sixty four Academy Award nominations out of which he won on twenty six occasions. He holds the record for an individual with the most awards and the most nominations. Disney has also won seven Emmy Awards. Disney and his staff created a number of the world's most famous fictional characters, including the one many consider Disney's alter ego, Mickey Mouse. He is also well-known as the namesake for Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in the United States, France, Japan and China. Walt Disney died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966, a few years prior to the opening of his Walt Disney World dream project in Orlando, Florida.

This was also the first year when documentaries were included. The first Oscar for a documentary went to Churchill's Island. The Awards were hosted by Bob Hope for the second time.

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